August 11, 2017

MEGAN MCARDLE: As a Woman in Tech, I Realized: These Are Not My People: The Google memo, saying women aren’t very into engineering, reached a similar conclusion.

Until the age of 26, I was employed as a technology consultant by a small firm that served the financial industry. I built servers and workstations, mostly for banks, and in a happy foreshadowing of my future writing for Bloomberg View, I installed some of the first PC-based Bloomberg terminals for a Japanese firm’s office in New York.

Finance back then was heavily male, as it is now. And technology, the same. At the intersection of the two … well, I can count on one hand all the women I worked with directly during almost four years of consulting.

It was very male-centric. I heard about client outings, involving strippers, to which I was obviously not invited. And the sexual harassment (entirely from clients, not colleagues), could be spectacular.

Which has nothing to do with why I left. This will make me sound a bit dim, but at the time, it never occurred to me that being a female in this bro ecosystem might impinge my ultimate career prospects. Nor did I miss having women in the room. I liked working with the bros just fine. And the sexual harassment, while annoying, was just that: annoying. I cannot recall that it ever affected my work, nor that I lost any sleep over it.

No, the reason I left is that I came into work one Monday morning and joined the guys at our work table, and one of them said “What did you do this weekend?”

I was in the throes of a brief, doomed romance. I had attended a concert that Saturday night. I answered the question with an account of both. The guys stared blankly. Then silence. Then one of them said: “I built a fiber-channel network in my basement,” and our co-workers fell all over themselves asking him to describe every step in loving detail.

At that moment I realized that fundamentally, these are not my people. I liked the work. But I was never going to like it enough to blow a weekend doing more of it for free. Which meant that I was never going to be as good at that job as the guys around me.

For them it’s not a job, it’s a way of life. Plus:

So why did the internet react as if he’d imperiously told women to get back in the kitchen where they belong? Why did his company fire him?

Well, for one thing, the next time the company gets sued for sexism, that memo is going to be Exhibit A. Firing him makes that less of a problem for the company’s lawyers. You can also argue that it will be impossible for him to work with the female colleagues whom he has richly angered. But of course, these are problems mostly because people decided that these sorts of arguments are beyond the pale. And given that his empirical claims seem to be the consensus of most of the scientists who study the matter, you have to ask why people decided that.

Because many people are emotional children.