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Ten Tips for How YOU Can Make Your Workplace Friendlier for Women

Anna J McDougall on December 14, 2020

Friends, let's talk. It has been a hard year for everyone, and something that happens in hard years is that we have less patience for little anno...
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matthijsewoud profile image
⚡️

This is a really good piece that I think hits all the nails on all of the heads.

I'd like to add a small something that really irks me that many folks do in documentation: referring to programmers as male per default.
It's better to use he/her, but I think the easiest thing is to not use gender at all and use they/them. Just saying "A developer can do an API request by doing X, then they can do Y" is a good thing; it's readable, inclusive and makes more sense than using 'he (or she)'.

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Anna J McDougall Author

Really good point! I know in German, for example, it's usual to use male pronouns for anything 'impersonal' because no equivalent of 'they' really exists for the third person like in English. I'd love to see a move to 'they/them' for impersonal documentation.

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pjotre86

I'm German and you confused me now 😂

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Anna J McDougall Author

Wenn man irgendwas auf Deutsch schreibt, es steht immer "Er muss das Ding so-und-so machen". Man würde niemals "Sie müssen das Ding so-und-so machen" schreiben, sonst klingt es ob als es mehr als eine Person da gibt. Auf Englisch kann man "they" nutzen, ohne zu meinen, dass es mehrere Personen gibt.

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pjotre86 profile image
pjotre86

Now I got it, thanks!

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

A lot of free software uses "she" and "her" in its examples.

I have to say it's weird that it still jumps off the page to me when I read it because it's so uncommon in other documentation. We want to reach the point where people don't notice it one way or the other, of course.

I notice that the use of male pronouns is almost universal in people for whom English is a second language, and I don't pretend to know whether that's from a cultural standpoint or because "he" is still taught as being the literary equivalent of a unisex t-shirt.

Personally I don't understand why gender is part of language in the first place, I mean we don't have different words to refer to people who are different heights or who were born on even-numbered days. They/them/their is the only option that makes sense.

The one convention I can think of that does use "she" is communications and cryptography - which traditionally use "Alice" and "Bob" as the two ends of a channel.

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csharpforevermore

Totally agree. In fact, we were taught that gender specific pronouns were grammatically erroneous. I find it very strange when reading non-prose, such as technical documentation, and it presumes that a theoretical protagonist has a specific gender. It's just ignorant to some extent.
However, I think that if you must use genders, then prioritise female genders since they are under represented. Thank you for making me mindful of such practices. I am a staunch feminist - by which I intend to be the good sort who merely advocate equality of genders rather than the superiority of females (no matter how clear it is that women really do better than men in many things! (-: )

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Cadu de Castro Alves

I think "we" or "you" would solve that easily.

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SyntaxSeed (Sherri W)

Bonus tip:
Don't roll your eyes or crack jokes if a female colleague has to arrive late or leave early to drop off or pickup kids at school "Leaving early Judy? Must be nice! Har har!". No.

She has no choice because she's usually the primary parent.

Double Bonus: If you're a dad, you be the one to leave early & get the kids. Are you a manager - let your dad employees know that they CAN have flex time for parenting responsibilities.

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Anna J McDougall Author

Great point, especially since so many junior colleagues are likely to be in their early 20s and not have kids, so they don't get it. Picking up kids is not a luxury, it's part of being a responsible adult.

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Octa

I'd rather be treated as just another colleague than try to enforce a list of special treatments. I want a compliment because my code is good, not because I'm a woman.

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Anna J McDougall Author

I'm not sure how treating people with respect and listening to them is "special treatments", and my point about not bringing up gender and complimenting based on technical abilities would agree with your point. I think we have more in common than you might first believe!

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Eric Bible 🙋🏻‍♂️

I love this article! Great work!

I’m trying to break into tech but my background has been business management for the better part of the last decade and I’ve always tried to use my influence for good, so to speak.

That said, your very first point really resonates with me because I often catch myself interrupting anyone in group conversations. It stems from an introverted confidence issue about not being heard/valued but I hate when I catch myself doing it. Anyhow, I’ll stay diligent!

Thanks for taking the time on this!

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Anna J McDougall Author

No worries Eric! I used to interrupt people a lot as well. For me, it came from an excitement of wanting to interact with what they were saying, but it dawned on me (probably a bit too late, really!) that it came across as the opposite: shutting down what they say before they're finished. It took a lot of time to work on it, and I still sometimes catch myself. I find a simple "Wait, sorry I don't think you were done yet." or "I interrupted right now, I'm sorry... What were you going to say next?" is perfectly acceptable to most people.

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Edoardo Tenani

Thank you for this post! Really spot on! Will definitely be added to reference list.

Something I found of profound effect has been training on "unconscious biases". There are videos available online and really showcase how we are culturally wired to behave in a certain way, indipendently from gender. It was a eye opening moment for me and I started being more conscious about when some of those mechanism kick in. Still is very difficult and something we should talk about more.

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Anna J McDougall Author

Absolutely! My background is in classical music where, for orchestras at least, "blind" auditions are the norm. In other words, the musician plays behind a screen. At first there was a lot of outrage because naturally, the artists/musicians watching auditions didn't believe they held any biases. It's great that they felt that way, but regardless, the number of women and minorities on orchestras shot through the roof once blind auditions were introduced. A lot of the time, these things are happening subconsciously. That makes sense, because they are pervasive parts of our culture: there's no shame in admitting that we have ingrained biases, but it's on us to work to try to overcome them as best we can. As with any problematic personality trait, we have to work to become better. E.g. In my early 20s I would interrupt people a lot in conversation: not knowingly, I was just excited to contribute, but in the process I would talk over people. I never intended to make others feel unheard, but that's what it did. I had to work at holding back a bit more, letting people finish, not pre-empting them, etc. There are plenty of similar traits we all have to work on, and ingrained bias is one of them!

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Sarayu Gautam

Wow ❤️. Thank you for your amazing post.

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Anna J McDougall Author

Yes, it is definitely a thing. There are also plenty of stats about how everyone (yes, including women) overestimate how much a woman has spoken in a meeting or presentation. In other words, even when women don't speak as much as men, people believe they have spoken more. A lot of these things we do subconsciously, not out of malice. That's part of why I say that if you already don't do it, then that's GREAT, but then start to pay attention to whether your colleagues do.

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Edoardo Tenani

Once I started paying attention to it I was amazed by how frequently I was doing this or it was happening😟 more frequently than I wanted.

The thing I was really impressed the most has been how men and woman reacted differently to it.
Given a positive environment (where no one was sexist) in my experience being interrupted seems widely accepted by men, while it shuts down most talk and discussion with women. Especially in a work environment.

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Anna J McDougall Author

Yeah, unfortunately I think that's a case of your workplace suffering from the errors of others. A lot of women have learned not to bother trying if they're getting interrupted a lot, or they feel like they're being "a pain" if they keep talking after that point. It's part of why being conscious of giving them space to finish their thoughts, and showing that you're actively interested in them, is even more important than it is for male colleagues. The respect is the same, but because of bad experiences we all have to be conscious to show that the respect is there a bit more than we would otherwise.

To my mind, it's worth the effort because it means we as a company/workplace don't miss out on ideas or opinions which could make our product better.

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Edoardo Tenani

100% agreed!

I also really dislike thinking I'm shutting someone down "by accident", or without even noticing.
Creating and reiterating a culture of listening is a key aspect of this in my opinion.

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Margo McCabe

This is really great, a good reminder that everyone should read!

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Anna J McDougall Author

Thanks Margo! If it makes even one woman's workplace better then I'll be pumped ☺️

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Michael Tharrington (he/him)

Seriously awesome post! This is such great advice. Bookmarking this one! 😀

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Anna J McDougall Author

Thanks Michael! Glad you found it useful!

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Francesco Ciulla

This is super important. Thank you Anna!

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Ben Halpern

Great post

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Anna J McDougall Author

Thanks Jason! It's been really great seeing how many men are liking, commenting, and sharing this post. If we can improve the life of even one woman in a tech company, then I'll consider this a massive success.

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Saswata Mukherjee

This is an amazing post! Really highlights a ton of action items one can take to make tech friendlier to women!

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Anna J McDougall Author

Thank you! Yes I'm all about keeping things as practical as possible. It's how I work and I know I'm not the only one.

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lauris652

What the actual fuck