Wednesday, July 26, 2006

sexism in the workplace

As a software engineer, one might expect that I'd have to deal with sexism in the workplace. I've read stories where women say they aren't heard in meetings, and I know the statistics (usually 10-15%) for women in computer science.

The thing is, I feel like I don't experience any of it. Maybe my coworkers are really cool, or maybe I'm just loud, so they can't ignore me. Maybe I'm just really used to working with guys, after five years of college and five years of working in technology. I know one thing for sure; these days, it almost feels a little freaky to be in a room full of women. It's like something unnatural has happened, to take all the guys away.

So, I was quite surprised the other day, by a sudden flare-up of apparent sexism at work. Our cubicles are fairly open, so I can see at least two cubes in either direction. I noticed a woman holding a sheaf of paper, walking slowly down the hall, and peering into the rows of cubes. I figured she was one of the people from HR who pass out interview packets, who come by a couple of times a week. Anyway, she stopped at my cube, and asked me if I was an engineer. I replied yes, and she said, "Darn, I was looking for a non-engineer, for a usability study." I told her the product manager cube was in the corner, but it looked like they weren't in at the moment. Anyway, she left in search of a non-engineer.

I'm usually hesistant to declare someone sexist. I looked at my clothes; I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. I looked at my cube; as far as I could tell it looked like everyone else's cube. One of my cubemate had his headphones in, so it made sense that he was passed over, but there was one other engineer in our cube with no headphones in, and at least ten other engineers in the surrounding area, again sans headphones. I poked my cubemate (the one with the headphones) and explained what happened. His response? "Yeah, she probably went for the girl. Too bad our two GUY product managers aren't around." Grr...

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