It’s hard to fight sexism when you don’t even see it happening

By Ella Nguyen posted 13 days ago


MeasureCamp SF on July 22, 2017 was the second analytics unconference that I have been to and I have to confess, I’m hooked! It’s exhilarating to show up and not know what the day is going to be like. That’s because neither the topics nor the speakers are predetermined, so you really never know what you’re going to find.

While looking at the speaker board for sessions to attend at the event, “Women in Analytics,” led by Krista Seiden, caught my eye. Krista began the session with a presentation which recounted her personal experiences of workplace sexism. One story that stood out in particular was her recollection of two profoundly different experiences when collaborating with two male colleagues. One of her colleagues sought her opinions, invited her to all meetings, and shared all of the detailed aspects of the project. In contrast, the other person ignored her and in fact, had taken personal offense when she attempted to provide feedback.

The story affected me because the act of excluding a female coworker from contributing in the workplace is a signal to the woman that she does not belong. Her presence is not wanted, regardless of her qualifications. It hurts deeply, because we all want to contribute and be a part of the team.

Krista’s story is also a reminder to me that workplace sexism is rarely blatant, but most often takes the form of implicit bias. During the presentation, I could clearly see the jarring juxtaposition from the two colleagues’ actions because she had summarized and displayed them in neat side-by-side columns. Would I be able to recognize the unintentional, but insidious bias displayed by the coworker, just by witnessing scattered interactions over a longer time period? It is the hidden, internalized nature of implicit bias, as opposed to overt sexism, that make it difficult to craft strategies to combat workplace sexism.

As a first step, Krista recommended the following: Find (male and female) allies in the workplace.

When we broke up into discussion groups, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a group with two allies, Charles Farina and Charles Davis.

We agreed that workplace sexism should not be tolerated. But we also came to the conclusion that combating unconscious sexism is challenging because it is difficult to:

  1. Recognize it; and
  2. Find the appropriate response to address such bias; one that does not cause the offender to become defensive or allow him or her to think that the offense should be taken lightly.

In regard to the first challenge, spreading awareness, as Krista had done at MeasureCamp SF, is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. We must provide women and their allies with powerful platforms in our own organizations and at professional events to empower them to share their experiences.

The challenge of crafting the proper response to biases, blatant and unconscious, is much more complicated. There was an incident towards the end of the session where an audience member suggested that discussion of sexism in the workplace was nonproductive and that such discussions were sexist in and of themselves. Being well versed in such discussions, Michele Kiss and Krista Seiden were able to handle this situation with skill and grace; however, I am concerned for the rest of us that lack their level of expertise. If there is to be further progress on this front, we will need to make a conscious effort to give women and their allies the proper tools for navigating these challenging discussions and situations. This will not be easy. We have accomplished a great deal, but it is clear that there is a lot of work that remains to be done and we must do so, urgently.

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12 days ago

Great read! It's really incredible to me that this is still an outstanding issue. 

I feel lucky that I had the opportunity to come into my analytics career under the watchful eyes of two of the smartest people I know. One, my hiring manager who was a great mentor and shared his passion of analytics and good Thai food with me. The other was an amazingly talented woman, who may not know to this day that she helped shape my analytical thought processes and taught me so much.

I have never once thought of sexism in our industry as rampant, and it blows me away that the conversations like these are bringing light to it for me. I have always been kind of gender-blind to the people I work around and gain knowledge from. I can honestly say that most of the people (if I had to place them) on the top of my list for knowledge, expertise, and guidance are women. I feel like this is due to the fact that I started my career learning so much from so many different people that it was never about belonging, clout, social status, or job title. I always look towards the people who are doing it right, and learn form people who are experts because of their understanding and experience in what they do. The people I gravitate towards are the people trying the hardest to be better at what they do, and maybe as a byproduct of this issue itself, it's mostly women.

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