The #metoo hashtag has been appearing on social media following the accusations of sexual assault and harassment many women in Hollywood have suffered at the hands of Harvey Weinstein.
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Unfortunately there are several industries that are lacking in women, and the women who are in these industries are not having a good time – the hashtag aims to unite women across the world and end their silence.
Not long ago a female entrepreneur spoke out about how a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley propositioned her when she was looking for a job.
After her story came out, so did many others – people who had kept silent because they were scared that sharing their story could cost them their job, or their reputation, or worst of all that speaking out would lead to nothing at all.
Many women have claimed the reason they have not joined in with the #metoo movement is because it gives off the wrong idea – it only highlights the women who have suffered, not the people who have done wrong, and people should also come forward and admit they were part of the problem.
There were times on my university computer science course where one of the guys would say something about the ability of the women on the course – seemingly just because they were women.
The implication was that the women didn’t know what they were doing, because they were women – and the comment was often hastily followed by “but not you, of course.”.
Not me, because I had established myself as “one of the boys” and I didn’t vocalise the niggling voice inside of me that said I should have stood up for the other girls.
It’s a common occurrence for women in the technology industry to feel they have to act masculine in order to fit in or get ahead – but it’s something that women in industries that are dominated by men are feeling less and less inclined to do.
I also received sexist comments at the time – “get back in the kitchen” is a term I’ve heard more than once.
It’s hard, both to admit #metoo and to confess you’ve contributed to the issue.
People don’t want to speak out, but speaking out in either direction is important.
Where once my silence contributed to part of the cultural problem, now I hope I’m part of the solution. I would never stay quiet now, and I see it as part of my job to do what I can to be an advocate for the minority, whether by refusing to take part in non-diverse panels or disagreeing if someone says something stereotypical about women in tech or women in general.
As president of TechUK, Jacqueline de Rojas, has frequently said (paraphrasing Madeleine Albright’s famous quote): “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
This is why culture in technology teams such an important thing to discuss when trying to improve and embrace diversity – when a culture embraces people for who they are, they’re not scared to speak up.
It can take someone very brave to admit they have been on the receiving end of sexual abuse, or harassment, or negative stereotyping, or sexism, in case they are shouted down or silenced.
I can guarantee you a number of people who have noticed the #metoo movement or are reading this won’t admit to being part of the problem – but how many you have done something as small as to not call someone out when they’re perpetuating stereotypes?
People I know who think they are advocates in tech still make the “I tried to hire more women but there just aren’t any” excuse or decline to come to Computer Weekly’s annual diversity in tech event because they didn’t feel like it was aimed at them as one of the people in the majority.
Improving diversity in the technology industry is an aim for everyone – and so should treating people with respect.
It’s incredible we even have to be talking about this, everyone, in every industry, of any gender, should realise they have a hand to play in this.
Admit to your mistakes, become a better person going forward and together we can fix this.