As far as one’s standing in the tech community goes, Laura Roeder has done very well for herself by any standard. As the founder and CEO of Meet Edgar, she’s established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of social media platform integration and synchronization. It’s easy to envy someone who’s so successfully and so quickly made her mark on the tech industry.
Yet, even a luminary like Laura constantly has to battle sexism in the workplace. It came very close to infiltrating her very own workplace without anyone noticing. In a @lkr/i-m-a-woman-in-tech-but-even-i-didn-t-get-it-until-this-week-350cf8b62c46#.n4csd0l8f">recent post on her Medium account, Roeder describes an interview process for a very promising candidate she was hoping to hire. This candidate had nailed all the preliminary interviews, and all he had left to do was get through the “culture fit” interview, in which employees from other departments talked with the candidate to get to know him and determine if his personality would be a good match for the culture at meetedgar.com.
This is where things started to go awry, and fast. The candidate went on to make some incredibly cringe-worthy comments that left the interviewers, specifically the women on the interviewing panel, deeply uncomfortable. Needless to say, the candidate was vetoed after the culture fit interview and was not hired.
In her Medium post, Roeder points out what’s perhaps most troubling about this recent experience: “The thing that fascinates me most is that if we hadn’t held this interview with women, we never would have known that this was the type of workplace behavior he thought was appropriate — not until it was too late, anyway. We would have hired him.”
Spotting sexist tendencies in potential hires is usually not so easy, often because sexism disguises itself in implicit biases; however, you shouldn’t let this fool you. Gender bias in the workplace, specifically in the tech industry, is not a new phenomenon. It’s been well documented and even quantified that women in tech workplaces continue to experience a broad array of gender bias, including everything from wage disparity to social exclusion and unwanted sexual advances from coworkers.
The reality is that the gender disparity and blatant displays of sexism don’t just boil down to an issue of needing to hire more females in tech and paying them fair, competitive salaries, although this certainly helps. As Roeder points out, if there weren’t women in the room during her promising candidate’s hiring process, it’s likely that no one would have noticed his sexist comments, and the candidate would have been hired. However, the problem of bias against women in tech is a much more complex issue that continues to affect women even once they have their foot in the door.
One example of such deep-seated sexism among tech workers came when Toptal, the world’s largest network of top-notch freelance programmers and designers, ran into issues with their ad campaign on LinkedIn. In a blog post from the company’s website, Toptal CEO Taso Du Val described how LinkedIn had pulled their ads and even disabled their profile because they had received complaints that ads with a photo of a female programmer were misleading, inappropriate, or both.
The photo of an actual developer in Toptal’s network was deemed to be misleading in terms of what a female programmer actually looks like, implying that female workers must conform to a certain image to be deemed acceptable in the tech workforce. Du Val soundly criticized LinkedIn for their implicit role in the gender bias (he pointed out that no one took issue with Toptal’s ads picturing a male developer), pointing out that the notion of bias against women in tech is, unfortunately, not going away anytime soon.
A firmly entrenched problem requires a comprehensive and far-reaching solution. In her Medium article, Laura Roeder observed, “Homogenous teams create a vicious cycle of homogeneity. Is a candidate uncomfortable around people who are gay?
Older than they are, younger than they are? People of color? You might never know until they get a chance to interact with a variety of people — is that time going to come before or after that candidate is on your staff?” Simply sending out memos about workplace etiquette and striving for wage equality is great, but it is not enough. If the very culture of the whole industry is tainted, make sure that you’re addressing the problem at its source.
Obviously, you don’t want to hire, much less tolerate in your workplace, someone who is sexist, racist, or discriminatory in any way. Take a firm stance with your company culture, and get employees to embrace it, so that they can spot traces of sexism or other discrimination in potential newcomers.
Also, be sure to include a diverse representation of your employees in your company’s hiring process, since they will be better able to identify potential issues with new hires. After all, gender-balanced teams are more creative and productive, to say nothing of the healthy morale that can come from a self-generated culture of equality.
It’s worth every tech company’s while to make equality and positivity a top priority. Studies show that diversity in a workplace is good for the bottom line, and it turns out female engineers are often better programmers on average than their male counterparts. Don’t let discrimination infiltrate your company. It’s good ethics and good business to push for true equality.
More from living