Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Should I Say Something?

Have you ever been in a situation where you wonder whether you should say or do something? What are the consequences if I do or don’t?

I have a long list of things I should do:

  • I should eat healthier.
  • I should exercise more.
  • I should get seven to eight hours’ sleep a night.
  • I should save more for retirement.

These have known consequences. It’s more difficult to deal with shoulds in a professional setting.

If you’re being treated unfairly, you should speak up.

Speaking up doesn’t always result in a positive outcome. You may have experienced negative consequences through past experiences. Loss of employment, social media backlash, being blacklisted, or fear for your safety are a few ways speaking up can backfire. As a result, we slowly stop speaking up, even though we know we should.

Does not speaking up make us part of the problem?

During high school, I worked at a restaurant. I was harassed by a coworker for months. It started innocently enough: he asked me out on a date and I declined. It escalated from there. Finally, after months I reached my breaking point, and did what we are told we should do: I reported it. Was I met with understanding and praise for speaking out? No, I was told the owner wasn’t running a babysitting service. If I didn’t like it I could quit. I should have quit, but I didn’t. I was embarrassed and felt I had done something wrong. I should be stronger. I also learned speaking out doesn’t always work out the way we want it to.

This lesson I learned at 17 has stuck with me. I question whether I should do or say something.

Is speaking out worth losing my job or damaging my professional reputation?

Will I be seen as “difficult” to work with? The stakes can be high for doing what should be done.

Often, the reason we speak up may seem small and inconsequential, but this is part of a “death by a thousand cuts.” Small incidents add up; over time their cumulative effect is more damaging and frustrating than the individual incidents.

Over the past few years these are some of the shoulds I have battled over:

Should I discuss my son’s adoption to explain a short stint at a company followed by a six-month employment gap during interviews?

We are constantly told not to mention our families during interviews, this leads to bias. For me, this is an important way to determine culture fit. If an employer has issues with me taking time off for my family, I don’t want to work there. The risk is worth the reward of working with companies that respect and understand the need to balance family and career. Sometimes family comes first.

Should I say something when a speaker breaches a code of conduct at a conference?

Listening to a speaker, I shake my head when a derogatory comment is made. My initial reaction was to post something on social media. However, I took a deep breath and realized this would be better dealt with privately. There was no need to take this public, it might reflect poorly on the conference which was not my intention. Instead I reached out to a conference organizer. My concerns were addressed with no negative consequences for myself or the conference.

Should I raise concerns when I have an article published and the default avatar for the contributor by-line is male?

Instead of being excited to see an article I wrote published, I had a mix of emotions over an avatar. The by-line was for a generic contributor account. This didn’t bother me. The avatar chosen for the account did; a man wearing a suit. This does not represent me as an author and contributor.

I can’t be the only woman contributing articles to this publication; why have a default image that is biased? Images like this send a message that women aren’t contributing members of the community. I wondered how a man would feel if the image associated with an online profile or article was female. Some men I posed this question to confirmed they would be annoyed.

Twitter recently changed the default avatar for new accounts, and blogged about the process followed to create something neutral. It wasn’t easy, but Twitter’s designers knew it was important to avoid bias.

Avatars can subconsciously influence how a message is perceived. I am proud of the articles I write, I want them to reflect who I am in all ways, including the symbols that accompany them.

Should I tell you the name of the publication?

No, I feel the risk is not worth it. I reached out to the publication and was informed the avatar couldn’t be changed. It was hard coded on the back end. I will no longer submit articles to this publication. I will look for publications that are more welcoming to women authors.

We can effect change by speaking up when the time is right, but it isn’t easy. Take time to consider the pros and cons. Decide whether a public or private forum is better. It’s easy for somebody else to say “you should do x,” but in the end the choice is yours.