International Women’s Day

I’ve spent a lot of my week bothered by the treatment of women in business, not just the web industry, business as a whole. I’ve had some pretty horrendous things happen recently; enough to firmly know that I cannot be alone in this. There must be a lot of silenced and fearful females out there right now.

For those of you know have followed me for a while, you’ll know I’m not backwards in coming forwards about articles of this nature. I also pride myself on the fact I think I’m quite balanced. I don’t think we should have any special rights, be treated differently or be above men. I think it’s actually more about being listened to with an understanding that it’s  a safe subject to talk about, right now. Anything more, is too much of a big hurdle. Small steps, greater gains.

It’s got me thinking about how much women are being silenced in this industry, and just how strong you have to be to stand up to events that happen on a daily basis, that derive simply from being born female, and not male.

We’ve gone through rounds and rounds of this before. Conference etiquette manifestos, workplace manifestos, you name it. Not a lot seems to change. It takes one bad, and very powerful egg, and we’re back at square one again. There’s something we’re not doing, as a whole industry, to cultivate a safe place for people to talk openly about misogyny. Tales of woe come and go and are labelled as “drama”. The labels are slapped on them, we raise our hands, scream it’s unfair and once Twitter has silenced, and the dust from the Huffington post articles have settled, it feels like we don’t advance in cutting off the head of the snake.

Let’s just start with something simple. Really simple. Let’s just start with a safe person (I hate that term, it implies everyone else is unsafe, let’s come up with a better name for that too), a designated person within each workplace that’s elected for their listening, empathy and balanced view on the world. We need to start simple and have it mandatory that every tech company holds at least one such person, that helps to cultivate a place of safety, simply for us ladies to come and say “hey, this happened, it doesn’t feel right to me?” and be heard without being judged, nor labelled as a troublemaker.

I would prefer for the safe person to be male, as I think it will help bridge this gap of understanding of what actually happens to make us feel silenced or unsafe in the first place.

I don’t think it’s enough that we assume these people exist within tech companies. It should be mandatory. Who wants to help? It’s fixing a tiny chip, in a huge crack – but it’s a start?

Let’s start with coming up with a better name for the “safe person”. That’s a good start.

I’ve opened up and allowed comments – let’s discuss.

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  • Something that keeps coming back to my mind is the idea of a “workplace counselor” or something to that effect. Someone who isn’t HR, who isn’t going to judge or put what you are dealing with on a performance review… Someone accessible for everyone.

    • Sarah

      That’s exactly my thoughts too. It needs to be someone disconnected, of sorts but likeable and approachable.

  • Mark

    It’s a great idea. Giving the name some thought…

    • Sarah

      Thanks for chiming in, really appreciate whatever thought you give to it.

  • Andrew Mosby

    What should we call a person chosen “for their listening, empathy and balanced view on the world…?”

    I’d call that a friend. : )

    • Sarah

      I have wonderful friends, but in my places of work, there’s perhaps only been one or two guys I’ve ever worked with, who I would have been comfortable, after a period of time, talking to about matters like this. To know there’s someone from day one, in my workplace, would be a huge plus point for me when deciding where to work.

  • That sounds a lot like an ombudsman (I know it looks gendered, but the word is actually gender neutral). Formally, ombudsmen are charged with dispute resolution duties, but it doesn’t have to be so.

    • Sarah

      It sounds very official, but I like it. The British connotation of an Ombudsman is generally heard around disputes of a political nature. I like it though. Thank you for chiming in, Adrian.

      • Ok, so thinking about this and what you’re really talking about is a counselor, not in the therapist mold, but in the Star Trek mold. Like, Deanna Troi. This may be ridiculous, but Star Trek is a nearly universal metaphor—how about calling it a troi? Perhaps a name-space collision for Francophones?

  • Andrea Rivera

    I am sadden that I have not yet heard of a female speaker or interviewer who isn’t harassed, one way or another.
    Recently I have been considering writing a blog, putting something meaningful out there aside from my silly jokes and sarcastic sense of humor, and I got to tell you, I am terrified, because I wonder if I can ever have that thick skin you talk about, it takes courage to put yourself out there regardless of gender, but to put your self out there knowing how you can potentially become some target because you are female, it takes even more. I remember your interview in the Great Discontent you mentioned “Being a wallflower or thinking that you’re not good enough to speak to people because you’re not at a certain level is the worst thing you could do” I remember this SO clearly, it stuck in my mind, I made up my mind at the Event Apart Orlando, to speak and not be shy, I had a blast, everyone was so nice. Since then, I am less passive everyday and hope to continue growing in this field. But I am lucky to have other women paved the road ahead of me, I can only hope to continue doing the same for other woman too.

    • Sarah

      Andrea,
      I didn’t used to have a thick skin. I was mocked when I was younger for being too sensitive, if there is such a thing. My thick skin has come from these experiences, and whilst I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy, it’s helped me to realise not everyone in this world is good and having the skills to battle or face the bad, is just as much a part of life as sailing with the good.

      I would encourage you to write, I for one would like to read it – and honestly? The good people, far outweigh the bad. It’s just human nature to obsess over the bad, that pulls us back into these experiences.

      Thank you for referencing my Great Discontent post. It’s nice to know my words that dissipate into the ether, help, somehow.

      I’m glad you had a blast at AEA Orlando too, that was a great conference, I was sad I had to cut my time short there.

      Keep growing, I for one, have your back.

  • Johanna Pieterman

    Hi Sarah, Thank you! Thank you for speaking out for women in tech and for being brilliant! Love ya! x

    • Sarah

      Hey Johanna! Thanks for reading the blog and taking the time to make me part of your day. So appreciate it. Love back x

      • Johanna Pieterman

        You are very welcome Sarah! However, I am sorry I didn’t bring anything constructive to the conversation. I have run my own small design/dev business in remote Orkney for the last 13 years and very much live in a bubble up here. I’ve never knowingly experienced any obvious different treatment because I’m a woman, but I want to stress the word ‘knowingly’ because maybe clients who think that a woman isn’t up to the job wouldn’t get in touch with me in the first place! However, I do get out of my bubble now and then and keep up to date with women in tech out there in the big wide world and find what I have been reading lately quite disturbing and unbelievable given the fact that we now live in 2015 and equality should be a given. I find it really disturbing that it isn’t.
        Keep up the great work Sarah! x

  • Hayden Evans

    I really like the idea of the “safe person”, I wonder what that looks like in the workplace. It may be difficult to find or establish such a person early on as this is something you can’t just wear as a patch on your sleeve or something, but I think it should be a role that you are nominated for amongst your peers – not particularly something you volunteer yourself for. I say this for impartiality’s sake. Everyone can claim that they’re a great and trustful person that could be that “safe person”, but it is your peers who work with you and see how you act in scenarios over time that are the best judges to make that call. People like this do need to exist though. I find it frustrating and disheartening that few people can fill such a role but the world isn’t perfect and misogyny, sexism, racism, bigotry etc are all still very alive and well in this industry and society as a whole. Baby steps though! I think this could be a good start!

  • Does “chaplain” have too much of a religious overtone? How about “advocate”, or does that imply they’ll necessarily take action?