May 1st, 2017


dear man who's speaking to a room full of women

I have been in rooms full of women engineers where area business sends one of its leaders to address us as part of the event. They sometimes send a man, which is fine. Sometimes the man proceeds to do very cringeworthy things in his speech. I don't want to incriminate anyone, but I want to get the word out to every man that if you're ever invited to speak to a group of women engineers, I have some tips. These are based on a composite of experiences, no identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.

1) Remember that I hear men's voices every day. They're great, I love them, but when I come to a gathering of women engineers I'd prefer to hear from high-achieving women. So if you can, please give the podium to a woman?

2) Do not show photos of yourself with random female friends and colleagues to say, "See, I've worked with lots of very smart women, here we are smiling!" I'm sure you have female friends, this is not an automatic "in" with us. It's great that your company has women but they still put you in charge of all of them and didn't feel like letting them talk at this conference, why is that?

3) Do not ask us if we've seen the movie "Hidden Figures", admit that you have NOT seen it, and then proceed to explain it to us based on what you read about it on the internet. It's not that long a movie, you could at least go see it. Or just avoid it as a topic. Either way, when all of our hands went up as having seen it, you should have taken that as a sign that explaining it yourself would be unnecessary at best and insulting at worst.

4) Do not admit to previously discriminating against a woman and passing her up for a promotion for being pregnant, even if it's to tell us about the important lesson you learned when she marched into your office and called you out on it. That is not a cute story, unless you made a DRASTIC change based on the experience. Seriously. It's not cute. SERIOUSLY. DID YOU SEE OUR EYES.

5) Do talk about a drastic change your company has made to help women. Change is good.

6) Don't talk about how women's achievements are important to you because you have daughters now. Talk about how you're inspiring your daughters, sure, that's great, but we'd like to think that you support women because you support humans and the world being better, not just your own family.

7) Do talk about technical things. When I relayed this story to my male coworkers to ask if I sounded like a crazy militant feminist, one of them said "Why didn't he just talk about what he knew... electronics?" and then another one joked "Maybe he thought you wouldn't get it, you know, women!" When my male coworkers point out how your speech is fucked up in ways that I didn't even articulate, you know it's bad.

So that's it. Thank you for your time. I admire you for standing up on the podium and talking to us. You could have done better.