Why Women in Tech Need to Start Flipping Tables

"It certainly was very satisfying to write."

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Apr 14 2015, 12:00pm

​Image: ​Rob Chandanais/Flickr

​"2015 is the year of the tableflip." So declares a mysterious single-page manifesto that was published Monday at table​flip.club and was widely​ shared and discussed online.

In the statement, the unnamed author calls out tech companies for gender discrimination and sexism, saying "women are leaving your tech company because you don't deserve to keep us around." She decries how women in tech have been looked over, put down, and pushed aside while "our male peers back-pat each others' shitty work onwards to the next production incident."

The manifesto ends with by calling women in tech to action, asking them to be more open about their experiences, to start their own companies, and to invest in other women-led startups.

I reached out to the author, who asked to remain anonymous but described herself as "a technical woman in a highly specialized field," who has worked in tech at "major companies for over a decade." I chatted with her via email to find out why she decided to write the rebel yell and what she hopes people will do with it.

How many people are behind tableflip.club at the moment? What sort of roles/backgrounds do they have in the industry?
I am the main author. I'm a technical woman in a highly specialized field, and I've been working in tech at major companies for over a decade. The manifesto was a composite of my own personal experiences, many studies that I've read, and experiences others have trusted me with.

I'm fortunate to have an amazing network of feminist friends who gave me excellent edits and suggestions. One thing that I struggled with was whether or not to cite sources—there's a study, a personal story, or a news article behind virtually every sentence in the piece. A friend suggested I leave it unsourced, saying "Martin Luther didn't cite sources," which cracked me up. Obviously it's not that significant, but it certainly was very satisfying to write.

Why are you staying anonymous? Will you come out publicly to put a face behind the manifesto posted online?
Basically it's anonymous because I could be more direct and honest that way. I think the huge response to the piece makes it clear how much these are the shared experiences women in tech have, so I'm glad I did go all-out. I'll probably reveal myself eventually. It's not like people don't already know my opinions, but commentary on individual issues are a bit different from a call for women in tech to flip all the tables :)

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The manifesto is very direct, but will you be taking any actions to back it up? Should we expect a mass exodus of women out of traditional tech environments? What are the next steps?
I've been working for over a decade on issues surrounding diversity and inclusion in tech. I do 20+ hours of volunteer work per month, and donate thousands of dollars per year to groups working on these issues. So yeah, I'm already taking lots of actions.

There is also already a mass exodus of women from tech. According to NCWIT, 41 percent of women leave tech within ten years, compared to 17 percent of men. We need to fix that.

I talked about the next steps at the end of the piece—talking, organizing, and sharing detailed experiences of which companies are good or bad places for women. I think that the medium term next step is for women to start our own businesses, and for women who have money to invest in them, since we all know how much of a train wreck the angel and VC worlds are.​

There are barriers to and sexism towards women in a lot of industries, but it seems particularly insidious in the tech world. Why do you think that is?
We've seen these battles before; the legal field in the 1980s is a prime example. From talking to women lawyers of a certain age, they see a lot that's happening in tech today that parallels what they experienced in the eighties. There's incredibly strong cultural bullshit about women's scientific abilities and an economic incentive to keep us out which I think makes tech a somewhat unique battleground.

I think we have more visibility into these issues in tech for two reasons: workers in tech are in such demand that we are able to be more vocal about our experiences, and we're also the ones building the platforms that people are speaking out on, so we're already talking online.

Workplace discrimination is widespread around the world and in the US outside of tech. Whether it's pay inequity at Walmart, pregnancy discrimination at UPS, or most recently the Facebook and Twitter lawsuits, we hear stories about discrimination in pay, leave, and in general about women's careers stalling out that resonate and parallel each other across fields.

I do tech activism because it's what I know and you can't change all parts of the world at the same time, but we also need to be taking action in solidarity with, for one example, the two-thirds of American women working for minimum wage. So tech workers of all genders should take those tech salaries (and huge matching grants that companies like Google and Microsoft give employees) and give money to groups like Equal Rights Advocates and the National Women's Law Centre.