Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sexual Equality in the Workplace? What Sexual Equality in the Workplace?

I was asked to write a piece on sexism in the workplace. I think it was assumed I'd go in a different direction.


There was a time when sexism in the workplace, especially in Virginia, was predictable. It was a "good ol' boy" network where men just felt that woman had different strengths than men, and business was not one of them. The good ol' boy network is still alive and well, but at least in IT shops, there's a new breed of sexism. And it has claws.

It's women running an all-girl club, and burying anyone who doesn't fit into one of two roles: male follower or women.

I know, someone somewhere (probably a woman) is saying I'm just pissing sour grapes. That it can't be as bad as male sexism. Possibly. But the old adage still applies, two wrongs don't make a right.

People's Exhibit A:
In 1998 I helped start a company called [redacted], going under the name of [redacted], . We managed the [redacted] , and assisted in making Virginia internet-wonderful. I started as a webmaster and managed to work my way up to something akin to middle management. I was one of five people who paved the way for all the honeysuckles who came later to have jobs and loaf about drinking boxed wine and playing harps.

One day we hired a young girl to do some customer service stuff. A temp to handle calls, file papers, etc. All the ladies loved her, I liked her, but she knew next to nothing about the internet. After she introduced herself to me and my cubemate, he turned to me and said, "In a year we'll be working for her."

He was wrong. In a year she was a project manager in the shop. In two she had passed us entirely, left the state, and become the General Manager of her own network (the name for the individual business entities under the corporate umbrella). She still knew next to nothing about the internet, marketing, business, or management. Didn't matter. Corporate wanted women to run things, so she shot passed those of us who actually knew the landscape.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad she did well. She's a great person. But she didn't get her chance in the sun because of her training, her skills, or her experience. She got it because she was a woman.

People's Exhibit B:
Same company, same story, different woman. Came in after us as a project manager without project management training, within three years she was running her own network for the company. In comparison, I was allowed to have a small fishtank in my cube. I won several Best of the Web awards, First in the Nation awards, and E-Gov pioneer awards. I was published in Government Technology and Style Weekly.

I wasn't going anywhere.

People's Exhibit C:
Same company. Four of the five men who had started the company were still in the positions, more or less, that they had in the beginning. Slightly different titles, but the same gig overall. The fifth man? He was forced to resign when they took his position away and wanted to send him to a state several thousand miles away from his family.

A programmer with average Perl skills and no experience in marketing, project management, or business goes to a developer conference in New Orleans and hangs out with the COO. She comes back a Project Manager. Within a year she's the Director of Marketing. Not only did she pass over three men with more experience, she hopped departments to do it. What she did have going for her was that she became quick friends with the current Director of Marketing, who then went on to be the General Manager. Niether of them had training in marketing, business, or management. But they were both women.

I disagreed with the skipping over of the three men.

I was asked to leave the company. Then blackballed from working in IT for a year.

People's Exhibit D:
I was hired as a Web Manager at the [redacted]. It was a lengthy process consisting of several screenings, committee interviews, and skills tests. They were desperate to get someone onboard who knew something about web portals, and I had been designing and implementing them for ten years. The IT Department was 62 people strong and they had been trying to redesign their web site for the last seven years (yeah, I know. That should have tipped me off. I thought it was hyperbole).

I didn't know it at the time, but they had a great way of getting rid of employees upper management didn't like. They would rescope the position to something the person in question couldn't do, then give them the opportunity to resign. And by "they" I'm referring what came to be known as "The Estrogen Club."

The Director of the IT Department was a woman who really only trusted other women. Don't know why, but that was the long and short of it. She ran the Department like the Bataan Death March run by cheerleaders. She was out during my hiring, it seems, which is how a testosterone container like myself made it in.

From my hire to this blog entry, the following had occured:

Number of Men Fired, Laid Off, or Forced to Resign: 9 plus 1 that was able to switch departments
Number of Men promoted to management positions: 0
Number of Women Fired, Laid Off, or Forced to Resign: 0
Number of Women promoted to management positions: 3

Statistically unlikely, don't you think?

I was replaced after a year and a half by a woman with none of my skills, and none of the skills originally required for the position.

Now, I'm not saying that the same sort of thing doesn't go in in other companies with a male bias. I'm sure it does. I've never seen it in any of the IT shops I've worked at, but I know it's probably there. But you never hear about reverse discrimination; reverse sexism. People act as if such an animal could never exist. And if it does, it's just equality of the sexes, not any sort of discrimination. Or, at the extreme, something that's okay because it was done for so long in the other end of the spectrum.

But something wrong is wrong no matter how you spin it. Treating someone unfairly is bad not because YOU get treated unfairly, but because a PERSON is treated unfairly. No matter the color, religion, or gender. Whether you agree with their politics or share their brand of genitalia.

It's just wrong.

1 comment:

theShadow said...

When I first read this, I was all poised to claw Big Kahuna a new one. Then I look down at my talons and stopped to think a bit. There have been at least three "Shadows" running this blog. I don't know who the first one was, but the last two have been women. And when I pass the torch, it will probably also be to a woman. Why? I'm not sure. I just seem to trust women more with something like this.

So maybe there's some truth to this? The main point is that sexism is wrong no matter who it's aimed at. Why did I get so defensive when he started pointing out women being on the controlling end?

So, I suppose I'll let Big Kahuna live to see another day.