When it’s death by 1000 paper cuts the little things count

2 minute read

I learned early that sometimes being a software engineer means death by 1000 cuts because you don’t have the power to make it stop. Even the tiniest little things add up to something big – sometimes it’s really death by 1000 paper cuts.

As Julie notes, the little things can create deep wounds, but if we act with little acts to counter those we can make progress to reducing the hostile environment that the tech world can be at times.

None of the following at exactly revolutionary acts, I’d love to call them anti-microaggressions, but truly they are just a couple small actions that undo some very common microaggressions.

1. Fitted/Women’s cut shirts

“They gave me a t-shirt and it’s a size small, men’s,” said Alex Maier, a community manager and heavy user of Google’s products, during a Q&A session with the panel. “That makes me feel unwelcome. I don’t want to make this a big issue or confrontational thing…. But the thing is, I show up, and I want my shirt, and I don’t want to be told that I can sleep in it.”

Unisex shirts are really only unisex for people who have boxier frames. Providing fitted shirts provides options for those people who don’t just want another shirt that fits them so poorly they can’t wear in in public. If you go to a conference or an event you often want to show it off and providing shirts in multiple cuts opens the door for more people to show their pride in whatever it was they happened to be participating in. You might even want to consider providing kids shirts to open the door even further (especially if the event is kid friendly).

2. They/Them/Their

But somebody taught you, didn't they?
Charlotte's Web, E. B. White

I’m not going to argue the validity of singular “they” being used as a pronoun. It has been used for centuries in writing and it’s way more inclusive of non-binary individuals than “he or she”. While it may sound awkward if you aren’t used to using “they” as a singular pronoun it will eventually become natural if you practice using it in your writing and it’s absolutely worth it.

3. Code of Conduct

Why have an official anti-harassment policy for your conference? First, it is necessary (unfortunately). Harassment at conferences is incredibly common - for example, see this timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities. Second, it sets expectations for behavior at the conference. Simply having an anti-harassment policy can prevent harassment all by itself. Third, it encourages people to attend who have had bad experiences at other conferences. Finally, it gives conference staff instructions on how to handle harassment quickly, with the minimum amount of disruption or bad press for your conference.

I won’t go to a conference without a code of conduct and I know many others as well that see this as a requirement for them to feel safe at a conference. It’s something to consider using in other spaces as well; IRC channels, mailing lists, meetup groups, etc. If there is any space where people are together it’s probably safe to say that a code of conduct could come in handy.