Women in Tech
There have been some heart-wrenching posts this past week about sexism in the tech industry. First there was Sarah Parmenter’s post about a horrible series of derogatory tweets during An Event Apart Austin in 2012. I was at AEA in Austin, and enjoyed her presentation. Neither I nor the majority of attendees had any idea what was happening behind the scenes. Kudos to her for not letting the situation affect her presentation. It was, naturally, wonderful and informative.
Then came posts from Whitney Hess and Relly Baker. I found myself stunned at the level some people would stoop to demoralize someone they disagreed with. The double standard of women in tech being judged by their looks rather than their intellect is nauseating. Or worse yet, questioning their intellect if they happen to be attractive.
I hate that I have to write the phrase “I feel very lucky for never having been overtly sexually harassed or discriminated against in my career.” Why should that be a lucky thing? It should be the norm. And I have to qualify it with “overtly”. Because I’ve been called a smart “cookie”, a talented “girl”, and “too pretty to be in tech”. Um, thanks?
I work in a male-dominated field. And as the posts I’ve mentioned before have indicated, a few bad apples can really spoil the whole barrel. What’s more is I work in a white male dominated field. Now you bad apples reading this can roll your eyes and say “here we go”.
Other Minorities in Tech
I am very proud to be Mexican American. I’m exceedingly proud of my father who was born in the poorest of neighborhoods in Monterrey, Mexico, and decided to make a better life for himself. Through hard work and perfect grades, he put himself through medical school. Against astronomical odds, he became a United States citizen when he moved to Texas and applied to do his medical residency in San Antonio. He received his citizenship and draft notice very quickly. He was sent to Viet Nam to fight for his new country and was a front-line medic for a solid year. He earned two purple hearts and nearly died multiple times. Then he came back to Texas and built a successful private medical practice.
While thoughtless and rude comments about race or ethnicity aren’t exclusive to any one industry, it surprises me to no end that in a field full of highly talented, trained and skilled people there can be such archaic notions about supremacy due to skin color or country of origin. Especially in the United States, where anyone born here and not Native American is a descendant of transplants.
Here is the lens through which I’ve experienced being a fair-skinned Mexican American:
- At 7 years old, I had a friend who wanted to teach me how to skateboard. Upon hearing my surname, said friend’s mother told him to bring me to her so she could check to make sure I didn’t “look too Mexican.” How did I know this? He was a 7 year old kid, so naturally he told me verbatim what his mom said. My mother politely refused my request to show my skin to his mother.
- At about 10 years of age, I asked my mom (whose ancestors were primarily Irish and English) why some of my friends called me “bolilla” (pronounced bowl-ee-ya). She wasn’t sure so she checked with my dad. It turns out my Mexican friends who were darker skinned were calling me “white bread”. The Urban Dictionary would have you believe bolilla is not an insult. I beg to differ. To a 10 year old girl it was a half hour of crying alone in my room.
- At 12, I was excluded from a slumber party that all my friends were going to. One of them let it slip that it was because the parents didn’t like my last name. The insinuation made was that they felt they’d have to check my overnight bag when I left to make sure all their valuables were still in place.
- At 16, upon hearing a “friend” say “those nasty Mexicans should stick to dating each other”, I very eloquently said “Hey!” And she said “Oh relax. At least you don’t look Mexican.” I was very grateful that my other friends present stuck up for me and berated the girl for her ignorance.
- At 17, I earned the President’s Academic Achievement Award and Scholarship. When a boy in my class heard that, he said in a very loud stage whisper, “Yeah, just ’cause she has a Mexican last name.”
- Undergraduate and graduate school were, for the most part, devoid of slurs aimed at me. I did have one acquaintance who thought that telling me Mexican themed jokes was funny. Couldn’t get away from her fast enough.
- When I moved to Los Angeles in the late 1990s, I was shocked at the amount of slurs I heard. Not just about Hispanics, but African Americans as well. WTH? This was Southern California. Shouldn’t they be more advanced than South Texas in terms of diversity? I had a friend who kept calling me Hispanic when she knew my dad was from Mexico. She gasped when I told her I preferred the term “Mexican American”. I asked her what the big deal was. She said, “Well, isn’t Mexican American like an insult?” God help me.
- From then until basically present day, I’ve had repeated comments about not being a “real Mexican”, from both sides of the ethnic fence. About being “lucky” that I look white. People ask me if I’m glad my children came out so white. What century are you from? And how can you think that your comments shouldn’t give offense?
The most surprising of all the insults is when my own peers in the tech industry make a comment about my ethnicity. My baptismal name is Amparo Rebeca Jiménez. If I lived in Mexico, my legal name would be Amparo Rebeca Jiménez (de) Marquez. Hablo español, no perfectamente, pero bastante bien.
Don’t tell me I’m lucky to be pale. Don’t tell me I’m not Mexican enough. Don’t tell me that it’s a surprise that someone of my ethnicity and gender is doing well in the tech industry. You will not like my reaction.
It’s well past time for the U.S. and the tech industry to grow up. These last few incidents with Sarah Parmenter, Whitney Hess and Relly Baker have given me the nudge I needed to speak out about the appalling treatment of women and other minorities in the workplace. As my mother, a prolific freelance writer, used to threaten, “Don’t make me mad or I’ll write about you.”