In the United States certain professions have gender attached. You can be a nurse or a male nurse, a teacher or a male teacher, a chef or a female chef, a computer programmer or a female computer programmer. I’ve known men who worked as librarians, teachers, and speech language therapists and they are all minorities. They go to conferences with hundreds of people and see maybe two or three other men. The male teachers in particular have their motives questions. Why would you want to work with children? (Are you a pedophile?) I am lucky not to have to deal with that question. There is a rudeness to it that hurts my soul.
I am a female computer programmer. I get asked if I wouldn’t rather be a project manager or the person who knows about tech but acts as the go-between for customers and “real” programmers instead of programming. I end up doing a lot of documentation (because it is important) and then worry that I will end up on the Docs team instead of coding where I love the work.
Ignorance and minorities go hand in hand. Not ignorance on the part of the minority but ignorance about minorities. It can range from hostility and stereotypes to the more “innocent” sort of ignorance that I now call Can I Touch Your Hair?
Every type of ignorance deserves its own response and each response is based on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. In the land of computers people are often shy, introverted and have a history of being bullied. Men and women alike with years of high school under their belt where they were the ones who were beat up or had tampons thrown at them. Some grow aggressive, some quietly submit, some educate. I call these categories Malcom X, Uncle Tom, and Martin Luther King. I try to emulate Martin Luther King.
Being on disability as I recover from brain surgery gives me a lot of time to think. I remember back to a moment in time when I brought up how differently women write their resumes than men. We were looking to hire a new team member and we were comparing two candidates, one an over qualified male and the other an under qualified female. My male team lead said, “Since you’ve brought up the gender differences would you mind if I asked how I could tell if a woman was exaggerating her abilities or lying about something on her resume?”
The question really threw me off. I didn’t know how to answer. Instead I walked through her resume and showed him where she had chosen to do projects like move databases from MS Access to MySQL (a smart move) because she was bored with what she was being given. Her history looked a lot like mine.
We ended up hiring neither and kept looking for someone closer to the middle ground.
Now here in the future I feel haunted by this moment. I feel like I missed the chance to educate him on something about women in computer science. Women will only put on their resumes what they absolutely know they can do and have had actual experience with. We know walking in that our skills will be judged from the get go and there will be no time to “learn it on the side after I get hired.” We can’t afford to exaggerate on our resumes or, at the very least, we feel we can’t.
I wish I could go back in time and say, “She seems like a real go-getter. Let’s hire her.”