November 30th, 2013

SQL Saturday – Sexism in the Workplace? (tags #sqlserver #wit #sexism)

Originally published at Ramblings from the Flip Side (Site under construction). You can comment here or there.

I haven’t posted a SQL Saturday post in a while because I’ve had a lot going on, not the least of which is working extra weekend hours. Also, Steve Jones over at wants me to write more articles for him, which I get paid for, and then post them over here only after the exclusion period runs out. Which sounds good on the surface, but then I get too caught up in things to write the articles for SSC and … well, both the blog and SSC fall to the wayside.

Which is a shame because, as I was so recently reminded, there aren’t enough women blogging or podcasting about technology.

One of my LJ friends posted this video, Where My Ladies At, from The Brain Scoop You!Tube channel. And to be sure Emily’s initial reaction to the question of sexism is much the same as mine. My workplace is an excellent environment where individuality and diversity isn’t just allowed, its encouraged. I don’t see active sexism. But once I got to thinking about it, I realized that female developers, DBAs, and help desk techs are few and far between. Don’t get me wrong, we have lots of female business analysts, QA testers, and project managers who are all very intelligent and skilled. But they don’t have their minds and hands in the guts of the machine.

When I first started this job, I was the only woman doing any kind of “hard core” technical work. It wasn’t until about four years into the job that a female developer was hired. She was incredibly talented, but then her husband got a job in California and they moved away. We haven’t had another female dev since. We had two women (at different times) who briefly worked for the reporting team, building Crystal Reports and doing some stored procedure design, but they were contractors who both left.

This year a woman got hired for our Help Desk, and again, she’s absolutely brilliant. Another woman, who has worked for Allstate nearly as long as I have, finally made the jump from customer service to technology. She’s third tier support for a vended application and has this year become the junior DBA of the team. She has a lot to learn still, but she is easy to train (and eager to learn). Then one of our testers made the leap to Business Intelligence and report design.

So now we have four women working the hard core technology programming / design / problem solving. Just four, including myself. And we’re all very good at what we do.

But some of the internal customers are afraid of me. Apparently the fact that I can say “no” to a request, or that I state my opinions, intimidates them. (I didn’t used to be Blunt Girl. Still trying to figure out when that happened.) When people ask me a question and I give them an answer they don’t like, they go to one of my male coworkers (or even my boss) seeking a different answer. Well, okay, that might be explained by the fact that until this year there were no other female DBAs. Yet there are the people who prefer to go to my boss, when he’s swamped, to ask about projects that I’m intimately familiar about. He has to come to me with these questions anyway, or call me into his office to talk with them, but they go to him looking for … what?

And this is not the first job I’ve worked where this has been a problem. Apparently my self-confidence throws people off, confuses them, and even puts them on the defensive. If I were male, would this reaction be different? It’s hard for me to tell, but I will tell you something else.

When one of the Help Desk men answers a question or solves a problem, he’s put in for the weekly employee recognition even though he’s just doing his normal job. When the sole woman on the help desk does the same, she’s just doing her normal job and nobody thinks to put her name up for that recognition. Why is that?

Don’t get me wrong. My workplace is awesome. The employees are treated well and listened to. The company does not tolerate harassment, sexism, etc. Yet there is this underlying current of the culture we were raised with, where women are agreeable, soft spoken, and have to work twice as hard before anyone notices they’re as competent as their male coworkers. To be fair, I’ve seen a lot of people struggling with the current culture shift. The rules are changing, which makes navigating these waters difficult at best, but there are days when I feel like they aren’t changing fast enough.

Which might be why there aren’t more women in technology.

So tell me your side of the story. Is there sexism in your workplace? How has it affected you and your office relationships?