3/27/2014

On Banning Bossy

So there's been a hue and cry on the Internet to "Ban Bossy" of late and after wading into a semi-discussion with a friend on Facebook about it, I kind of let it go. But the longer I've thought about it, the more irritated I get. And maybe not in the way you'd expect.

First off, let's be clear, I don't think banning a word is EVER the way to make change. Yes, words matter and blah blah - but banning a word just means people will come up with a NEW word to use that's even more obnoxious until we decide now we have to ban THAT word and so on and so on until we end up with no words left in our lexicon because they've all been deemed harmful to someone's self-esteem.

BUT - and here's where I ran afoul of my friend - I do believe there's something to what they're trying to accomplish. My friend (also a woman) hasn't experienced workplace issues because of her gender and that is an incredible thing and I'm happy for her. But I would venture to say that if you asked 100 women in technology jobs (straight up technology, not technology education, and not all-inclusively science either. Maybe I need to say just women who are computer professional and leave it at that, since that's my sphere.) if they've been discriminated against because of their gender, 90 of them would say at least once. And the other 10 probably weren't paying attention.

Computer Science suffers from bad press on so many levels (only nerds do it, etc. etc.) but there is a proven shortage (with recent studies, not just the older ones that now everyone's harping on the Ban Bossy folks for using) of women in the field. And women who enter college thinking they want to major in computer science are more likely to switch majors after just one year because of the attitudes of the males they encounter in their classes. And that's just at school - that says nothing of the workplace.

I, personally, have been told I'm "not a team player" and "too aggressive" in the workplace simply for insisting my voice be heard in meetings. I've had a man scream "I'm just about sick of you!" at me in a meeting with sixteen people, including the Vice President of our company when I asked that he get his programmers to comply with our processes and standards that were mandated by the President and VP. And afterward, the VP said I needed to understand that this man was under stress and I should cut him some slack. I asked if he was going to apologize. The VP said he didn't think it was necessary, I knew he didn't mean anything by it, didn't I?

Can you imagine what would have happened if the roles were reversed? I assume I'd've been fired on the spot. In front of everyone. At a bare minimum I would've been made to apologize and put on probation. Which is what SHOULD have happened for that behavior, regardless of the person's gender.

The point is, unprofessional behavior is easily tolerated and excused in men in the computer industry. The same is not true for women. And I can list more examples from my own professional career as well as that of women close to me in many different corporations that range in size from small to monstrous.

There's something to the idea of Ban Bossy. I think the implementation is stupid (or have we banned stupid? I can't recall.) and unlikely to produce results. But it would be really nice if we could maybe do something to create some equity among expectations for behavior in the workplace when it comes to those in professional computing. (Again, I can't speak for other industries because I haven't worked there. I will say there's less of a problem in education - it's one of the primary reasons I stopped working in business and moved into teaching.)

My friend mentioned that she's more concerned with how we treat our young boys. And I agree with her totally on that front - that's a post for another day. But I also don't feel they're mutually exclusive.

Maybe what we need to do is just generically ban labels.

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