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Nevertheless, Judy Coded

mjjcha profile image Judy Cha ・5 min read

Around this time last year,

when I had participated in this international celebration of women in the field of programming, I wasn't as comfortable in my workspace as I am today. I didn't touch on the subject at all with my post as I felt that it might be too on-the-nose. Additionally, I wanted to leave the post with a note of passion and conviction for change, instead of listing off all the reasons why I felt so drained at work.

Just to be clear, my colleagues are not those god-awful people you read about on subreddit, nor is the company I work for at all conservative, or harbouring some toxic corporate culture. I'm going to steal a joke that was made at the Independent Spirit Film Awards a couple years back, and say that if we leaned any further to the Left, we'd be in the Pacific Ocean right now :P.

The prerequisite for not being heard or involved with work contributions has perhaps very little to do with working with colleagues who don't understand how the menstrual cycle works. This can still happen with colleagues who fully respect people of different genders, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Based on my observations, the prerequisite for not being heard or involved with work contributions is the very simple act of being overlooked.

Then, what the heck does that mean? "Being overlooked"?

It is quite literally as it sounds. You are not considered.

The reasons for which you're not considered are the factors that may reveal whether there were any malicious intents against you. Were you disregarded for a task for which you had the necessary competencies? Were you disregarded for a task that you were not prepared to take on? Or is the point of contention the very fact that there are disagreements on what you are/aren't capable of?

I've found that in my workplace, the reasons for being overlooked for a lot of female developers were simply that their names had not been taken into account. There were no malicious intents of demeaning anyone, or unnecessarily doubting anyone's skills. Our dev team at the time was predominantly male (~70/30), and a lot of the members of leadership (which was also all male at the time) was simply just more accustomed to the other male devs. Our Product team also did not approach all tasks with a very protocol-heavy mindset, so sometimes things were thrown together in a much more casual impromptu fashion.

To some readers already, this point in itself might be frustrating. How could they be so inconsiderate? How can people become selectively invisible to them at the focal points of decision? And I have no desire to excuse anyone from anything. I've been through my share of pain as employee #8 having watched this company grow enough to have more than one hundred employees working together in the same space. I've also had many moments when I went on private mental witch hunts to find the people responsible for wrongdoings against me, or the female colleagues (dev, support, marketing) around me. Just as I've grown and learned that this is not the way to handle injustice, especially in a close-knit place as ours, our Product culture has also grown and evolved to understand what it means to give equal opportunities for women: make room for them.

It may sound like I'm still over-simplifying things, but hear me out.

We're creatures of habit. And, we're imperfect.

How many of you right now can recall every single movement you made this morning up to this point right now as you're reading this post? Can you recall all the brands of every product you've used to get ready for work this morning? Unless you have a photographic memory, or a very well-established routine, or perhaps an outstanding mnemonic method, I doubt many people can answer these questions fully and accurately.

I'm in no way trying to directly compare being able to recall the Braun electric toothbrush you used this morning to being able to recall that there are competent female developers on your team. My point is that our memories are unreliable, and it becomes more inaccurate the more stressed we are. When you have very little to no capacity to think, your mind goes on autopilot and begins relying on habit. If you're used to assigning the same three devs for tasks regarding updating public APIs, in the middle of one-on-one coffee dates with your teammates and a Q3/Q4 pipeline discussion with the heads of departments, your brain just may jump to those same three devs all the while completely forgetting the fact that they're all male.

Then, how do you fix this problem of human unreliability? Make humans better?

Hahahahahaha, no, that's impossible :)
xkcd comic about humans are not very smart

But you can make your team better by having better representation for individual contributors at the leadership level.

The issues of unintended ignorance towards female devs began to decrease at our company as we hired/moved more women into leadership roles in the Product team. When you have a peer next to you that calls you out on missing details, you're less likely to miss them (as a lot of us have probably seen on pull requests). When you have someone next to you that says "Hey, you've been asking those 3 male devs to do all the public API related work lately. You know we have a couple female back end devs, right? Shouldn't you be asking them as well?" One person raising questions about the status quo makes all the difference. And that is precisely the difference I've seen over the last year since my last post on dev.to.

Most of the readers probably don't have the power to make the call about hiring team leaders, or Product management in general. And even if you do, hiring someone you can rely on is like trying to find truffles in a random park nearby - you might be lucky, you might not be. But I strongly encourage everyone to take a look at representation at the leadership tier of their workplace, and see if they're being represented in at least one aspect of life, whether it be your gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. I can promise you that having someone go to bat for you will change your experience at work.

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Judy Cha

@mjjcha

Fullstack web dev, whatever that means.

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