Being a woman surrounded by men in IT

I have been working as a web development trainer for more than a year. I am the only female trainer. All the others are men.I always thought it didn’t make any difference. That the difference was mainly in the way others looked at it. If I don’t care, nobody cares. But in fact, there are people who care. Sometimes, when there are a majority of men, some feel much more comfortable throwing things that are completely inappropriate or even outright sexist. And as usual, we often hear as « justification » that « it’s a joke », followed by guilt « if you’re uncomfortable, it’s because you don’t have a sense of humour ». For my part, I am (for the moment) lucky: most of my colleagues are not like that. With them, I don’t feel this barrier, this discomfort. We’re colleagues, on the same level, equal and that’s it.

But the last time we talked about my place on the trainers’ crew, while talking with Eric (a colleague and friend), I realized that being a woman, in my job, and in IT, is different than being a man. Why? Because a woman in a predominantly male environment is not exposed to the same risks, anecdotes and responsibilities as a man.

I would like to clarify one thing though: I’m going to talk about things I’ve experienced since I started working on the web (as a designer, developer, community manager, I didn’t just train in this field) but for having worked as a postwoman, administrative employee, cleaning lady, telemarketer, executive assistant, documentalist,… I can confirm it, it’s not just in IT that it happens like that. And so, how is it going?

Being a woman in a predominantly male environment means risking infantilisation

I am lucky because as a trainer now, I am responsible for the new learners who come into my classroom. I have the credibility and power to tell them that I am their trainer, not their buddy, that even if I want everyone to be able to work in a friendly atmosphere, that doesn’t mean they can call me by ridiculous, childish or reductive nicknames. I don’t like to go there, but yes, I’ve said that the next time I’m called a « princess », it will result at the disciplinary council.

It’s quite exhausting because in these cases, you seem to be heartless, not funny, you sound like someone « badly fucked », when you just want to be able to do your job. You have to be serious and firm because some people, at first smile, think it means that you are open for « more if affinity after work hours » (or even « during »). You have to be even more careful about what you say. The number of times I’ve heard guys giggling because they’ve heard a girl saying that a technology makes her vibrate, it’s pathetic. It’s not funny, guys, seriously, it’s pathetic. When you have a stupid name and your whole life, you get the same joke, it’s not funny, it’s lame. When you’re a foreigner in a country and the locals blame you for the same prejudices, it’s not funny, it’s lame. Well, it’s the same with sexist remarks.

Being a woman in a predominantly male environment is risking being considered a sexual prey

You find yourself rejecting a man’s advances by saying that you have a boyfriend (whether it’s true or not). You realize that to have peace, you hide behind a male figure. And it sucks. Or you can tell them you’re a lesbian (whether it’s true or not). And it sucks too. Because if you just tell them you’re not interested, they don’t understand. They act as if you’re telling them that if they work harder, they’ll be able to seduce you. We are no longer honest with them because it is useless. And because in the end, for these types of men, we’re really just that: a vagina available or not.

Being a woman in a predominantly male environment is risking being belittled

How many times have I heard that women are not genetically made to know how to code, that women cannot have the logic to program, that they cannot be smart enough to be qualified in IT? Too much. So much so that I sometimes thought they were right, that I was incompetent, not legitimate, that I had nothing to do with code. Then, with hindsight, I realize that it’s stupid because these men don’t know what I’m capable of. Especially because other men, those who have seen and read and understood my code have never told me that it was crap. Some even told me that I had to stop doubting myself, that they had always known that I was capable. Some people told me it’s the impostor syndrome. Perhaps. But when you are considered as a showcase, as a pair of breasts to fuck and when you are told again that scientific studies have proven that you are programmed to be stupid, when it comes from colleagues, I am not sure that these doubts are due only to the impostor syndrome.

Besides, I would be curious to know what percentage of women dare to do live-coding. Not compared to men but just in relation to the number of women coding.

Being a woman in a predominantly male environment means having to deal with serious behavior on your own

There are womanizers and there are also creepy people. Creepy people can be male or female. I have personally experienced both versions. But when you are surrounded by men, unfortunately, the risk of being pissed off by a male creepy is proportionally higher.

Why do we have to assume that alone? Because we are living in an time when we are legitimizing the fact that little boys have fun raising or lowering girls’ skirts. When someone send you flowers, it scares you but your colleagues think it’s funny. Someone harass you in writing, it scares and exhausts you but they tell you that it is just romantic and that the creepy one will get over it soon.
When your family, your colleagues, your superiors receive messages claiming love or hate for you, it’s not uncommon for you to hear that you must have done something to get someone to do that. When a creepy has a behavior openly inappropriate towards you and despite your actions to calm him down, they will transfer you to avoid any contact between him and you. Not him. You.
In the end, you do not say anything anymore because you are afraid to be considered a pain in the ass who misinterprets everything Or that people around you (consciously or not) act as if you were to blame.

At BeCode, we have already known some creepy people and we will know more. What is reassuring is that we get along well enough with colleagues to talk about it. And we are well enough surrounded so that this kind of behavior is taken seriously. And that we too, as women, whether we are on the front line like myself or that we are less exposed like my female colleagues, we are taken seriously.

Being a woman in a predominantly male environment means risking exposure to female competition

Because unfortunatly, it’s not just men who can be creepy. Some women, too, may exhibit embarrassing and inappropriate behavior because that they perceive the presence of another woman on their territory as an attempt to usurp power. Between misplaced rivalry, « dick move » and disgusting gossips, you go back to the days of high school.

Being a woman in a predominantly male environment means exposing yourself to (only) being a showcase

Yes, being a woman among men is not easy, it’s hard, it’s being constantly exposed. If you’re badly dressed, have lousy haircut, you can be told about your presentation while men can make presentations with their caps, their 5-day beards or t-shirts with funny aggressive passive messages, we will never tell them anything. If you do not choose the right word in a sentence, you can be told that you are not professional enough or (it still exists) about your « bad time of the month ». When it’s a guy, all he has to do is say he didn’t sleep well the night before and that’s okay, it’s forgotten.

Being a woman in a predominantly male environment means competing with men who are in conflict with their own masculinity

My mother (and she’s not the only one) told me many times that a woman in a man’s world has to work twice as hard, must be twice as efficient, twice as effective, twice as good as a man to be accepted by her male peers. She was wrong. Evolving herself in a predominantly male professional environment, she realizes this every day.
Even when you get to give the best of yourself, you have to face the contempt of some men. Because you’re a woman. When it’s a man, it’s normal. When a woman is competent or even more so than they are, they are obnoxious and you have to accept it because it is « like that ».

When you are a woman, everything is potentially a breeding ground for trouble, conflict, rivalry, war. And because you are a woman, we will ask you to forget it, to be understanding, to be forgiven, to accept the other.

But also, to be a woman in a predominantly male environment means showing them that we are better than that.

When I say « we », it’s not just « we women » but « we humans ».

Yes, there is a part of « we women ». As I said above, some men still think that it is normal to call a woman (whether she is her boss, her colleague or under her responsibility) with silly little names. The fact of reacting firmly and not letting go of this is already changing attitudes, to react to the fact that no, this type of behavior is not ok. It’s not much, but if the message gets through and we finally get respect, it means that things can change.

It’s difficult to be up to the task every day, not to show your tiredness or anger. I try to insidiously infuse the concept of positivity with my learners and colleagues. Because it changes the game significantly.
When I started my job as a trainer, we were in a factory that didn’t meet safety standards at all, in a room without glass in the middle of winter. Has it changed to be positive? No one complained, everyone was constantly looking for ways to improve our situation, how to hack, how to tinker, how to build something with little or nothing. None of my learners gave up inspite of disastrous premises, partly because they saw that we, the trainers, were coming. And us, especially because we saw that they were coming every day too. We have not given up. We stood together, we united against our situation, we tried to do the best we could and we succeeded. Being positive even when you’re in shit makes it possible to move forward despite fatigue, it also makes it possible to laugh at a situation that is annoying.

Being a woman in a predominantly male environment comes with the responsability of showing that it’s unfortunate that it’s mostly male

To show that a woman has as much courage as a man, that we don’t give up, that we have fire, faith and rage of not letting go, it shows to everyone that if I can do it, they can too. We are talking more and more about Caucasian straight white men who are born with more privileges than others. Evolving in a team with people who are not and who are (surprisingly) competent, professional and proactive, it’s also breaking this biases: yes, we can be a woman, a man, homosexual, white, black, catholic, muslim, atheist, young, old, have a lot of experience or not at all and kick asses.

Being a woman trainer in web development at BeCode means being aware that have to be exemplary to show that « it’s possible ». It iIt means remaining on your guard about the intentions of some trainees but also some colleagues you get to know. It is anticipating trouble and trying to prevent it before it has to be cured. It is being (too) often solicited because we are the only pair of ovaries of the team and as a result you feel the stress of not knowing what to say when you’re asked this question which, you honestly think, doesn’t concern you: why so few women in IT? How should I know? I always have evolved more or less with men and with women who don’t feel and don’t act as inferior to men. For me, men and women are the same. Of course, I have already suffered terrible things because of my status as a woman. Unfortunately « like all women ». However, at the moment, I work with great people who make me feel good about my job.

Adrian, Miriam, Miloon, Eric de BeCode
Adrian and Miriam from the first promo and Miloon and Eric, pair of trainers of this first promo

Being a woman in a predominantly male environment doesn’t mean you can’t be well surrounded

I am very close to some of my colleagues and I don’t think it’s a mistake I do. I do not think I’m taking any « risks » because I am a woman. I think it shows that we can be a man, a woman, a colleagues, a friend, an accomplice. We can do it without necessarily put ourselves in danger, or risk being belittled, humiliated, harassed, exploited, less well considered. Everything is just a matter of culture, education, knowledge. When we realize that we have to deal with humans just as capable as we are, just as emotional as we are, just as subject to the stress and annoyances of everyday life as we are, we can finally stop looking at our own navel and start considering others. And then everything is possible.

Alexandre, Miloon et Bertrand
Alexandre (old age quota), Miloon (ovaries quota) et Bertrand (puberty quota)

Yes but why so few women in IT?

Exactly, rather than asking me, we should ask women who are not there.

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