Lean In and Dial Back – musings on civility in IT

This past week I was on the West Coast, meeting with my distributed team and attending the very well-run, very calm, and very professional Clojure West conference in Portland. Here is a shining example of a homogeneous community that nevertheless seemed friendly, welcoming, and supportive, probably because as functional programmers in a somewhat niche and boutique language (Clojure) they feel outside of the “Brogramming”, back-slapping wolf pack. They are a cerebral bunch, celebrating a beautiful programming language and evangelizing in the politest possible way. Or at least this is my first impression, being new to the language and just being introduced to the community; so far I like what I see.

Compare this community to what transpired at PyCon just prior to Clojure West. A much bigger and comparatively diverse conference, PyCon organizers made an effort to impose a code of conduct so that the attendees, many of whom were women (20%) and many kids. The efforts of the “Pythonista” community to encourage diversity with such projects as Raspberry Pi classes for kids and the PyLadies outreach efforts is really to be commended. In fact I could compare the Python community only with the Ruby on Rails community for being proactive in its pursuit of diversity. It’s sad that such a community should have been given the black eye it has been dealt over the past few days.

It’s to be expected that the small, cerebral and calm Clojure West conference suffered from none of the drama experienced at PyCon, where a furor has broken over the head of a woman who had the temerity to “out” the rude comments of some developers who sat behind her during a session. I don’t want to comment on the specifics of the events that transpired at PyCon as it’s currently being thoroughly hashed over in the media, and I don’t believe that any of the parties involved is wholly blameless, but the atrocious hate-filled reaction to Ms. Richards set me thinking in a direction that hasn’t come up much in dissections of the events, which is the way that we female programmers carry ourselves in professional settings. I am in no way going down the path of blaming victims. Rather I am thinking that we ought to consider leading by example.

Quite simply, we need to be a little bit careful of what we say and how we present ourselves. One female blogger in IT recently wrote (to paraphrase) “I am part of the problem – I tell jokes about <male body parts>”.  A male programmer recently wrote about his discomfort in witnessing women adjusting undergarments in meetings and overhearing detailed conversations about bodily functions told between women colleagues in professional settings. And I myself am not blameless…after all, as the book says, “Nice girls never get the corner office.” – right?

Wrong. I posit that we, as female programmers, need to be the change we want to see. If we participate in any kind of double standard, using vulgar language or telling off-color jokes in the workplace, and then complain that guys do it too, we are destroying our cause and tarnishing our image. Rather than trying to fit in to a perceived “Brogramming” culture, I would recommend that we try to rise above it. At the risk of sounding hopelessly anachronistic, I would say that if we don’t behave like ladies, we cannot expect the men around us to behave like gentlemen. In the relentless “Jersey-Shorification” of American culture, we are risking descent into hopeless vulgarity that at best will confuse the actual gentlemen in the field (and there are many) as to how to interact with us – and at worst invite disrespect and, sadly, even violence.

So, ladies in Tech, and I use the word meaningfully, let’s try our best, while “Leaning In” to fulfill our ambitions, not to forget to model good behavior. Let’s both Lean In and Dial Back. What do you think?


One comment

Leave a Reply