Stages of Dealing with Sexism in Tech

2 minute read

1. Denial

“There is no sexism problem they’re just being over sensitive.”

Most of us start here. I started here. Some of us never leave here. I wasn’t warned prior to starting programming that sexism was an issue in the field. Even the word sexism was sacrilegious. Anyone who complained about something offensive was “over sensitive”. Though, this was really just a way of separating myself from “those other girls” to try to adapt to the field by just being seen as “one of the guys”.

The thing is, denying it, trying to erase your womanhood/girlhood for the sake of surviving seldom works and when it does it’s generally short lived. Though, there are those out there who will stay here for the entire duration of their careers just to be able to survive in the tech field. I get it. It feels safer mentally, but it’s no true protection.

2. Bargaining

“If I am really good at programming then they will leave me alone.”

Some of us try to placate the sexist assholes among us. It’s an extension of the “one of the guys” play. The thought is “if I am the best programmer in the room they can’t mock me.” There’s no real way to quantify “best programmer” anyway. Sure, in college many of us pushed ourselves to the brink of burnout in our classes just to get the grades, to have at least that safety net.

It doesn’t work. Sexism isn’t rooted in facts, or grades, or belief that you are the programmer you think you are. Even worse, if you suffer from impostor syndrome, it makes it even less of a defense - it just feels like more lies.

3. Acceptance

“Okay, so there is a sexism problem.”

Some of us reach this point and stop. Some of us accept the issue at hand and choose to do nothing. Sometimes situationally, sometimes it just feels like a career threat to even try to fix anything.

4. Depression

“I can’t actually do anything about it.”

This is the often the point where we leave. This is the state that we enter that leaves tech with such a high attrition rate for women. For some this means just calling into work sick a lot. Avoiding tech events. Sometimes even losing casual interest in programming. It’s not fun anymore.

For some of us, this gives way to actual depression. There’s a high cost a hand here, when maintaining one’s career in tech also means seeking mental therapy just to help deal with the sexism.

5. Anger

“This is unfair and I’m not taking it.”

You may not actually feel angry, but this is about actually trying to do something about the problem. Talking about sexism in tech and actively seeking to make the community better. Many of us are here some weeks while being back in the state of depression others.

It’s this stage that we work so hard to get to. It’s here that changes actually happen and it’s here that we make progress. It’s here that others try to shut us down and silence us.