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Abbey Perini
Abbey Perini

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8 Ways to Support Women Developers

Last year, in We've Been Here Since the Beginning, I wrote about how it felt to be constantly othered, assumed to be less competent, and assumed to be a diversity hire. This International Women's Day, I have regained a teensy bit of optimism, so it's all about how to support the women developers in your life. Basically, if you see something, say something.

1. Believe Them

What not believing them looks like:

  • "He's never been like that with me."
  • "I don't see the problem with this one interaction."
  • Acting like having emotions discredits their complaint.

What support looks like:

  • Being aware there are always power dynamics - learn about intersectionality.
  • Knowing victimizers can be subtle and good at finding vulnerable victims. Harassment is often death by a thousand cuts over a long period of time.
  • Knowing if women are receiving blatant mistreatment, that usually indicates it's condoned at the highest level.
  • Taking a harsh look at your own biases and assumptions. No one is immune from them. If you can, stage an experiment like changing your email signature.

2. Call Out Othering

What othering them looks like:

  • Being surprised that a woman is successful in a technical role.
  • Acting like the woman did something special to be the only woman hired.
  • Pointing out they're the only woman in the room.
  • Not including women in choosing team social activities.

What support looks like:

  • Taking the pressure off the one woman. It's not the woman in the room's job to prove that more women need to be in the room.
  • Putting the pressure back on the employer to hire more women.
  • Speaking up when someone implies it's weird a woman is involved. It's usually weird more women aren't involved.
  • Making sure women are invited to meetings and social events. Choose activities that are welcoming to everyone.

3. Combat Stereotypes

What stereotypes about women in tech look like:

  • "Wow! You're so good at this for a woman."
  • "Women aren't suited for these kinds of roles."
  • "Because you're a woman, you must be in a non-technical role."

What support looks like:

  • Understanding stereotype threat.
  • Calling out the assumptions being made based on stereotypes. Sometimes they are stated out right, but often it's more subtle.
  • Asking why they assumed that her role should be non-technical and point out all the evidence to the contrary that they missed.

4. Give Them the Credit They Deserve

What women not getting credit looks like:

What support looks like:

  • Advocating for your coworkers who often get interrupted or don't seem to get the credit they deserve.
  • Amplifying women's ideas when they're talked over or ignored. Repeat the idea and give credit to whoever came up with the idea. "Like Sally said, it would be a good idea to..."
  • If someone is interrupting others constantly, calling it out.

5. Don't Assign Them Glue Work

What glue work being forced on women looks like:

  • Only women are asked to take notes in meetings.
  • Only women are writing the documentation at your company.
  • Ever expecting a woman developer to order coffee or office supplies or take on the mental load that keeps the office running.

What support looks like:

  • Not doing that.
  • Calling out people who do those things.

6. Apply the Rules Equitably

What not applying the rules equitably looks like:

  • Code standards and practices that are only applied or applied more harshly to women's work.

What support looks like:

  • Noticing when it seems to take a lot longer for women to get their work pushed through.
  • Documenting how something has been unevenly applied in the past and how the rule or process should be applied in the future. If anyone gets noticeably upset about you asking for it to be documented, they probably know they benefit from being able to apply it unevenly.
  • Making sure someone owns the process and can ensure the rules are applied consistently.

7. Don't Tolerate Objectification/Sexualization

What objectification/sexualization looks like:

  • Commenting on a woman's appearance, unasked.
  • Anything that implies women's primary role is reproduction.

What support looks like:

  • Not doing that.
  • Calling out others who do.
  • Understanding the difference between "cool shirt" or "nice haircut" and "If you smiled more, you'd be prettier."

8. Hire and Promote More Women

What it looks like when hiring and promoting women isn't a priority:

  • "Women keep leaving because of other companies' diversity quotas."
  • Harsher performance reviews and moving goalposts for women looking to advance.
  • Women being paid less than their male counterparts, regardless of experience.
  • "We just didn't have any women apply."

What support looks like:

Conclusion

Obviously, some of these things are easier to do the higher you rank in your organization. You may be thinking to yourself "I'm not the CEO. Sure, I can say something, but that doesn't mean it'll change anything." I can guarantee it will change women in your organization feeling like no one cares they have to put up with this.

At the end of the day, that's what being a woman in the tech industry often boils down to: Why do I have to put up with this extra layer of hurdles? Why do people accept this as the status quo?

You'd be surprised how much someone else pointing at the hurdle and saying "this is ridiculous" helps.

Top comments (23)

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pcjmfranken profile image
Peter Franken

What a breath of fresh air to see such an actionable post on this topic! The perspectival examples in particular are incredibly insightful and should really help towards recognising this type of bias in myself and others.

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ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke, web developer • Edited

Thanks for this great article! As a lot of negative discrimination seems to happen in a subtle and unnoticed way, and from a male perspective, often even without deliberate intention, you offer many precise, practical, and measurable aspects where we can make a difference beyond wondering about gender demographics in the developer community.

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marissab profile image
Marissa B • Edited

I'd like to call this out specifically as its own headline:

"Stop interrupting and talking over women in meetings."

I've had to pause meetings to call out men who do this because it's so frustrating and rude as hell. I don't care if you're the CEO, CTO, FBI, or whatever acronym or title. Stop it. If you have a brilliant idea or something you want to share, you can remember the lessons you learned as a child and keep quiet until it's your turn to speak. Talking over someone, interrupting, etc needs to become more frequently called out as crapbag behavior. I've become much less gentle about calling it out over the years and results have gotten better, but it's not fun to embarrass someone in front of their peers or manager or PM just because they can't wait to speak.

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marktnoonan profile image
Mark Noonan

I can’t figure out how to like a post on this website on mobile, so here:

<3

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moraym profile image
Moray Macdonald

Great article! Anyone who's questioning why this article needs to exist, needs to read this article again.

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soldiercoder profile image
Ed Drain

My only comment is that this is much broader than women who happen to be developers. Women from all walks of life face the kinds of BS this article mentions. I hope more men take the effort to see it, and do their part to to help change it. I'm tired of living in a world where an entire nation's policy is that women need to be told to wear black from head to toe, give up even the possibility of intellectual pursuits or meaningful work, and become baby factories and servants of men. It's cruelty on a massive scale and there will never be peace in the world while these conditions endure.

Abbey Perini, thank you for your leadership in this regard!

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abbeyperini profile image
Abbey Perini

Thanks for reading!

My hope is that anyone who needed to read this can begin to generalize what they've learned to other groups after a little practice. 🤞

I think @erinposting put it best when she described it as effective advocacy.

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bekahhw profile image
BekahHW

Crowd in a performance hall clapping

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abbeyperini profile image
Abbey Perini

Maya Rudolph blowing kisses, winking, and making a heart with her hands

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michelsylvestre profile image
Michel Sylvestre

Absolutely great post!

I would also add one important point somewhere.

What support looks like:

  • Accept being called out and use it as a learning opportunity

Too often when people are called out, especially if their actions were without deliberate intention, will react negatively, go on a rant (we can't joke anymore!) or things like that.

Those who don't have to deal with discrimination sometimes forget their privilege (yes that word, privilege).

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cbid2 profile image
Christine Belzie

Love the tips on this article @abbeyperini! :) They are actionable, which is what is needed for issues like sexism in tech to be gone. Also, to your point on "2. Call Out Othering", there are two things that are need to be considered:

  1. Don't Take Up Space: Way to often I see well-meaning allies mistaken doing the majority of the talking as bringing awareness, so it's important for the ally to let the woman speak her points.
  2. Women need to advocate for each other: As a Black woman, I often noticed that non-white women's voices are not included in conversations about improving tech, so it's important for women, especially those who are not in marginalized groups, to make room for those women.
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l4ur4oliveira profile image
Laura de Oliveira

It's a shame that we still have to educate them on how to treat women as capable co-workers as they are. Best #M8 post ever! 👏

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abbeyperini profile image
Abbey Perini

Indeed. At least this year I can say some of the support examples are things that actually happened, and I will always appreciate those dudes for stepping up in the moment. 🎉

Thanks for reading!

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raibtoffoletto profile image
Raí B. Toffoletto

Brava! 👏🏽

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brownrita460 profile image
Rita Brown

This post is so inspiring, thank you so much Abbey!

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2apreety18 profile image
Afia Anjum Preety

Could relate to multiple points in this article.Thank you so much for pointing them out like this.

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mariamarsh profile image
Maria 🍦 Marshmallow

Thanks for brining up this topic! Unfortunately, even these days women in development struggling with major issues, so I believe it is crucial to support each other!

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tanushree_aggarwal profile image
Tanushree Aggarwal

Great post! resonate 100%

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