In a discussion forum, a while back, someone posted a link to an interesting article about the oil industry. I can’t remember the exact context nor the details of the article. Something about the volatility of the market, I think. The article was interesting, and relevant to the discussion at hand.
Then a guy in the discussion forum followed up with an annoyed post: Sure, great article, but why was the article illustrated with a pretty woman in a short skirt and high heels?
This person was genuinely looking at this from a feministic point of view, which I can appreciate. It is annoying when pretty women are mindlessly used as eyepieces to draw attention to something completely unrelated.
However, the next poster quickly noted that the woman in the photo was Thina Saltvedt, one of Norway’s most highly qualified oil analytics, and that she was the main source for the article. This brings the situation into a different light. A woman doesn’t dress in a masculine power suit. The assumption is automatically that her reason for being placed there is because she’s pretty, not because she has relevant qualifications.
Why do I tell this story here? After all, it has nothing to do with testing, and very little to do with technology.
Well, it’s March 8. Among the links being shared on the web today, there was a story about how programmers who look stereotypically feminine are automatically assumed to be less competent than programmers who look less stereotypically feminine. Even if they are both women.
Even as more women are joining IT, and more people are starting to catch on to the idea that women can actually code, we’re still looking at a gap where women who look like women are not taken seriously. Wear jeans and a geeky t-shirt, and you might just be a real techie, even if you’re a woman. Wear a cute dress, however… you must be the designer, or the project manager, or at best a non-technical tester with no clue about anything beyond the buttons in the UI.
IT folks are pretty logical people. I think we can all see that when we make these assumptions – with a tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy – we are being highly illogical.
Actually, this might be equally valid for men. I regularly dress in nerdy t-shirts and never shirt and tie for meetings. Now, granted, it might be that the reasons are other than my clothing, but I *do* notice that people tend to take notice to the tech guy in the room, when the topic is of technical relevance. And a guy in nerdty t-shirt, he’s not likely to be either salesperson or project manager. So, this isn’t necessarily about feminine vs. masculine, it’s about “if he/she’s not dressed up, then he/she is there because she actually knows something”.
So, my challenge to you: What happens if you dress in feminine but nerdy stuff? I agree, sexism is bad, but some people see sexism where there is none. As a person who value facts and not anectodal evidence, this is an experiment I’d like to be done. And for obvious reasons, I can’t do it myself 🙂
I think it is definitely valid for men as well. The core of the argument is really just that it’s counterproductive to make assumptions about a person’s qualifications just based on appearance.
The feminist aspect here (since it’s that day of the year) is that a stereotypically feminine appearance is assumed to be less technologically competent than a stereotypically masculine appearance, all other factors aside. This is based on my and many other people’s experience and observations. As you say, it would definitely be very interesting to see a properly controlled experiment on this effect.
Of course there are also other markers that come into play – for example, if you suit up like a manager you’ll likely be taken for a manager, regardless of gender. There’s never any pure black and white when we deal with human interaction.