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Is there sexism in the South African tech industry?

Originally this was going to be a copy and paste of an article Zoe from Lazygamer did entitled “Do South African women face sexism in tech?” We harp on about this a lot. We giggle at the feminist ranters and argue that strong willed women with big personalities don’t feel it, it’s rather those delicate flowers that it effects more (yes, that was a pretty sexist generalisation to make). I was one of those. Think you’re a victim and you will be, right?

Recently I went to an industry event where a male made a comment that was sexist. It was an assumption made based purely on my gender. I’m a strong willed, speak with her feet first type of girl. As he was saying it my head screamed at me with an appropriate response to put him in his place. It also screamed at me that I was completely wrong. He can’t possibly mean it. You’re being too sensitive. So instead I smiled and replied politely. I allowed him to get away with it.

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As he walked off my friend with me expressed shock at the comment. I had not misread it. It was sexist. The next day I tweeted that I was happy it was my first and only experience in the tech industry because the males I do associate with regularly are nothing like that.

The organiser saw the tweet and rang me to find out what happened. Even then, chatting to another woman, I played it down. I said she wasn’t to worry, he probably didn’t even realise he did it. I was probably being over sensitive. I brushed it under the carpet because I was embarrassed. Embarrassed that I brushed it under the carpet but also embarrassed that someone presumed something about me like that. Maybe it wasn’t my gender, maybe it was actually me, maybe I need to change, maybe this is the energy I put out.

And that right there is the problem with sexism. It’s there, but we downplay it. We don’t want to be the victim because we feel it feeds right into the very stereotype that is being applied to us.

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Is there sexism in the South African tech industry? Yes. We’re not doing enough to stop it either. The problem is not with the women who don’t stand up and defend themselves. It’s not with the women who wave the feminist flag to the point that they engage our eye roll muscles. The problem is years of behaviour ingrained in all of us. Men and women.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think men are purposely running around being sexist. I don’t even think they realise they’re doing it. They might even be trying to compliment you and don’t realise the annotations of those comments. Sexism in the South African tech industry isn’t isolated. Take a look at the recent lawsuits Twitter, Uber and Facebook are involved in. This is a worldwide issue.

So how do we fix it? I don’t really know the answer to that one. We need to rebuild traditionally patriarchal structures. We need to admit when we were wrong not to speak up and admit that we are intentionally or unintentionally behaving in a way that may be sexist.

Self awareness is the first step in change. We all have a role to play in this.  

I'd love to chat to you some more.

 

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