About a year ago, my co-founder and I started work on Transposit. It’s not that weird to start a company, but one way in which we were an outlier is that my co-founder is a woman. Starting a company comes with many many lessons; some of the most surprising have come from sitting next to Tina: a front-row seat of what it’s like to be a woman in tech. I see these moments of profound obliviousness and lack of empathy and squirm. I apologize to the women reading this: I know everything that follows will be obvious (but hopefully not redundant). I hope for the men reading this that it will help them be more aware of the subtle (and glaring) ways tech is unwelcoming / discriminatory / hostile to women.

Disclaimers

This is not meant to be the breathless allybrag in vogue on Medium / Twitter / HN / LinkedIn. Greater awareness has, I think, made me better, but I have been flawed and unaware and (despite my best efforts) will be again at times. I’ve definitely fucked up, not realized, and not apologized. My hope is that others can learn from lessons that would have been instructive to me.

When you assume…

Tina and I attend a lot of meetings together. We meet prospective investors, advisors, partners, customers, colleagues (engineers!). We’re small and lean; we do our own scheduling. Often the folks we’re meeting with are big (and fancy); when it comes time to set up a meeting they have people for that. I can’t even count the number of times that scheduling emails drop me and go to Tina. Or I get invited to the scheduled meeting, but Tina doesn’t. The perpetrators of this are just as often women as men. I won’t claim I don’t know why they make this assumption, but it’s vexing that they continue to act on it.

Knock knock. Who’s there?

This was definitely a surprise: to some people Tina is, apparently, invisible. If I hadn’t witnessed it personally I might have found it hard to believe. We’ve sat through so many meetings where the person we were talking to never looked at her. This includes meetings with prospective customers (whose money we want) and prospective advisors (who, presumably, want our money). Not only is it demoralizing, but it makes it hard to participate — forget about inhaling or clearing your throat, the subtle social cues that we’d like a turn to speak. They wouldn’t see Tina if she were waving semaphores. It leads to these am-I-crazy moments where I ask, did that guy not look at you for the full 90 minutes?

Take my wife… please!

I was at a tech meeting, and while you might assume without my stating it, the attendees were mostly men. In fact Tina was the only woman who wasn’t on the event staff. The presenter was discussing a use case with Pinterest as a motivating example. You might not know much about Pinterest, he explained, but ask your wife or girlfriend, ho ho ho. In moments like these I feel my brain waving a hasty adieu to my body: I know you need to stay, but I’ve got to get out of here. Why not use an example that you think will resonate with your audience? Or why not just explain the aspects of Pinterest that are relevant to the example? Less obviously misogynistic uses of the wife/girlfriend prop still serve to exclude and divide. I’ve been guilty of looking for that cheap laugh: me, ostensibly, hapless and my wife domineeringly keeping me in line. We feel like exclusion can create this greater notion of cohesion or rapport; it should be obvious, but we forget that it’s at the expense of the people we’re excluding (even if they aren’t in the room).

The devil you know

Casual sexism from strangers is a constant grind for women in tech. It’s even more toxic when it comes from close collaborators, people who shouldn’t just assume better, but should know better. Men, if your female peer gets credit that you rightly deserve — either in full or by proportion — take some solace that it’s the statistical equivalent of tripping over a SHA-1 collision. Examples of women being excluded or diminished happen every day in subtle and glaring ways; I continue to try to be more aware.

Building computers at Oxide; past: DTrace, ZFS, Delphix CTO, Transposit founder, CEO