Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Little steps toward a frat-free work environment

It’s no secret that the tech work environment can be a grind for women — even women who are “one of the guys”. I love working with guys, I really do. My sense of humor seems to have stalled at a 5th grade boy’s level. Still, I’ve found it’s the little things — the hundreds of small stinging paper cuts — that make it so difficult in the long run. The good news is that little things can be easy to fix. Behold: below are small but important tweaks that can be tackled today while awaiting the bigger changes like equal pay and traction for girls in STEM classes.

1. See It, Nip it Fast

True story: the calendar invitation came through in gmail inviting employees to attend a PAP session that week. Was this some new women’s health benefit? No, not quite. It was a meeting to talk about the partner application process, with the dubious acronym PAP. Not to smear the guy’s reputation, but our newest employee thought this was a fine idea. In a company marketing a product to an audience of 80% females, this was most decidedly not a good idea. I asked him to change the meeting name. “But it’s just an internal meeting,” he complained. “Change it,” I said, suggesting a Google image search if he really needed to know the reason why.

I hope he’s recovered from that particular image search.

The lesson here is to pay attention to the small things, like unfriendly naming ideas. Nip them.

2. Watch Your Mouth

Well-timed F-bombs can work wonders, from a male or female mouth. It’s the other type of language that grates — like the constant talk of how it’s gonna take balls to get stuff done.

Think it through. No one starts a meeting with, “You gotta have OVARIES to get us there!” So why are balls OK?

Then there’s the other gendered B-word: bitch. Asshole is a better fit. We all have them, and some of us are them. Why not use that phrase regardless of gender? Start a new movement! (pun not really intended).

On the subject of language — how many meetings or strategy sessions start with war analogies, battle metaphors, sports lingo and the like? Women use those analogies too, but I’m pretty sure no one has used a childbirth analogy in a tech start-up lately.

If it’s not a universal experience, it’s not a good analogy. Period. (oops, did it again, sorry)

3. Make Your Hiring Funnel Female-Friendly

My co-workers and I had a lot of fun joking about a job description that recently crossed our desks: “You can find us playing video games in the office every Thursday night or discussing everything from hip-hop to Bitcoin to cutting-edge player matching algorithms over dinner.”

Sure, there are probably plenty of women who would find that appealing — but I doubt the writer who posted that gig had her in mind.

“You can find us debating the merits of wedges versus flats for standing desks, and whether leopard print will ever truly go out of style,” said no Silicon Valley job description ever.

I recently saw a job post looking for a “Jack of all trades”. Is Jill welcome to apply too?

If you’re unsure, have a woman vet your job descriptions for unconscious bias.

4. Watch For Pink Flags When Hiring

Someone who starts their cover letter with “Dear Sirs” is probably not a good fit in a female-friendly workplace (and yes, I still get those). I recently rejected a candidate who asked to be introduced to the VP Marketing, wondering when “he” would be available. The assumption, and lack of the 5-second research task to determine whether said VP was male or female, was indicative of a worldview that probably wouldn’t succeed in our workplace. These are red — er, pink — flags that should be noticed and acted upon. And don’t forget to let the candidate know why you are rejecting him or her — it’s a teaching moment.

5. Let Her Talk

This one is a biggie. Women are not heard in the same way men are, and when they speak forcefully, they’re called pushy, bossy, or asked with concern if they’re OK. Sometimes when I share my thoughts, everyone nods and seems to agree, then a guy later says the same thing and a stimulating discussion ensues. It’s enough to make me want a full-time male translator who simply repeats what I said!

Women: learn how to say “hey, that’s what I said!” And men, if you’re nodding along, are you really listening? Really? One quick way to address this is to go around the room at the end of a meeting and ask each person if they have anything else to add — then stop and pay attention. Give people space to talk, both men and women. Soft spoken men can face the same challenges, so make sure everyone has the room they need to talk.

What other little things can make the workplace more female-friendly?

(with a debt of gratitude to Sonja Erickson, who helped develop this list over countless baby burritos at Taqueria Mana).

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