The cat’s out of the bag; the reason why there are fewer women in computer science has finally gotten out. And what a predictable reason: rampant, uncontrolled, pervasive sexism. The only thing surprising to me about this is the sheer number of episodes. Something like four incidents leading to news stories on high-profile sites like Reddit and Hacker News.
Pleasantly, there have been a lot of people saying the right things. Predictably, there have been a few trolls. But one nagging element that seems to keep coming up is: but what if this is just part of our corporate culture? What if you’ve got a really free-speech, open-air environment in which dynamic people get up and speak their minds, aren’t you going to somehow destroy our beautiful and unique culture by constraining us?
And I’ll give you three reasons, because it takes me three pages to say what James Hague says in three sentences.
1. You are programmers
What makes you programmers? That you program. That’s it. Your biases have nothing to do with it. Since you’re a programmer, you probably feel like everything about you is rational and can be argued and defended. Not so. And because you’re a programmer, the reason you come to work is—to program, not to tell dick jokes, not to see which one of you can make the rest of the world the most uncomfortable. If you had to choose between actually programming and telling dick jokes, and you’d honestly choose telling dick jokes, or somehow argue that your ability to program would be compromised by not being able to tell dick jokes—newsflash, you’re not a programmer.
2. Your workplace isn’t a frat
Contrary to what you must have dreamt up with your buddies, a workplace is a workplace, startup or not. The appropriate time to discover if somebody “fits with your corporate culture” is the interview. Not six months later, in the middle of a big project, when you finally let your guard down and start flying your freak flag. Your workplace is governed by the same laws that govern every other workplace, be it an office, the DMV, the doctor’s office, whatever. There is no “bu-bu-but we’re a magical startup!” clause. If you’re making life hard on an employee of yours with your environment, that’s a hostile environment, period. So when someone says to you or your supervisor, hey, you need to back off on the dick jokes, that means you have to back off the dick jokes, not whine about how you were misunderstood or that you mean it ironically or that someone should have brought it up with you directly.
3. Freedom of speech is not relevant to programming
I love America, and I love freedom of speech, and (obviously) I make wide use of it. You are absolutely permitted to make all the dick jokes you want. You just have to not make them in front of other employees. If you need to be able to do that to write your code, you are not a programmer. Opine and whine all you like—just not while your coworkers are trying to do their jobs.
An Upheaval of Sorts
I don’t know anyone outside a family-owned business or programming who actually gets away with the kinds of unprofessional bullshit we do. It’s completely absurd, and I’m happy to see it improve. Let’s stop being complacent. Let’s choose to be professionals in this field because we love what we do, rather than choosing to kill our own profession by keeping it uninhabitable.