Women found clueless explanations by men less than ideal on a panel about male ally support in the technology industry. And surprisingly, the men listened.
Women in computer technology fields find employment mobility difficult because many find men are more concerned over the appearance of listening on why the culture is toxic rather than the actual act of changing the culture.
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And the Grace Hopper Celebration “Male Allies Plenary Panel” on Wednesday, Oct. 8, was no different. Business Insider's Selena Larson spoke candidly about the lack of awareness and privilege some of the leading men in the industry refused to acknowledge.
In a conference size of 8,000 attendees with majority women, one would expect the men to speak directly on why women find advancement difficult. After all, the audience was full of those directly affected and effected by the not-so-affectionately deemed "good ol' boys club" that refuses to let women progress.
And the oppressive rhetoric of 'do your best and you'll be rewarded for it,’ would be almost comical if not such a serious topic. Because ‘do your best’ is categorically untrue as nepotism and cronyism is on the rise as an attempt to place glass ceilings out of reach.
The panel consisted of white men offering encouraging yet outdated advice. And those panelists work for some of the biggest companies in online tech and social media: Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer; Google's SVP of search Alan Eustace; Blake Irving, CEO of GoDaddy; and Tayloe Stansbury, CTO of Intuit.
These men work in some of the most profitable divisions where women make up a good portion of customers, both business and personal. Google, for instance, is the one the web's most dominant forces and leaders in both search engineering and integrated social media elements. Meanwhile, Facebook's still such a juggernaut that many employers will snoop around a job applicant's public profile, or use even more insidious ways depending on corporate business ethics.
What do these male allies have to say? The same old, same old. And the triteness was to the point that the audience heckled the panelist.
“I don’t think people are actively protecting the [toxic culture] or holding on to it ... or trying to keep [diverse workers] from the power structure that is technology. I don’t think that’s it.”
According to Larson, Eustace's tone deafness was so apparent that the audience openly dismissed him.
Perhaps he needs to look up what ally means in a social context. Ally implies a willingness to stand behind, offering support after the main actors face a push back from the opposing force. Eustace might want to brush up on the definition versus parroting the words of the oppressors.
Women in the field were already suspect of the panel with GoDaddy's inclusion since the corporation’s commercials already appealed to the lowest common male denominator. When Irving became CEO in December 2012, the company still couldn't shake the reputation after a sexist 2013 Super Bowl ad. Even rebranding for the 2014 Super Bowl hasn't changed perception.
Go online and you'll find a thousand stories written by women on how advertising’s become so disenfranchising that personal ethics force a pulling of consumeristic support of a previously well-regarded company.
And unbelievably, Eustace and Irving were only the tip of the iceberg.
Google's SVP told women that “it will be twice as hard for you, but you can make a big difference in your company.” Because that's never been pointed out before...by women. He also added, "The best thing you can do is excel, and to push through whatever boundaries you see in front of you. Just continue to push and be great." Empty, appeasing words since the problem is the lack of acknowledgement to consider women for advancement to start with.
Irving offered an even more inane notion.
“When a guy has an idea, he gets really pumped up about it, really vocal about it. Back to that notion of speaking up, if you have an idea ... tell people your story and then execute it.” It's not as if people are passed over all the time, and then an idea is stolen, right? And what's this declaration to "speak up, be confident"? That's the whole point of the panel, after all. Confidently speaking up and asking men to change the sexist culture.
And Inuit's Stansbury flat-out admitted, "It’s more expensive to hire women, because the population is smaller." Never mind the proven wage disparity between men and women in the workforce across almost all industries.
Wait, the panel gets better. Schropfer described a student program on computer science for Facebook where the "96% diverse" group offered "anecdotal feedback they wanted some other men in the program." That's right, ladies. You just think you want representation but the anecdotal feedback proves otherwise.
Every single statement hit a square on the satirical "Ally Bingo" card handed out by the "The Union of Concerned Feminists.” Links to Geek Feminism, the Ada Initiative, and Model View Culture included for those that needed extra facts or support. Seems those feminists were right to be concerned, doesn't it? And one attendee even cried out "Bingo!" halfway through the panel.
"Male Allies" was the only panel in entire conference to not be live-streamed or permit the live audience to ask questions.
Um, allies? Wouldn't the words of a woman be the most important part?
And that's crux of the entire panel: not one female voice was heard on the entire panel asking men to stand up against the sexism in the industry. And that deafness hit sonic booms levels when Julie Ann Horvath, a designer-developer at AndYet, pointed out the obvious: “Women should be leading this conversation." Horvath's experience of toxic culture is widely known in the field since she left GitHub after harassment in the workplace.
Remember that point of providing support?
But Horvath feels even more strongly that support isn't needed. "Men who want to help need to get the hell out of our way, basically. Because we're coming. And we don't need their support." Already wary over the Anita Borg Institute for hosting the panel, she watched the fallout via Twitter with most of the world. And maybe she wasn’t wrong.
And the problem is more obvious when other panels were far more candid in addressing the issues women face in the workplace. For example, one titled “Winning At The Game Of Office Politics" discussed how to play the political game when consistently passed over and denied recognition while producing quality work.
The how-to guide offers a solid base on how to improve in a culture unwilling to listen; basically offering steps to counter against the insipid damage control sentences spun out by the CEOs, CTOs, and SVPs of the industry.
If men want to be allies, the best way is to sit down and listen to what's missing—instead of patting one's self on the back and asking for credit in being a decent human being.
The “Male Allies Plenary Panel” panelists may want to use their education and power in the industry to start policing other men, changing the culture, by tuning into the loud voices echoing in the audience. And it’s obvious who the first four to be tried should be.
Turns out social media and scathing commentary helped. The redo panel at 2pm on Thursday was a little more open and finally convince the men to pay attention to some basic tenants. Seems the critical dialogue helped Eustace and Schropfer learn a very important lesson: listen before you speak. Make sure the arguments defending are the ones being challenged.
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Maybe this will be a push for change. Women hope so. A victory and win for one group is a win for all because representation means everything.