Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

I Almost Left Tech Today, Here’s Why

Today I read an article on why so many women leave engineering, and wanted to share it with my colleagues.

I am the only woman on a team of 9 (5 male developers, 1 male scrum master, 1 male product owner and 1 male functional consultant and me). Although I have been working for 10 years, I only recently became a developer and this is one of my first professional experiences. I had studied women in tech for two years as part of my master’s in Sociology degree, I knew sexism was rampant, but I persisted, I still chose to become a developer. But studying it from afar and actually experiencing it are two very different things. Today the latter hit me hard.

In response to the article I shared on our team’s Slack channel, the scrum master posted a video of a popular French song, the title of which can be translated to

We don’t give a fuck.

It surprised me! It was a very aggressive message, and actually proved the point of the article: tech’s hostile culture towards women drives them out. What’s worse was the reactions from the other men in the team. One reacted with a laughing emoji, one with a thumbs up, check mark and a-ok emojis. One even said

If women didn’t take things so seriously, there wouldn’t be as much sexism.

At that point, tears just started bursting out.

A few days before we had a pretty bad sprint review and the whole team went out for a beer to drown our sorrows. The department’s director was there for the review and joined us at the bar. I had been warned that the man was a misogynist. A developer who recently quit told me this director didn’t believe she could code and stuck her in a functional position she didn’t want for years. When this director arrived, we were all seating around a large table, on 2 benches. The first thing he said was

Move over, I need room for my big dick

The tone was set.

It has been discussed at length that managers behavior highly influences their subordinates. The less power you have, the more likely you are to mirror powerful people, and the attitude of managers shape that of the whole team.

I witnessed my colleagues, who are not usually overtly sexist say things they would have never said if this director wasn’t there. One of them said

Our app is huge, like my dick.

When one guy was leaving, saying he had a nice meal waiting at home, the director said

Do you have call girls?

Later that night, he also said that women had a smaller brain. That’s when I couldn’t take it anymore and left.

With this experience fresh in my mind, today’s comments felt all the more hurtful. It enraged me that they thought it was okay to say such things. I started to zone out and felt paralyzed. Colleagues were trying to talk to me but I couldn’t answer.

All I could think was :

What the FUCK is wrong with this industry, that thinks it can destroy people like this?

I am very familiar with the violence women face in French and American societies. I have worked for nonprofits helping victims of rape and sexual assault. I know that these daily micro and not so micro aggressions are deeply connected to patriarchal physical violence and I just couldn’t take it anymore.

I only have 2 more weeks before I finish this contract, but I wanted TO LEAVE, right then and there, without looking back. How ironic is that?

I shared an article saying women leave tech because of a hostile environment and the hostile environment gives me the urge to leave. It seems silly to have to repeat that but women are human beings. A natural instinct in a hostile situation is to leave and protect yourself, this is precisely what women do.

The scrum master who posted the “we don’t give a fuck” video quickly apologized, but only privately via email. The colleague who enjoyed the video and made the sexist comment, and has done so many times before, never did — Edit: he apologized three days later saying he saw it affected me. I feel so enraged tonight I needed to share this, even if it’s just to add on to the already long list of bullshit women have reported in this field.

This experience shook me and made me want to run back to nonprofits where — even if I was making little to no money — I always felt safe and was never attacked in such a way. But then I remembered why I chose to become a developer:

I love coding.

I love the feeling of fixing a bug or creating a feature, of contributing to something that people will use and that could make their lives easier. Time flies when I’m writing code all day.

When this contract ends, I will go to the famous school (at least in France) 42 in Paris, where I’ve been admitted, and learn even more. When I feel I’ve studied enough (42 is a very different school and you can leave anytime), I will be searching for a new job. I will be looking for a more inviting environment and hope never to feel like I did today again. Because coding is what I want to do everyday and I have so much to contribute.

We won’t let them grind us down.

Update: my contract is now over and on my last day I told the director’s boss about my experience. He said he was surprised and sad that I experienced that and that he will act swiftly to change that.