Unpacking Male Tech Privilege


Recently, several articles, tweets, and websites reignited the issue of diversity in technology, specifically in conference settings.

Rebecca J. Rosen, senior associate editor at The Atlantic, published “A Simple Suggestion to Phase Out All-Male Panels at Tech Conferences.”  Rosen borrows an idea from the non-profit organization Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community: men should simply decline to sit on all-male panels. The column was spurred by the announcement of the overwhelming male majority of panelists for the Edge conference.

It was, as the title claimed, a simple suggestion. Unfortunately, some people do not understand the definition of “suggestion.”

Designer Andy Rutledge launched a satirical website, Conference Quotas, poking fun at the discussion around increasing diversity at tech and design conferences:

To the credit of the Internet, most people were not amused:

Jamelle Bouie posted a spot-on response, “Diversity? That’s for Racists.”  For further reading, Baltimore writer Rodney Foxworth had published an outstanding essay on conference diversity and inclusiveness just a few weeks prior.

But wait there’s more!

As if women and racial minorities are now pitted against each other, vying for the enviable “token” status. As if gender diversity and racial diversity are mutually exclusive issues. As if we’re only capable of addressing one minority group at a time, and it must be the least-represented.

And there’s that word again: privileged.

The word is frequently misused and is now commonly interpreted to mean “born with a silver spoon in your mouth” or “never had to work for anything,” but that’s a distortion of the actual definition. Privilege is more about advantage and immunity than wealth or work ethic.

In the late 1980s, Peggy McIntosh published “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack.”  McIntosh compiled a list of subtle and not-so-subtle advantages that white people can expect on a daily basis, such as, “I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race” and “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”

The Tech Lady Mafia crowd-sourced a list of male privileges (advantages, immunities) they have encountered in various business transactions, conference settings, and social gatherings.

This is not an attack against men. This is not a case of us vs. them. This is a starting point for further discussion. This is a call to awareness of the sometimes too-subtle-to-recognize digs at female presence, integrity, professionalism, and expertise. All of the contributions are based on real-life experiences of women in the Tech Lady Mafia, so please be respectful in your comments.

Reprinted by permission.

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Editor’s note: For complete coverage of women in technology please visit Techs and the City.

About the author: Jess Gartner

After college, Jess taught middle school for three years through Teach for America. Following a brief stint in corporate marketing, she realized her true passion for education technology, so she quit her job to found an edtech company Allovue.

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