Ask my friends, I am not a prude. I like to have fun, with my friends. I let loose, with my friends. I’ve been known to curse like a sailor and tell an off-color joke or two, with my friends. And it’s actually pretty easy to be my friend. So before I get responses telling me to lighten up, I don’t need to, I already am. I am not whining. I am offering specific tangible items to help educate folks on how women in tech are treated on a regular basis. Since I am in tech, I am not sure if the issues exist in other professional worlds. Tech is my professional world. None of these events made me personally feel threatened, yet none of them were appropriate in the environment of a professional conference.
Women in technology is a hot topic these days (again). For me, being a woman in technology is irrelevant. I am either too naïve or too arrogant to think I am treated differently because of my gender (on a regular basis, with those I choose to work with). Going to a conference is a whole ‘nother thing. I’ve written before about someone dropping a roofie in my drink at a large tech conference. This is not about things to that extreme. This is the list of annoying and inappropriate things that happen to us (women in tech) on a regular basis. Things we shouldn’t have to put up with in a professional world.
The conference I was at is irrelevant. It is a conference made, run and attended by professionals, a few thousand of them. Except for the annoying few that trigger blog posts such as this one. It is a conference that felt nearly even 50/50 men and women as both attendees and speakers. All of the men I will be referring to here are middle age or older. They likely have daughters, some quite likely have daughters my age. They are men that should know better. Somehow the young men at these conferences are the ones that know how to have fun and not cross certain lines (or maybe I’m too old for them to bother?). This is a middle-aged man issue (from my vantage point).
Annoyance #1- there was an experts table for attendees to come to and ask their specific questions of the experts (the desk was staffed by volunteer speakers and MVPs). At this time there were three of us staffing the table, myself and two male colleagues. A man none of us know (at least 60 years old) approached the table, walked directly up to me and asked “is this where I get my massage?” My response was that we only massage brains here, he walked away.
Annoyance #2- the event party was hosted at a local bar. The sponsors had a fine selection of beverages available for us that did not include any hard liquor. I was standing with a group of female friends listening to live music, one of the sponsors of the party was in the band, and it was kinda fun actually. A man none of us knew, stumbled over to us, tray of shots in hand, I’d say about my age (mid 40s). He offered shots, we all declined. (Offering the drinks, not a problem. Not accepting our no, there’s the problem.) He set down the tray and picked one girl from our group as his target and was practically pouring the shot into her mouth while she was saying no thanks, hey I’m working, leave me alone kinda things. I took the shot from his hand and placed it on a nearby table and told him to just walk away in my best mom voice. He listened and left us alone. No one should accept an already poured drink from someone they do not know (see above about being roofied). No one should have to say no thank you more than once.
Annoyance #3- this one crosses a bit of a line that the others did not, but the man in this story responded respectfully and appropriately when confronted. A woman at the conference let me know that a friend of hers, also a woman attending the conference, had acquired a stalker and he was making her very uncomfortable. My immediate response was let’s find this man and tell him to stop. I find out a little of the story. He is older than I (I’d say mid to late 50s), recently divorced, a tad bit socially awkward and unaware. He and my new friend had exchanged a few texts like people might do at a conference. Then he went too far. Like 100 text messages a day too far. Like comments about her stripping as a job if the tech thing didn’t work out. Too far. We are in the expo hall, we notice this man I go to speak with him. I do feel the need to say, it was a well-attended public place and at no time did I put myself in danger by approaching him. I introduced myself, ask if he had a minute to talk. I explained we had a friend in common and that he was making her very uncomfortable. His texts and conversations we smothering and inappropriate and needed to stop. This is a professional conference and we should keep it that way. He seemed genuinely surprised. Agreed to leave her alone. He sent one more text to her, apologizing. Then he stopped.
I did nothing special. I did what women do for each other. Had I been on the receiving end of the unwanted attention again, any one of the women around me would have done the same thing. It’s what we do.
We shouldn’t have to.