Are Women In Tech Their Own Worst Enemy?

Oh, women in tech.

It’s certainly a subject that makes people uncomfortable. It makes other women in tech uncomfortable, techy men go on the defensive, and people who aren’t even in tech go squirmy.

Why? Well because it’s all angry feminist talk, isn’t it?

Feminists! They’re angry, they’re ranty, they make you think about things! And they fight. For their right to party. (Oh, and for equal pay and all that.) And some feminists even like to fight with each other.

Feminist infighting is nothing new, and it should come as no shock that there’s a bit of feminist-style infighting going on in the tech industry.

You’ll be quick to point out that this happens in every industry, feminist, tech or otherwise, and I am, of course, aware of this. However, let’s just talk about tech today. That’s a big enough problem in itself.

When we talk about this “women in tech” problem to other techy men, it doesn’t always go so well. We argue. We fight. We write very long angry blog posts about it. All of this is good, even though we’re fighting, because at least people are talking about it, right?

However, when women start talking about why we need more women in tech, things get sort of… awkward.

There are some women who don’t think that we need more women in tech because, hey, they’ve never been treated differently because of their gender. And if more women wanted to be in tech, then they would be.

There are other women who think the polar opposite, and say the reason there aren’t more women in the tech industry is because of a depressing cocktail that consists of:

The lack of education and awareness that you can do things in tech other than code.

The unhelpful sexist attitude of the CEOs and “big men” in the tech industry.

Add a dash of sexual harassment and an array of baby-pink, sparkly gadgets and you have the infuriating combination of reasons why most of us believe the male to female ratio in tech is ridiculously unbalanced.

But I also have another little ingredient to add to the recipe of female-tech-doom: petty, ridiculous cattiness amongst other women in tech.

No one likes to talk about this because we’re all guilty of it. And no one likes to bring to light the fact that maybe, just maybe women are also responsible for why there are so few of us in this industry.

In fact, when I brought this up on Twitter, I was told the concept of women in tech being their own worst enemy was a “disempowering statement”.

Disempowering, or reflective?

I’m not saying women are 100% to blame. I’m simply asking why women shouldn’t take a little bit of responsibility in this matter.

Have each of us done all we can (within reason) to help and encourage our female peers in tech? Or are we fiercely and unnecessarily competitive? If there’s a younger women that’s asking for what tech events you go to to meet new contacts, do you tell her? Bring her along? Or at least point her in the right direction?

If we’re constantly stabbing each other in the back and behaving as if we’re in a horrible episode of The Hills with twice the amount of drama and added Twitter Gossip Fun  – no wonder more women don’t want to work with us.

And those of us who acknowledge that there is a need for more women in tech – why don’t we be a little nit nicer to each other, too? Isn’t it hard enough without  – in no particular order – the tech journos looking down on the bloggers, the bloggers looking down on the PR girls, the PR girls looking down on the female developers and the female developers looking down on the mobile geeks  and the mobile geeks sneering at the girl gamers?

It’s bad enough in this industry without some chick judging your Geek credentials.

I’m not saying that the London female tech scene is necessarily that horrific, but I’m not that far off, am I? And yes, you can argue that men are just as gossipy as the ladies are, but men are not the minority, are they? We are. There are fewer of us.

If you’re ever stuck in a situation where you need a bit of help – whether it be searching for a contact, someone who speaks the same language as you, or just a friendly face – we all know how grateful we feel when someone smiles at us and goes, “Hey do you need help?” or “You look just as lost as I am, let’s stick together.”

Being a woman standing in a sea of men at a tech conference can feel like that.

So why so often do we turn our backs and walk the other way? Why do we refuse the connection? Is it really that scary? Are we so competitive and eager to smash the glass ceiling that you can’t even give a fellow geek gal a, “Hi, how are you?”

We don’t need to pretend that there’s some merry little sisterhood and that we all need to be BFF and share a bottle of rosé after being friendly to another woman at an event.

You don’t need to be like, “Oh hey! Another set of ovaries in the room, let’s talk about boys and Animal Crossing!”

But a general sense of common courtesy would be nice. Female cattiness is a problem in all industries, this we know. But particularly in this male dominated industry where a woman in a bikini on the cover of T3 is more familiar than woman on the cover of Wired is – can’t we just get over ourselves?

Retract your claws, hand her your Moo card, and maybe even 5 minutes of your life.

At the very least, you may just get another follower on Twitter.

Cate Sevilla is the founding editor of You can follow her on Twitter as @cupcate.

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Terrifying post, Cate, but I love it! It reminds me about my primary school times when I used to hang out with the boys, playing football, scaling fences, and I was very protective of my 'the only girl in our gang' status. Until I was 12, that is, when the boys told me that I couldn't play with them any more, because I was 'a girl'. Thankfully, I have grown up since, but it seems some things just don't change. Whether it's at school, or in tech industry.

While it's sad to admit it, where you have large groups of women you do seem to get more bitching and cattiness than where it is a mixed environment or male-dominated (of course there are other issues that crop up in the latter, but that's another story for another time). I'm not at all sure where it comes from, because usually if you break the group down into smaller units, most people turn out to be friendly, generous and helpful. Put 'em all together and the claws come out.

I hate that because it undermines us in the eyes of others, pays lip service to their sexist claptrap and doesn't exactly show the best that women have to offer. It takes a good mouthful of humble pie to admit we're doing something wrong, and what we're doing is feeding the injustices we're fighting against.

You're very right - we must admit where we're responsible. It doesn't let the old boys club off the hook by a long shot, but it gives them one less round of ammunition.

Is this right? Is there a lack of sisterhood among women who work in tech? If there is, I've never noticed it, but then I guess I wouldn't, would I.

I do agree with your point that women do have to take more responsibility and fight for change. One things for sure, if you ain't fighting for change from within, then this industry won't change.

Hi there:

I m a developer myself and only this year i got to work with 2 other developers that are girls, no problems at all tbh.

I would be very sad tho, if this post is reflecting reality.

Cheers for sharing your experience tho.

Great post, Cate.

One thing that always bothers me about the "women in tech" gatherings - and I'm making a wild generalisation here but I'll go ahead with it anyway - is how often talking about getting more women involved deteriorates into "Gosh, aren't we all SO clever and special, because we fought our way through," or even worse, "well, it was even tougher for me to get into tech because..." sob-heroic stories. When we talk about getting over hurdles, are we just emphasising their existence, and discouraging others from joining our band?

But I totally agree with you that we could all be helping each other more, particularly with that "friendly face at a networking do" situation - costs nothing except a tiny bit of confidence!

I've NEVER experienced cattiness from WIT. Mostly because, at least in my corner, the industry is still in that place where you see the only other girl in the room, and shoot a little smile to her; where I'm training confident women who are scared of code to approach it confidently.

More significantly, I think tech is a bastion for so many women who were emotionally victimized by "cool kids" for their outsider-y geek status that we're still quite a ways off from getting to that middle-school-judge-y place.

But it's probably coming.

I work in higher education in the domain of educational technology and interoperability standards and have quite a different experience of working in tech. By and large my female colleagues are overwhelmingly supportive. However just because I haven't experienced the kind of negative attitudes Cate describe doesn't mean they don’t exist. I also suspect these attitudes are more prevalent in corporate tech than in HE. I did one brief stint as a junior techy in a large print and digital media company and it was absolutely brutal. So I agree, there are few enough women working in the technology domain and it’s vital that we support each other. And of course, this is also why it’s so inspiring when you do come across such support.

Your post reminded me of an experiment that a classmate of one of my daughters did last year at school. A group of girls of around 6 years, and a group of boys same age were asked to make a tower of 30 A4 papers.

The G-group immediately went to do all the same,no leader put herself forward or was appointed, all were rolling the a4 papers into little rolls and put them into each other in the air. Of course the tower had no base and the thing fell.There was only 1 minute left and the girls started to panic and do individually other things, but did not succeed.

The Boys group immediately went to put a hierarchy in the group, one became a leader, and he was accepted as such, he instructed the others, who made the base, who instructed others doing the top of the tower. The leader looked and corrected, and the instructions were accepted. The tower was made in time.

The student who did the project offered no conclusions, but I was thinking that within the girls it is not really accepted that one is higher or better than the other or does other things than the other, or instructs other girls.

It reminded me of something else: I have tried to arrange a massive internet event with various women in tech groups, I initiated it: the agenda, the location, the parties invited, but as soon as I did that, other women in the group tried to change the date, the location, invited others etc and really did not accept the initiating role, some went as far as to try to harness the idea, and execute it themselves... I might do a second try..and make it a diverse event.

I have a lot to say about this and want to thank you for blogging about it. Women must be warned!

I just returned from my third conference in three years and it was, once again, I was completely uncomfortable for three days. It was male dominated and I did not find the women to be warm and supportive. Why is it so hard for a woman or man for that matter to walk up to someone who is obviously new to the conference circuit and introduce themselves without coming onto you or worse, feeling like they don't want to talk to you unless your a big "player" in the industry.

I also started a Meetup which I quit when I saw the co-organizer at the conference, who by the way bailed on me and then expected me to do all the work! Out of 37 people in the meetup, 11 women who joined. I am so sick of dealing with the "good ol' boys network and retarded jokes". I wish I had a friend who pulled me aside 9 years ago before getting into this business. Surprise surprise. Women usually don't talk to each other about it. They are tight lipped for some reason.

I'm going to be taking some classes so I can get out of this industry as soon as I can gain some other transferable skills. After 9 years, I'm done.

Thanks again for this post and warning others before they spend a ton of college tuition or waste their time trying to "fit in".