Guinea pigs in Software Development


From time to time, I stumble upon books or articles about gender limitations and gender diversity in tech. Once I found a book called “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, in a hairdresser’s salon. I picked it because it was the only book in English there (all other were in Polish as it happened in Krakow). I read it all in three of four visits to that salon, which took as many months.

The book is really controversial, inasmuch as on the one hand, it really shows the problem of gender imbalance in tech, but on the other hand, it lays part of the blame on women themselves, saying that they do not “lean in” enough, that they should be taking more opportunities, feeling less qualms, not hanging back etc. It says that women do not feel entitled to what they should.

What I ask is, how can one feel entitled to anything if one is constantly feeling like crap?
This, by the way, is not unknown to Sheryl, and it is what she calls “an impostor syndrome”.

The “Lean In” book brought up a lot of articles with the subjects like “Why I hate Sheryl Sandberg”, “Why I am exhausted with Sandberg” etc. Google “Lean In” and you will find them all.

There’s also a series of articles by Kate Heddleston about gender diversity in tech which doesn’t exactly contradict Sheryl’s book but which in my opinion is closer to the truth in that it’s not exactly a problem of women not leaning in enough, but more of the tech industry not letting them do so.

Women in tech are the canary in the coal mine. Normally when the canary in the coal mine starts dying you know the environment is toxic and you should get the hell out. Instead, the tech industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying “Lean in, canary. Lean in!” When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn’t enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.

(Kate Heddleston, “How Our Engineering Environments are Killing Diversity: Introduction”.

What every woman writing on this agrees upon, however, is the fundamental thing: the problem EXISTS. We do have very few women in tech; when we do, most often they are taking secondary roles; and most often they are underpaid compared to male in the same roles.

In Ukraine and in most post-Soviet countries, this problem is more prominent than in any other country. And the least acknowledged.

Most of the male software developers are honestly surprised when they hear that there is some gender problem. Why, they see women at work every day! And there is a lot of them! And there were a lot of women in the university which they graduated from! And anyway, nobody cares whether you are a male or a female now, it’s a totally far-fetched problem!

You know how I call it?

When I took my first job, my male colleagues called females from the IT department “guinea pigs”.
You know why?

The guinea pig, also called the cavy, is a species of rodent belonging to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia. Despite their common name, these animals are not in the pig family, nor are they from Guinea.

Because they considered us to be neither women nor programmers.
It was a running joke there. When it was repeated once again, my women colleagues usually laughed. If was often repeated. I smiled and pretended not to be offended – same as everyone else did.

True, this happens less and less now. There’s less openly sexist jokes and behaviour. But most of the men still won’t recognise the problem, and this is what I am trying to tell here.

Yes, there are women in software companies now. Have you tried to count how many of them are actual programmers? And how many are designers, QAs (most often manual testing) or support people?

There is of course a lot of such information on the web, but somehow it seems like all those things as gender bias and misbalance are not related to us. Well, they are.

I will display some stats for just one company. The one I happen to work for.

Total male/female ratio:

Males and their job roles:

Same for females:

So, most of the male employees are developers, ETL engineers, QA; for females, the most popular roles are Customer Service, QA, ETL. Is it their own choice, or are they forced into it by the social standards?
But let us also see the level which they are on.



So. I am tired of trying to prove anything. OK, there is no gender bias; there is no glass ceiling, and we are all born equal.
And that is supported by the pics here. Right?


About Maryna Cherniavska

I have productively spent 10+ years in IT industry, designing, developing, building and deploying desktop and web applications, designing database structures and otherwise proving that females have a place among software developers. And this is a good place.
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