Things men have actually said to me at tech events

In my experience, 99% of men and women in the tech industry are decent and genuinely well-meaning people. But the issue persists; being a woman in tech can be a bit trying at times. What’s the deal?

I suspect that it partially comes down to awareness. Everyone more-or-less wants to be a force for good, but many folks don’t know what to do (or what not to do) in order to promote an accepting environment. It’s hard to fix something when you don’t know how it’s broken.

Here’s an example for you. At a tech event several months ago, a man spent a few minutes speaking to a male coworker of mine, who then introduced the man to me and witnessed us interact for a minute. As soon as the man left, my coworker looked at me with a shocked expression. “He treated you so differently!” he said. “His whole tone changed!”

In becoming aware of some of the ways in which I, as a woman, get treated differently (and how uncomfortable that difference can be), my coworker became better-poised to both identify and intervene when these incidents occur, and to understand and account for how this might make me feel.

Since beginning my effort to point out occasional negative encounters at tech events to my male coworkers, I’ve noticed a profound difference in how they react to these encounters — starting with the fact that they react. From intervening in uncomfortable interactions to simply agreeing “that sucked,” merely acknowledging that these micro-aggressions are happening and indicating a desire to account for their impact has had a huge positive effect on my morale at these events. Disregarding the distractions has never been easier; I feel properly equipped to do (and enjoy) my job.

But what are these so-called “negative encounters,” anyway? I’ve documented some highlights below. I hope that in doing so, I can spread some awareness about the fact that these things really do get said to women in tech and that they really can be acknowledged and accounted for.

Here are some things men have said straight to my face at tech events:

  • “I’m married, you know.” [wink]
  • “I was hoping to talk to someone who can actually explain what your company does. Are any of those guys available?” [points towards male coworkers]
  • “Are you actually technical?”
  • [To me and my female coworker] “Can I borrow you two for a second? I made my coworker a bet I could find two girls at this party.”
  • “What size t-shirt are you wearing?” [stares at my bust, smirking] “Can you turn around for me so I can see the back?”
  • “Can I take a selfie with you?”
  • [Approaches me as I’m handing out t-shirts] “I don’t want a t-shirt — just a smile. [pause] You look stressed out. What’s wrong?”
  • [Discussing a widely-circulated piece of writing that I authored] “Who wrote that? Did you write that? [points at male coworker to my left] Oh. Did you, then? [points at male coworker to my right] Wait, so you wrote that?”
  • “They only let you work here ’cause you’re hot.

…and the list goes on. Not included here are the multiple times I’ve been followed, been photographed without my permission, had certain body parts “accidentally” brushed against or grabbed… but that has all happened too.

It sucks.

….but it’s not the end of the world. For every bad encounter, there are so many more good ones. And I am so glad for that — in fact, I would love to simply dwell on the fact that the vast majority of the folks that I meet at tech events are lovely. But improving that ratio of good-to-bad depends on recognising and reacting to the bad.

And for the last time, I already have dinner plans.

Leah Weitz works for the startup Cloudability. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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