Wear their shoes

Last night I had the pleasure of hosting our local SQL Server User Group and having Rie Irish speak. Despite it being a remote presentation, which usually draws a smaller crowd, we had one of our larger crowds in awhile; I was quite pleased.

The topic was “Well Actually… Don’t be THAT guy in IT.” I first saw her present this at the Atlanta SQL Saturday 2018 and knew I wanted her to speak again to my user group.  She had previously presented “Let Her Finish” and this was a good follow-up.

One of the points she makes during this particular talk is that men don’t know what it’s like to be in a woman’s shoes.  This triggered a memory of when I was a wee lad.

Let’s jump back into the old Time Machine and dial it back to early September 1985. It’s evening on the campus at RPI and a young college freshman is hanging out with one or two other guys trying to figure out what evening session for their student orientation they should go to. They see a session provided by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) talking about women in engineering. One of them says, “Oh that should be fun” in a voice that probably had at least a bit of snark in it. So, this young, intrepid and naive freshman follows along, after all, at a school with a 5:1 ratio, one might as well go where there’s some women.

Now, this young freshman can’t quite remember the entire session, but he did come away with a very different impression than he thought he would. Basically it was an “Oh wow” moment. Prior to that he had no idea the sexism women might face at an engineering college where in theory one was admitted solely on merit. It was eye-opening.

Jumping back into the time machine, we can dial it forward about 18 months and set down at a house off campus where he’s talking with one of his housemates. She mentions she had started as an architecture major but changed majors, for a variety of reasons. But, one thing that stood out was her first day of class where a professor made it quite clear that he didn’t think women should be architecture majors. He was a bit shocked that such attitudes still existed, but by then wasn’t entirely surprised.

Again, jumping in the time machine, he dials things forward about 2 years later. He’s sitting in the backyard of a sorority house talking with his girlfriend and a mutual friend. The mutual friend is a geology major. She mentions how she has gotten into the habit of submitting her homework and papers with simply her first initial and last name. This less naive man doesn’t quite get the reason why at first until she points out that this way, her professor can’t as easily identify her gender, and it makes her life easier and she tends to get better grades that way. He doesn’t want to believe it, but he does, because he figures she has no reason to lie.  It angers him though that she has to do it.

Let’s jump forward now about two decades. Due to his then current work situation, he’s actually staying with the now former girlfriend from college. In the years since they graduated and broke up, she had gone on to become a VP of engineer at a medical devices company before eventually quitting and going into consulting. He’s making dinner when she comes home from a meeting she had with a client. She’s visibly upset.

He asks why. After all, she was simply going there to give her final report on an item she had been asked to review and to get paid for that report.  The client had accepted the paper, and then asked her for a date. What had been a professional setting now became an awkward setting where she was placed in a position of having to say no to something she never expected to come up and to still make sure she got paid.

Jumping into the time machine one last time, we return to the modern day where Rie is still speaking. This no longer young man has to agree.

He’s had glimpses into what close friends have gone through, but, that’s exactly what they are. Glimpses. He didn’t experience them. He has never, as another friend has had happen, been told if he gave a blow job, he would get the job.  He’s never had a door close behind him and a manager awkwardly try to make a move on him.  He hasn’t woken up most mornings wondering, “who will question my credentials today because I have large breasts.”

Today’s takeaway for a number of my readers is: listen to your colleagues and believe their experiences, but don’t for a minute claim to fully understand them. Many of us never can and never will.

Oh, and one more comment: this author is far from perfect when it comes to handling gender and other similar issues. It’s an ongoing process.  I’m still trying to learn and grow.

 

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