08 June 2013
Once upon a time, when I was talking casually with a guy about bringing me in for an interview, he asked, me, “So how do you feel about working in a group that’s almost all men?”
Until that point, I hadn’t really thought about it. The reality of my job as a software engineer has been that I’ve been surrounded by men in my professional life. Fortunately, I like men. Bunches.
What I very rarely say, though, is how male dominated it has been. For the first sixteen years I worked as a software engineer, I worked with no female software engineer peers.
Just imagine what it would be like to work in your field, whatever it happens to be, with every one of your same-sex peers erased. For sixteen years.
What’s perhaps odder in retrospect was that it didn’t seem the least bit strange until this guy lampshaded it quite a few years later. I wrote down everyone I’d worked with at every company and what they did. Surely I’d missed some woman somewhere.
Part of this was the type of programming I was doing: I started out in scientific programming. I didn’t work (as I do now) for a large company in a large team that has a large percentage of women (less than half, but the highest percentage of women I’ve ever worked with). Even when I previously worked as a consultant for a large company on a team of almost 40 people, there were two other women, but neither were software engineers. Thirty-odd of us software engineers, and I was the odd.
So I guess part of how I feel in the whole SF/F thing is: I feel no less welcome than I have in my day job career. Which is: it basically hasn’t been an issue for me.
Oh sure, there was the one boss who was trying to overthrow all women of power. He, uh, Got Resigned. And there was his replacement, who was worse. I could tell you stories, but they’re frankly the kind of thing you wouldn’t believe in a novel, much less in reality. But I can say that he didn’t act sexist toward me. Flying his “admin” back and forth every week, though, that was another story. That’s two bad apples, and there were many good ones.
I was never treated as though I was there simply because I was female. Nor was I treated like I was unique because I was female. I was just another person, there to do a job.
I’ve worked with quite a few non-white software engineers (and managers) over the years, but in my entire career, I’ve only worked with two who were black: one was an African immigrant, and the other was an African-American man who was just beginning the transition from support staff to engineering. I’ve also worked with a number of LGBT* folks, too, though I suspect I’ve worked with more than I’ve known about.
So, coming from my professional background, the field of SF/F has felt to me like it’s stuffed to the rafters with talented and diverse people, except for the relative paucity of Indian SF/F writers relative to the numbers I’ve known professionally.
No one ever called me a “lady software engineer,” nor would they have been able to do so twice. So I sure as hell am not a “lady writer ”or “lady editor,” either.