Men, Women, Tech: Building structure that acknowledges how things are + how they could be

I have a hard time watching women cut other women down to size.

For me it’s painful because I recognize that the hardest thing to overcome in any group of humans is when an insider or influencer calls out someone else as “not a real [line in the sand of your choosing].”

I wrote a more personal piece about this back in April when I addressed my discomfort with Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign.

In that model the very thing that’s supposed to ensure legitimacy — hey, this is someone who’s been there and done that, truly one of us — is used as a weapon against or seperator of other people in the group.

For women in American culture this is a constant problem and it’s embedded in a variety of forums, including the workplace.

As a member of the startup / tech ecosystem, I think about these things a lot. Even in a very far forward part of the economy the concepts of access + “how it’s done / what’s normal” are still strong currents, and instutionalized “isms” are at play. I won’t get into a huge discussion of how that works here, since there are other people doing it better (for a thought provoking, but NSFW [language + trigger warning] run down, check out @Shanley’s piece on how women in tech end up reinforcing patriarchy. I don’t agree with everything she has to say, but there are some indictments there that are hard to refute.

Unfortunately it isn’t that No One Sees This Cutting Down Occuring, but instead, that the flares get more attention than the structural problems and tend to overshadow potential solutions.

I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In, and while I think it’s limited in its’ scope (Sandberg says so herself several times) it is a candid and fairly useful look at the double life that women are forced to live in order to be successful at high levels of corporate enterprise. Of course not every woman is looking for that, nor should they be. But for those that are, and especially in Silicon Valley / technology, there is a very real choice of rock the boat or don’t rock the boat. By the time you are the COO of Facebook you’ve got a certain level of credibility that insulates you from making that choice, but it often takes some grit and tradeoff to get to that point (and as someone who cares deeply about expanding access / view points in tech, I can tell you it’s not easy to get people to talk about in real terms).

But that’s where the rubber meets the road, if you ask me.

It’s the thinking, the structure that’s built around “how things are” and “how they could be” that is the real problem.

While people are arguing about blow ups like the TechCrunch Titstare debacle, the “isms” or patriarchy or whatever you want to call it (personally I look at it as icononizing — good or bad — and dehumanizing) is constantly reinforced over and over in everyday interactions. Calling people out on Twitter or Facebook is one thing (mixed bag in terms of effectiveness, IMHO), but actually changing the way people relate to each other and work is crucial and often overlooked. It’s also not easy and it’s time consuming.

Currently I’m working on a lean Guide to Collaboration, inspired by conversations about working across disciplines that I’ve had with our UX / UI designers in the last few months, and it strikes me that we almost need something similar when talking about making changes to startups / tech culture to welcome women and other underrepresented groups.

Are there any “good structures” that you’ve personally built or seen in action that get people to think and do better things?


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