Showing all posts tagged equality:

Guest blog

Another guest post from my wife. However, unlike her previous post here, this one is not a commentary on anything I said - or at least, I hope not.

Ladies and gentlemen, my wife.

When I woke up a couple of days ago I never would have imagined that an essay penned by a 25 y-o actress would make me re-evaluate my working life so much. Inspiration really comes from the unlikeliest places.

Anyway, Jennifer Lawrence guest posted on Lena Dunham's The Lenny Letter, and since it was the first time she addressed the Sony Hack the whole internet was abuzz. (For those of you who lived under a rock for the past year or so, among what emerged from the Sony Hack was that Lawrence, despite being billed at the same level as her male co-stars, and despite being the only one with an Oscar under her belt, went to get paid a fraction of what her male co-stars did for her role on American Hustle, and probably had no knowledge of the disparity until it was uncovered by the leaked emails.)

J-Law went on to explain that she was over trying to tip-toe around men and trying to be adorable and funny and not appear a brat for asking what she wants. (if you want more, go subscribe to the Lenny Letter, I had to!).

Next thing I know, I follow a link that takes me to this article.

While being a very, VERY, lighthearted take on corporate and gender politics, this piece really resonated with me. You see, I am known to be a no-nonsense, straight to the point kind of girl in my work environment, definitely NOT what you would consider a shrinking violet. And yet. I realized some of the things described in that article had indeed happened to me, and, worse still, I had not understood they were happening.

Let me give you an example. A couple of years ago I was called into a meeting with two new guys to discuss a situation. Now, the situation had absolutely nothing to do with any of us, I was called since I had been the closest to observe it, and could probably explain some of the ins and outs to them, give them a little history, if you will. A male co-worker was with me, since he had helped me with some of the issues concerning this thing. This whole long preface is just to make you understand that I had no reason whatsoever to be 1. defensive, 2. angry, 3. aggressive since - once again - this had nothing to do with my performance, my objectives, my targets, my people. We had the meeting, I thought nothing more of it, and we went on with our own jobs. A year later, one of the two guys - whom I had got to know a little better in the meantime - let it slip that he thought I had been a terrible bitch during that meeting, and he was surprised I was so angry and aggressive towards them. This threw me for a loop. I had no intention of being aggressive and curt, I was surprised I had come off that way. I even went back to my male co-worker to ask him whether he thought I had gone over the line. (he said "you were fine", but then again, he's used to me, so who knows). This minor incident with a guy led me to re-evaluate how I deal with people everyday.

In the interest of full disclosure, this guy, the one who basically called me a terrifying bitch to my face, is also the one who always compliments me on my physical appearance, and is derogatory as f&%$ whenever in a professional context, despite not knowing or understanding anything about my job. I am so upset with myself, because, despite knowing all this I let it dictate my behaviour, and I let it get under my skin. A man would have never done that, never in a million years. It took Jennifer bloody Lawrence to open my eyes, go figure.


Something I wrote on Facebook which I thought was worthy of a wider outing:

Enormous amounts of hot air are produced over what people have in their pants and whose pants they themselves want to get into - a topic which is fascinating to the individuals concerned and should be of no interest to anyone else outside their immediate circle of friends & relations.

The topic was a new iteration of the endless argument over gender in language. I don’t think we solved it, but I am happy with my comment!

No Booth Babes

Predictably and depressingly, people are making fun of RSAC's new "no booth babes" policy.

Oh, you brave freedom fighters, snarking away in defence of… what, again?

If you can't see the problem with hiring women as eye candy, I can't really help you. Sure, as hackers we all look at policies and processes and think about the failure modes, and the fact that RSAC phrased the ban as clothing guidelines leaves the obvious opening of "wait, are you trying to ban my shorts/utilikilt/mankini? OPPRESSION!!11ELEVENTY!".

This is completely missing the freaking point. I can’t say it better than this:

As I reported a while ago after my own uncomfortable trade show booth experience, it turns out that hiring booth babes doesn't even work - so you are demeaning women for no reason. And make no mistake, you ARE demeaning women by doing this. Whether it's the traditional booth babe in a skimpy outfit, or the newer variety of miniskirted presenter who only knows a script, you are insulting both the women you hire for this idiotic job, and all the other women who are there as professionals with a job to do.

I suppose I should know better than to expect anything from humanity, and IT people in particular, but still. Grow up.

Suits You, Sir

Via Coté, I learned that an Australian TV anchor has been wearing the same suit for a year.

Stefanovic, who co-presents Channel Nine’s Today show with Lisa Wilkinson, has been wearing the same blue suit – day in, day out, except for a few trips to the dry cleaner - to make a point about the ways in which his female colleagues are judged. "No one has noticed," he said. "No one gives a shit."

Setting his point on equality aside for a moment - although it is very valid - this is why I tell my nerd(ier) friends that suits are the ultimate nerd attire. You can get dressed in the dark and still be sure of being perfectly presentable, as I have had occasion to write before. On top of that, we now know that as long as the minimum standard of suit-ness is met, nothing further is required or even noticed, even when you are operating very much in public view.

Then again, at an event today in Stockholm I was congratulated several times on my suit1, so maybe it's cultural differences again?

Also, the news media have failed me once again. I need to know who makes this guy's suit; it sounds like it should be great for travel, being pretty much indestructible!

  1. A very nice and - importantly in Sweden - warm grey wool check from Lardini. 

Models and Examples

So Tim Cook came out.

I have always felt that this is not my battle. Given that I'm married, someone's sexual orientation is one of the least interesting things about them as far as I'm concerned, since I won't be engaging with them in that way. The only time it might become relevant is if we become sufficiently simpatico that I am trying to figure out which of my friends to set them up with, in which case I'd like to avoid an impedance mismatch. I have so little interest in this topic that I only discovered about a year ago that Michael Stipe is gay!

That said, Tim Cook coming out is significant, given how private he has kept his personal life to date. As he says in that Businessweek piece:

I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.

All too often, the tech industry ends up in the news for the wrong reasons: someone is being harassed, too many women are leaving the field, someone has done something ridiculously insensitive, and so on and so forth. It is of course important to shed light on all of these things, but at a certain level, I worry that the negative reporting itself may contribute to the problem. If Tim Cook can give a positive image and example of acceptance and integration, then that is all to the good. My hope is that this would both help people who are worried about being excluded or marginalised in the industry, and also set a powerful counter-statement to intolerance, saying loudly that it is NOT OKAY.

Now, let's all talk about what is really important about Tim Cook: couldn't he just tuck his shirt-tails in?

Gender and Language

John Scalzi performed an interesting experiment in his recent book, Lock In - which is excellent, by the way.





Okay, I hope that persuaded anyone who hasn't read the book to stay away.

Basically, the protagonist of Lock In, Chris, is never explicitly gendered. This makes sense in the context of the book; Chris has grown up with Haden's syndrome, and therefore has not experienced puberty and such in the "normal" way. John Scalzi simply avoided declaring what gender Chris is, and left readers to reach their own conclusions.

Now this is an
experiment, as far as it goes, but as usual things are more complicated. For
I assumed Chris was male because "Chris" is a male name to me. I have never encountered females who go by "Chris". This could just be a US thing, of course: while I am intellectually aware that in the US, "Andrea" is a female name, if I see it without context I assume an Italian male - because that is where I am most used to seeing that name. I didn't even get to the point of wondering, as I might have if Chris had been called "Lesley" or something like that.

I also wonder how translators will play this in gender-obligatory languages. This is something I have [written about]( "

Minimum Acceptable Standard

" ) before: English has it relatively easy, making it possible not only to write an entire book without ever stating the protagonist's gender, but to do it so subtly that readers may not even notice.

Doing this would be impossible in any other language I am familiar with. Adjectives, verb endings, and all sorts of other bits and pieces would force an explicit gender in the very first sentence where the protagonist appears, or would cause such obvious linguistic contortions that readers would know something was up.

Regardless, interesting experiment, not least because, going by an unscientific survey of the comments on the Tor piece, many women also read Chris as male. Gender assumptions are tricksy.

Babe Got Talent

I’ve worked booth duty at my fair share of trade shows, starting back when I was still in high school. One of the constants is the presence of "booth babes"1 at the shows, acting as eye candy to bring traffic into the booth. I had never actually worked in a booth which had booth babes until recently, but I really didn’t like it, not least because I have always had close female colleagues, and I felt that booth babes devalued their presence and professionalism.2

I just didn’t have the data to do more than roll my eyes and gripe about it in the bar after the show with those female colleagues. But now, someone actually did A/B testing on whether booth babes even work, and wrote up their findings: Booth Babes Don’t Work.

It’s a pretty indefensible practice. The hiring of young, college-aged females to dress as provocatively as possible to help promote… um, Ultra HD TV sets, Android tablets and Internet-enabled toothbrushes. It’s a relic of old enterprises, but that’s just the way they like their world. But what nearly every critic has failed to mention is a real concrete business reason to end the practice.

Well, I do: Booth babes do NOT convert.

Read the whole thing, but basically it boils down to the fact that nobody you want to talk to wants to talk to booth babes - and vice versa. Anecdotally, I have seen the exact same mechanism in action. Sure, there will be a queue to talk to the booth babes, made up of people drunk on their own inflated self-regard or actual booze - or both. Meanwhile, actual real prospects are hovering around the edges of the booth or even walking away, embarrassed or unwilling to waste time talking to the eye candy.

Wow, don’t I look comfortable…

If you are in charge of, or have any influence over, your company's presence at a trade show, leave the booth babes off the budget. Get people (including women!) who actually know the product and are passionate about it, and I guarantee you will get much better conversion rates on the leads, and probably more outright leads too.3

  1. If you think it’s the term "booth babe" that is the problem here, I think you’re the one with the problem. 

  2. That said, on a spectrum of bad to worst, I think the purely and explicitly decorative booth babes are perhaps slightly less bad than their colleagues who have memorised some sort of spiel, but need to call in an (inevitably male) colleague to bail them out if there are any questions or departures from the script. 

  3. Of course there is a problem: often the event and the team that organises it are measured purely on the number of leads that are generated at the show. It's the sales team that has to close them. You can always tell when the leads from the trade show have arrived because of the grumbling. "The leads are weak", indeed. (Bonus points for spotting the reference!) 

Minimum Acceptable Standard

I don’t call myself a feminist, because that requires more effort than I put into it. What I do is sort of Minimum Acceptable Standard Equality: basically I try not to be gratuitously insensitive. As part of that effort, I try to avoid gendered pronouns wherever I’m not actually referring to a person of a specific gender.

This is where that Minimum Acceptable Standard stuff comes in: I refuse to switch "he" for "she", because especially when it’s done by guys, this looks too much like the author is asking for a pat on the back. Plus we have a perfectly good non-gendered pronoun in English: "they". Denying the use of they just makes you look like a jerk.

So far so good; but what should we do in languages that are more strongly gendered than English? For instance, at a recent meeting held in Italian, I stumbled over the fact that I was describing "the user" (masculine in Italian grammar) to a female software developer.

Gendered languages have generally struggled with this issue. The closest English example would be something like actor/actress. Should a woman be an actor, or an actress? In particular, where a feminine version of a term had not been needed in the past, because women could not become ministers or directors or whatever, but rules exist to create it, should it be created, or should women adopt the masculine version? Different people have answered this in different ways in different places and times.

Now imagine that every single noun in your speech has this sort of issue associated with it… Bottom line, English speakers have it pretty easy, so there’s no excuse for not achieving at least the Minimum Acceptable Standard.

Image by Sebastian Muller via Unsplash