Not the Assistant
Days after I joined Scripted, I went to a panel event discussing user experience trends in Silicon Valley. I had never lived in Silicon Valley; I had never worked at a startup; I wanted to throw myself into it and learn.
There were three significant things that happened there:
1. The panel was all male. Coming from publishing, which is 85% female, I had become used to just the opposite.
2. After the panel, I introduced myself to another guest there who worked at a company I’d recently heard of. I told him I worked at Scripted. “Are you the assistant?” he asked. “No,” I said. “I’m a senior account manager.” A few minutes went by, and then the man’s friend approached and this happened:
Panel Guest: This is Sara. She’s the assistant at Scripted.
Sara: I’m actually a senior account manager.
Panel Guest’s Friend: The assistant to the senior account manager?
3. I ran into a male guest I’d met the day before, and the first thing out of his mouth was: “Oh, you look much prettier with your hair down! I wouldn’t put it back up unless you want to look MUCH older than you are.” He laughed. He clearly meant it as a compliment, and that was in part what made it a problem. Unless the comment on my looks is, “Uh, you have something in your teeth,” I’m okay without it.
I attended a women’s college; I worked in a female-dominated industry; and during that time, I’d come to think of myself as somewhat genderless. Not because I didn’t identify as male or female, but because for many years I’d had the privilege of being evaluated on the basis of my talent, education, and, to steal a line from The Oatmeal, how likable I was as a human being.
My experience at those panels reminded me that I’m female.
And it reminded me that I’m female in the predominantly male startup world.
It’s good to have those wakeup calls sometimes – it leads to important conversations and realizations and actions.
But it can also be disheartening. I don’t want to be thought of as “Sara Kendall: The Woman” or “Sara Kendall: That Woman Who Writes Blogs About Women” (a feeling so strong I almost didn’t write this article). I’d much rather be “That Hard-Working Senior Account Manager” or “That Awesome Person,” without a thought given to gender at all.
At a career-based level, what I am is a person who has worked in both a female-dominated industry and a male-dominated industry, and I’ve learned a few facts about what happens when any industry is “gendered.”
1. If you don’t have a high percentage of women in the industry, people will write about it.
2. If you don’t have a high percentage of men in the industry, people will write about it.
3. Even when the industry is 85% female, there is a salary gap, and women do not come out on top.
4. Regardless of gender percentages in an industry, men hold the majority of top management levels.
5. And the “No, duh,” statement of the day: There is not an easy way to fix gender imbalance in industries. It’s difficult to determine when the problem starts. Taken from a Mother Jones article – in 2011, just 20% of all programmers were women. But hand in hand with that, “a smaller percentage of women are earning undergraduate computer science degrees today than they did in 1985.” So who should be working to correct this? Businesses? College recruiters? High school teachers? The media?
There’s not one thing to point the finger at. But you know what? That’s good. Because it puts the responsibility to notice gender imbalances and enact change on us.
At Scripted, we’ve had several discussions about some of the difficulties present in recruiting women and possible solutions to it. We’ve talked about gender imbalances at startups. We rely on each other to point out when and where women are being underrepresented/misrepresented and to discuss ways to correct it.
Scripted focuses on writing for both general and specialized topics, and our writers need to have unique talents, qualifications, and experiences to take on gigs. Gender should not be an issue, and actually, it isn’t. On Scripted, when you look at every writer who’s come through the system, it’s split nearly exactly: 52% female, 48% male.
It’s a place to be evaluated on the basis of your talent. Just as it should be.