Sexism in Tech: Enough is Enough (From One Man to Another)


At a recent Atlassian Developers conference held in Berlin, a developer inadvertently entered the debate that’s been raging around the world – the sexism that exists in our culture.

He put up a slide, comparing an Atlassian plugin to his girlfriend – saying both were beautiful but both:

  • Complain a lot
  • Demand his attention
  • Interrupt him when he’s working
  • Don’t play well with his other friends

His intentions were probably benign – to be funny. I’m sure he thought he was being clever and he probably didn’t even realize his remarks would offend anyone. It’s just a simple slide, in front of fellow developers.

But that’s kind of the problem.

Let’s face it, development, IT professionals and technology, in general, are still primarily male-dominated professions. When I put a call out for resumes for development positions, the majority of applicants are male. It’s not that women developers don’t exist, but the numbers don’t always match up. And it allows us in our profession to be rather, well, sexist.

I admit that. I believe that. And we – as an industry – need to correct that.

We need more women in this field and we need to recognize the women who ARE in this field and who are doing the job and doing it well. Women need to feel comfortable applying for positions, sitting in the classroom among male peers and to trust they’ll be taken seriously. They shouldn’t be looked at differently or have the fear of chauvinism looming over their heads.

But they are. And they do.

And it’s the actions and comments like the one made by this developer that alienate women from wanting to be associated with our profession.

Honestly, it gets to me when guys make jokes about how women bother them. In any profession, in any setting. But there seems to be an amplified effect in the development and IT communities. I’ve seen guys talk about how women are fine to be designers, but in development? Nope – they probably wouldn’t be a good fit.

Bullshit. Women make amazing developers.

I love sitting in collaborative meetings where people – not just men or women, but people – are talking about solving a problem. Yes, people, regardless of sex, look at problems differently. They take different approaches. This should be embraced not feared or belittled.

The issue as it stands right now is that men in this industry feel they have an out. When there aren’t many women in the room, they can be sexist without thinking about it. There’s no one to “catch them,” to correct them or to take them to task for what they’ve said or done. It’s all high-fives and pats on the back.

But I have a question – why don’t the men speak up?

Why don’t the men in the industry correct one another when they become… well, jerks. Why do we – as men in the development and tech world – laugh at slides like these and think that they’re ok instead of looking at this as a hugely disrespectful piece? As my colleague Lisa Barone wrote last year, women aren’t making it up. The sexism, the comments, and the actions that make women feel unsafe in a room full of men still exist.

For me, I read this article, saw this slide and I felt sorry for his girlfriend. Sure, he calls her beautiful. That’s great. But I bet she’s more than just beautiful. I bet she has a list of other great qualities that make her who she is, but those didn’t make it into the joke. Only her looks. Because that’s how we judge women, still.

And turn it around, gentlemen. What if your significant other walked on stage, commented on your attractive appearance, and then used it as a launching pad to degrade you in front of his or her peers? How would you feel?

Don’t tell me you’d be fine – it’d be in jest, right? So it’s ok if there’s a little joking around about it?


It’s sexist. It’s rude. Hell, it goes against what being a developer is about.

As developers our job is literally to create things for people. It’s not just logical. It’s not just about the data. It’s about how people are using that data. How *people* are using that data. How men, women, everyone – are using data and interacting with what we build. And any developer who believes women need to be treated differently than men isn’t understanding who they’re developing for.

Look – I don’t want to blow the whole thing out of proportion and demand that we all stop using Atlassian’s tools (disclosure: my development team uses Jira from Atlassian), but I do want to point out to every developer that we can be better.

It’s time for everyone to be better, and to demand better.

What can we do?

As developers, as men, as humans in this world, we should be doing everything in our power to bring more women into this industry – not alienating them.

We should support programs like Girls Who Code, Girls Develop It, Girls Teaching Girls To Code and CodeEd because they can help change the landscape for all of us.

We should be speaking up when someone makes a comment that is offensive, degrading or flat-out not helpful to the change we want to see and the industry we want to work in.

We can’t be blind. We can’t ignore it. And we definitely can’t laugh at it.

And for the record – my girlfriend is beautiful. And I come home and work a lot – and she interrupts me. I like when she does – because it reminds that behind the code, behind the logic of it all – I’m a person, I’m human, and I got into this field because I like to create things for people. And these interruptions make me a better developer overall.

Treat people like people. Be a human first.