by Sharon Florentine

This time it’s personal

Mar 17, 2016
CareersIT LeadershipMentoring

I'm a woman (who writes about tech) on the Internet. The question isn't ‘if’ I'll be harassed, trolled and threatened, it's when.

I’ve wanted to blog — about tech, about women in tech, about diversity, about, well, just about everything — since blogs became a thing writers do. To speak more frankly and connect more deeply with readers and offer a glimpse into what it’s like to be a tech writer and help you understand why you should care about trends, products, IT services and the people who make them possible.

But I haven’t. Because look what happens to women on the Internet.

Look at Brianna Wu. Look at Zoe Quinn. Ellen Pao … . I’d bet every woman who’s ever ventured so much as a keystroke on the Web has been propositioned, shamed, insulted and/or threatened at some point. If you’ve managed to avoid this, you either live in a bubble (can I come in?) or you’re masquerading as a dude (why didn’t I think of that?).

The recent study The Elephant in the Valley surveyed 200 women in technology with 10 or more years of experience in the industry. Not surprisingly, 60 percent have experienced unwanted sexual advances, and one in three women have felt their personal safety threatened because of work-related circumstances. Persistent sexual harassment is one of the main reasons women leave STEM careers. No matter how many nonprofits spring up to teach elementary school girls to code, no matter how many times career fairs tell college women what great opportunities lie in STEM fields, none of it matters in a society that still views women as second-class citizens and persists in objectifying and demeaning them daily.

I experienced my fair share of discrimination and harassment. In my first job after college, though I’d been acquiring, editing and proofreading technology books for almost a year, I was passed over for a promotion to an assistant editor position in favor of a newly hired, freshly graduated male colleague. My next job, as an acquisitions editor, I discovered I was being paid almost $15,000 less per year than a male coworker with the same title who did significantly less work and generated far fewer contracts. I fought for — and won — a pay raise for myself. I have other, less-suitable-for-publication stories. Sadly, I’m sure every woman does.

Those experiences made me cautious. When I shifted to writing instead of editing, it was before the social media era, when print publications were still king. A nasty email or a harassing phone call — yep, had a few of those, too — could easily be deleted or blocked.

But writing about the reseller channel, storage, networking, IT certifications, software, consumer tech, the cloud, agile development means I’ve always done so from a place of objectivity — a third-person perspective that gives me some distance and some psychological safety, because it’s not my opinion and my voice that are scrutinized, it’s my sources’ and my background material. I’m just the conduit through which stories are told and information is relayed.

Blogging, though, is necessarily personal, and I’m opening up about my own opinions, thoughts and life as a writer and a woman in tech. I’m nervous and anxious about the kind of attention this will bring. Why am I doing it, then? Why not stay safely behind my veneer of objectivity and hope I can skate by unnoticed and unscathed?

Because, frankly, I’m tired. I’m tired of women’s voices and opinions, thoughts and feelings — in any industry, but especially in technology — being silenced and being denied.

I’m tired of seeing statistics that show women continue to be underrepresented at boardroom tables and at keyboards, writing software, making games, building data centers and apps, or starting companies.

And because the more talking and writing and speaking up women do about the discrimination and harassment we face, the more the men we live with, work with and hang out with will understand and want to help.

It turns out, according to Jeff Weber, senior vice president of People and Places at Bridge by Instructure, a corporate learning management company, that in organizations that implement a comprehensive “gender education” program, not only are rates of sexual harassment reduced, but reporting increases. And guess what? Resolution rates increase, as well as rates of satisfaction with the resolution of these problems. In other words, once an entire group of people understand why and how discrimination and harassment happens, they’re less likely to take part, more likely to speak up if they see or experience it, and they are much happier with how these issues are handled.

So, I’m going to speak up. I’m going to write. I’m going to blog, and I’m going to put myself out here. Maybe it’ll encourage other women to speak up, or at least let other women know they’re not alone. I may even read the comments.