I was huddled together with a group of men who were surrounded by women. I was confused. The silence was deafening.
I was attending corporate training on diversity, the instructor asked, “What is it like to be a man working at our company?” Like all of the activities this week, I knew this exercise would also be powerful, but I wasn’t getting it. For the first time all week, we guys didn’t have words. None of the men could answer what it is like to be a man at our company.
Next was the women’s turn. They huddled in the middle, surrounded by the men with the question, “What is it like being a woman in your company.”
Oh my, the dialog was rich. I can’t remember the actual discussion topics. But I will never forget the stark difference in the conversation. Especially the silence. Before that moment, I had never considered my gender at work.
The gender bias in the technology world is deep and wide and destructive.
I recently watched the movie, The Social Network about the founding of Facebook, with my son. I was hoping to inspire him on the possibility of creation in technology. I didn’t remember how awful the portrayal of the sexes was in the film. The boys were smart and powerful, and the girls were there to give them pleasure. Gross! Even more disgusting, the movie portrayed the boys’ motivation to create powerful technology so that women would like them. Barf! I’m glad we watched the movie together. A great teaching moment.
I only have the experience of being a cis-gendered male. I’m not going to write about what it is like to be a woman in the workplace because I don’t know.
But I do know some things:
- Companies pay men more than their women teammates.
- There are a lot more men in technology.
- Men disproportionately hold more management positions.
- Our society and culture require more family responsibilities for women than men.
- Men are groomed for competition from a very early age.
- It is easier for men to take personal credit for group work.
More than unfair.
I read an article that explained, “Men build technology to replace their Moms. Women create technology to save the world.”
Gender bias goes deeper than just being unfair to women. This bias is hurting everyone. For me, it’s about creating the best products possible. I am responsible for designing and building medical equipment. My company tasks me with creating medical equipment that is easy to use. I have the personal responsibility to build a system that best meets the clinical need.
The team of engineers creating this technology is mostly men. Women operate our systems on lots of women patients. How can a bunch of men possibly create the best system possible? I don’t think we can. Gender imbalance is personal as it prevents me from meeting my highest goals of making the best medical systems possible.
Technology has an opportunity to solve many of the world’s problems. Instead, we are unknowingly building destructive technology because it doesn’t represent the people it will serve. Gender bias is a significant cause.
cubicleMonks can bring me shame
The word monk is not gender-neutral. Monk has male connotations.
Am I perpetuating this gender bias with the name of this website? Can a woman call herself a cubicleMonk? Are there women who could be served by cubicleMonks in this community who would stay away because of the name?
So far, I have gotten tremendous positive feedback for this site from many women. I haven’t heard of a woman being blocked. So I don’t see the name as a barrier yet. Please let me know if you see an obstacle.
Instead, I am using this struggle over the site’s name to give thought and voice to the gender inequality found in cubicles. I am exploring if this flawed name can be leveraged to voice the travesty of gender bias.
It’s not just about fairness. It’s ok if you are a man and don’t see the inequality. I’m blind to most of it, and I’m writing this article. But if you believe all humans have the same potential regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, then you are obligated to look around the office and see who isn’t there. Look at the management or executive team and see who isn’t there.
It’s not binary
The corporate training I discussed above was almost 20 years ago. Sometimes when I look around the office and especially the management meetings, things don’t look much different. But, I can see progress around gender not being binary, which was not a topic I heard discussed 20 years ago. I now know there is no “male” and “female.” Our biology is much more interesting than this and another area of growth and exploration for me. It is so ingrained in my being that “I am man” that it is challenging for me to understand fully. But exploring this rainbow both internally and externally is critical for society and me.
What should I do?
If you self identify as a man and are inspired or curious by reading this article, please don’t jump into action. Instead, next week in all of your meetings, try to be silent. Instead, just listen and observe the conversations. Who is speaking and who isn’t. Who is speaking and not heard? This exercise has provided me with tremendous discovery.
Everyone, please do me a favor. Please speak up and reach out to me if you ever observe my words or actions that could be more inclusive.