I work in corporate America. Men outnumber women at a sickeningly high ratio. I work with many very smart people. I am a woman, and I have no college degree. I am well respected by my colleagues (if seen as aggressive and *ahem* argumentative and opinionated). But they know I do my job, I do it well, and I’m reliable. Every once in a while, I’m suddenly reminded that being a woman makes me ‘different’ somehow, and I feel like I’ve caromed off an invisible force field.
I’ve been ignored/dismissed/disregarded by peolpe (primarily consultant employees of Microsoft) for the following reasons:
- I’m female
- I have no degree
- I use Mac
- I like linux
- I’m outspoken
- I wear pants
- I don’t wear makeup
- I don’t drive (no longer true)
- I’m a lesbian (rare that I TELL a consultant this)
- I read comic books
- I play role playing games (which I’m told means I’m slutty apparently)
And yes. I have been told, to my face, every single one of those things.
I spend most of my life in happy ignorance that being any of those things matters to my competence. My office celebrates me as the ‘new kind of programer.’ The kind who gets dirty and solves problems with common sense, learning needed code as he or she goes. Basically, they like me because I’m smart and quick. So when I run into the person who says ‘You don’t need to be in this meeting because it’s technical’ …. I feel like I’m slapped.
My job is technical. My job is code deployment automation over 20 different code architectures and thousands of servers, from SunOS to Solaris, to Windows. I handle programs from Java JRE and MQ to .NET and even old DOS shell scripts. No one in my department is better with DOS than I am. In fact, I’d be willing to bet I can do more with a command line than most people at my office, and I’m comfortable with it. What I don’t know, I know how to look up, quickly, and I love learning new ways to do things better.
Making it worse for me is that I was raised by a dad who never once told me I was limited by gender. Once I read an Archie comic where Betty said ‘Name one thing a male baseball player can do that a female one can’t.’ and Reggie replied ‘A shaving commercial.’ I remember looking at that and saying ‘Gee, haven’t they heard of shaving legs?’ My dad laughed. I can think of a hundred times my dad said I was smart enough to do something, clever enough, skilled enough, talented enough (or in one memorable case, NOT talented enough). He was always honest and cared about me and taught me to be a gentleman.
Even in my youth, I knew he meant that a gentleman was polite to everyone. You hold doors open for everyone, you compliment everyone, you respect everyone. And yeah, he did teach me how to treat a lady, but he taught me how to treat a man similarly. Guess which lessons stuck? In my family, your gender was only a limiting factor in … You know, I can’t think of a damn thing where my gender limited me. Maybe in bathing suits or clothes that are specifically female (bras, unless you need a manziere). But that wasn’t limiting. After all, I didn’t need a jock strap.
So when I have these days, like today, where I bounce off that wall of ‘Oh, wow, my boobs make people treat me differently’ I have the urge to wear a low-cut shirt and then blind them with my innate brilliance. And no, humility is not one of my flaws. Yet another mark against me. Like a fish, I don’t think of the water around me. I’m used to being respected for my skills and not my looks. When someone treats me like a ‘woman’ and that’s different, suddenly my water’s gone and I’m gasping for breath at the insanity of it all.
Treat me like a human. With respect for my skills (either displayed or cited). Don’t judge the super made up woman as a non-technical idiot, and don’t judge the tomboy/fella girly pants wearing nerd as just a woman. We are, all of us, male and female and everything in-between, far more complex than you think we are. Be a damn humanist. Treat me, treat us, like people.