Monday, April 28, 2014

'What can men do' - a male perspective

There has been a lot of overdue discussion on sexism within the tech industry in recent times including some excellent posts on 'What can men do' (by @shanley) and other attempts usually by men to portray themselves as 'reasonable but supporting' voices.

So, being a male that inhabits a certain part of the spectrum and knowing that some males are concerned and confused over what to do then I thought I'd produce an easy to follow list - well, we all like lists!

Step 1 - Shut the f*!k up.
Let's face it, as much as we want to put our two pennies worth forward and come up with 'solutions', we have no experience of the issues at hand and are talking from a position of complete ignorance. No matter how you try to slice and dice it, we don't know what on earth we're talking about. In such a circumstance, the best thing you can do is say nothing. I realise that's tricky for many of us but this is what we need to do. Otherwise, despite all your 'good' intentions you'll just end up doing another @codinghorror and writing something that will just be a reinforcing 'illustration of how women are treated in tech'.

If it helps, just remember that time when you were looking for a memory leak in a 100K LOC C++ application whilst an annoying project manager was trying to give you advice based upon their experience of writing a simple IF statement in an excel spreadsheet formula fifteen years ago. In this circumstance, you are THAT project manager.  You might believe that a narrow skill set such as producing Gantt charts (or the equivalent of coding today) gives you the superhuman ability to solve everything without experience but you're wrong, you are deluded. So realise this stuff wrecks lives, just keep quiet and ...

Step 2 - Listen
Ok, again not normally a strong suit for many of us but absolutely essential given our complete ignorance and lack of experience on the issues at hand. Of course, before we can listen we need to first shut up (see step 1) ... hence make sure you keep to the steps in order. I strongly recommend ignoring any male writers and their 'advice' on the topic particularly if they are attempting to 'move the conversation forward' with words like 'reasonable' or 'compromise'. They don't know what they're talking about anymore than you or I do. The only people who can reasonably move the conversation forward are those with experience of the issues (i.e. women in tech) and obviously those women who are raising it. People like +Shanley Kane et al.

Step 3 - Act & Support
Once you've gotten past the shutting up and listening stage then it's onto our favourite bit which is the doing something stage. The something we should do is to follow and support the recommendations made by those people with experience. Avoid trying to come up with your own 'perspective' and creating your own 'solution'. Simply listen and act upon what you're told to do.

It's really important to keep to the steps in order, so if it helps then make a checklist and tick them off as you go. It sounds simple but as we all know shutting up, listening and acting / supporting are remarkably difficult things to do.