On The Job: Sex and the System Admin Page 4

Deb Shinder

Sexism is Alive and Well; So What?

What it means seems to depend on who's doing it. My standard response become "gosh, someday I'm going to write a book, too, instead of only ten chapters of one." Most of the guys (yeah, it was usually guys) got the point rather quickly - and were very apologetic. I'm not looking for reasons to be offended; all apologies are cheerfully accepted. More than one said, "I didn't even think about it." Yeah. That's the problem.

Why did our book become "Tom's book" to so many people? Well, it certainly wasn't anything Tom said; he was almost more concern (and definitely more surprised) by the assumptions than I was. And on numerous occasions, he corrected those whose tongues slipped, and gave me credit for everything I'd written. But the experience caused me to take a second, hard look at gender issues in the IT business. And I had to (reluctantly) reassess my previous assertions that, as long as you do an excellent job, gender doesn't matter.

Once my eyes were opened, I started seeing other, equally subtle signs. On MCSE mailing lists, when someone with a feminine name posts a "dumb" question, guys flock to the aid of the damsel in distress. A male name on the same post would result in body slam. And similarly to the discrimination I've seen in other occupations, sometimes it's the women who encourage it.

I still remember in the police academy, when a male firearms instructor actually shot the target for a female police recruit because she wasn't able to score high enough to pass the qualification test. And in IT, I occasionally see women using their femininity to get out of the doing the hard or "dirty" work. In training centers, I see male instructors being expected to set up their own classrooms, troubleshooting any network problems that occur, while some women (by no means all) get a man to do it for them.

This article was originally published on Oct 24, 2000

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