My current project is a fairly large team, nine developers in all, three of them are women. I have to admit that I was a little taken aback by the casual sexism of some of my male peers. It wasn’t brogrammer type comments, but gender getting brought into discussions about shortcomings of different team members when it’s not a gender issue. When the conversation is “she will need more oversight on this task, and she’s a woman”, that’s as sexist as saying “she will need more oversight because she’s a woman”. We already know she’s a woman, the gender specific pronoun gives it away.

I will admit that this is not the highest performing team that I have ever worked with, in fact I would say that it’s the most technically limited team that I’ve worked with in 25 years. Basically, the team falls into three distinct camps, people that can work independently on any task, people that are capable in their area of expertise but require supervision when working on new things, people that require supervision to the level of constant pair programming. To make things more interesting this group is responsible for development on five different projects and production support for three different websites: we have a lot going on. Getting the optimal mix of who is working on what when we have that many disparate things going on is a challenge. For the people that require more oversight, we have to make sure that they have appropriate mentors working with them. What it boils down to is that people are spread very thin on a lot of different things to make progress happen on everything.

However, I see these types of comments and I can appreciate why the technology industry attracts so few women. Implicitly it’s still a boy’s club. I’m not saying that there is no distinction between genders, just that we think about gender as a defining characteristic when it has nothing to do with the task at hand. On this particular team, two of the women fall into the category of people that require oversight when working outside of their expertise and one requires constant oversight. Of the six men, three work independently, one requires some oversight and two require constant oversight. From this admittedly small sample size, the women are just as capable as the men, and vary in skill level pretty much the same ratio as the men.

So, why does gender enter into the discussion?

I can’t say that I have a good answer for that.

It’s something we have to be aware of. Technology work should be gender blind. It’s not like it involves anything gender specific, especially with a completely distributed team. The ability to think through a problem and create a solution isn’t something male or female. There aren’t girl technology problems and boy technology problems; our customers neither know nor care where the author of the solution falls on the gender spectrum. So why do we mention gender at all?

In the end, I think that the only thing we can do is call it out when we see it. kind of the tech equivalent on the Department of Homeland Security’s “If you see something, say something” campaign. I noticed it at the time; told the person that I was talking with that it wasn’t a gender issue, and pretty much left it at that. This is really to remind myself, and everyone else, that it’s important to keep saying something every single time that comes up. ¬†Especially if I catch myself doing it.