In this day and age for some reason it still surprises me when gender becomes a topic of conversation.
Example from my work Christmas party last night, when I was standing chatting with some of my workmates (who happened to all be male in our little chatting group), another colleague approaches and says “Hi Gentlemen and …” he suddenly was struck by what to call me and came to a grinding halt mid sentance.
This sparked a discussion about what options he actually had. He wanted to acknowledge all of us in the group and didn’t want to specifically single me out but there doesn’t really seem to be a phrase to capture what he wanted to say, just a simple “Hi all” would have been the best option. Saying “Hi guys and P” or pretty much any of another variation on this just sounds weird like I was being singled out or that the PC police were on the case.
It reminded me of a few years ago when my manager at the time, always proudly introduced me as “our female consultant” – almost as if that was his doing. It always felt awkward. I know that there aren’t that many technical women in IT but to have it so obviously pointed out, as if the client was too stupid to notice that I wasn’t a man, and that for some reason it mattered?!
I never thought having a penis was a prerequisite to using a computer? I thought having a brain and aptitude was sufficient.
Even more recently, I have lamented on Facebook regarding a difficult conversation with 3rd party vendor who even when I explained repeatedly that I was the clients technical support, they continued to insist I put them through to someone that knows the IT system … I finally interpreted this to mean they would prefer to talk to a man.
To be fair I used to get a lot more sexist comments and thankfully they are much fewer and further between. I’m not sure if being a woman in IT is simply more accepted now, or whether its just because I am older and people assume that I probably (finally) know what I’m doing.
By far, the most uncomfortable experience I had was with a new client who when setting up their new computer system in a converted house, whilst I was under the desk recabling said “I haven’t had a woman on my bedroom floor for ages”. I was speechless and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. When recounting this to my boss, he dropped the client immediately. I never wanted to step foot in that office ever again. Sleezy, awkward and just completely yuck!
Over the years, most of the comments where the gender issue has come up has just amused me.
There was those final outposts where “girly” calendars and desktop backgrounds still existed. And the men who couldn’t apologise enough that they had these pictures in their office. I guess they didn’t figure the “IT guy”, who was going to be heading onsite to fix whatever was wrong, was going to be a girl.
Or the client with the older autistic son who was really excited about getting a new computer at home. They said I couldn’t possibly meet the son – he wouldn’t have been able to deal with me not being “the new computer man“.
And the best, the partner at the law firm who came into the server room while I recabling under the desk, simply said “looking good P” while the only part of me he could see at the time was my arse.
But to be fair, its not always been men that have made inappropriate comments. There was the female manager at a McD’s, who when about to upgrade the RAM in their back office PC, condecendingly asked me “are you sure you know what you are doing?”.
I even had a similar comment from my Dad once, when replacing the CD drive in my Mum’s computer. I know damn well he’d never have asked my brother. WTF does he think I do for a living?
I’ve also been questioned by clients on my sexual orientation – quite simply if I work in IT, and I’m a woman, I quite obviously must be gay…
I love the IT industry and I work with a fantastic team, but even now, I think any woman who chooses to work in IT, needs to have a fairly thick skin and sense of humour.
You will have people question your ability and you will need to be better than your male colleagues to be seen to be equal in some cases.
But at the end of the day, I am a geek and my gender is irrelevant. Try turning it off an on again…