During the week following March 8, a conference panel was criticized for being composed only of men. The organizers were interrogated for not including any women on the panel about a relatively old programming language, Java.* Some men were taken aback by the term sausage fest used to describe all-male events like this one. Meanwhile, there were tweets from anonymous accounts, ranging from naive blindness regarding sexism to systematic misogyny claiming women would be unemployed without positive discrimination. Subsequently, both women and some men started to protest the event and showed strong solidarity with the women software developers. We talked to Gülçin and Yeşim from Kadın Yazılımcılar [Women Developers] group about these discussions and other types of discrimination in the field.
* Three days after this interview, on March 15, as we were preparing for its publication, Java Day organizers released an apology statement (in Turkish).
How and when did the women developers come together?
Gülçin: It’s been more than 7-8 years. Elif contacted us to meet and find others in this industry to talk, discuss. I had never thought of that before. We agreed to meet and realized that we shared a lot of things in common. Then, the platform was designed to accommodate anyone that wanted to do anything. Some wanted to write blogs, others wanted to accept invitations from universities to give speeches to increase our visibility, while others wanted to connect with high school students. During that period, I must have given around 40 speeches. My weekends were dedicated to that. We’ve been to every university that contacted us, in Tekirdağ, Manisa, Van, Ankara, Denizli… Whoever was available and competent in the subject would go. For example, if the subject was Python, someone from the Python committee would go. I used to work on databases then, therefore, I would deliver the lectures on databases. At first, my expectation and what I tried to do was, “if we strengthen our technical capacity and prove ourselves in this field, we can break down the prejudices”. People wanted to talk about discrimination, and my usual response was “Why should we, we are technical people, let’s make a difference with our technical knowledge.” After a while, I came to realize that it’s not how it goes. I would talk, talk, and talk, but always received the same reactions: “Women could be developers, too?”, “What are you doing in this field?”, “Are you a salesperson?”. Then, I realized that it is not about access to technical information or proving ourselves with our technical capacity. At that point, we started to grow as a community and launched powerful projects and workshops with people who are leaders in their fields, interested in various subjects, like sociologists and people from other disciplines –not just computer scientists– who have experienced similar problems. With Yeşim’s joining in our group, our perspective on these matters also started to shift. I can say that our activities also started to mature. I see things quite differently from when we first started. At the very beginning, Elif launched this initiative when a woman who was the chair of the computer sciences club at a university reached out to her because she could not find women developers to deliver a lecture at the university. Then Elif buys kadinyazilimci.com domain so that people can find us, and that’s how we got our name “Kadın Yazılımcı” [Women Developers]. They always accuse us of using the wrong language, or of starting the discrimination from our side. The idea was that people would reach women software developers if they were to do an internet search. This was Elif’s intention. In fact, there is nothing discriminatory about saying a woman software developer, it is a solidarity community established by an excluded group.
Everywhere we encounter situations such as men criticizing women’s struggle methods and suggesting “acceptable” struggle methods. Did you see similar approaches in this discussion?
Gülçin: Yes, that happens to us, too. When we react, we are labeled “sensitive”. We are questioned as to whether that’s exactly what was said, or people are doubting our understanding of the situation. And again, when we react, we are accused of being impolite or aggressive. There are also cases where we are accused of remaining passive, and not taking initiative. In other words, when we defend our rights, everything –except our right– is scrutinized and becomes the subject of discussion.
We can move to discussions taking place on Twitter. Development conferences, and women’s technical capacity received hundreds of tweets over the past couple of days. How did it all start and what happened?
Gülçin: Our friend Selin wrote something like “It’s the year 2022, and there are still conferences where there are only male speakers. It’s disheartening to see that on March 8.” I had a look at it to see the incomplete list of speakers announced of the aforementioned conference composed solely of male speakers. The conference was on Java – a rather old programming language. If it was a more recent technology, I would have thought, fine, they could not reach women or consider them, but in this case, it’s not possible. I wrote to the platform where they publicized the conference. The announcement was also available in English, which read “leaders of the industry”. I wrote, “so there are no women within this community, try to do better next time round”. I mentioned the announcement and added “sausage fest”. They were really hurt by that. They did not know what sausage fest was, and I was credited for creating the term. I wish I had come up with the term, I would have been very proud.
They seemed to be really taken aback by that.
Gülçin: Seriously taken aback. Some people called me sosisçi abla [translates as “sausage lover sister”] etc. “She is aggressive, sosisçi, that feminazi needs to be treated, it’s a psychological state, we cannot fix that, the doctors should find a cure”. But what triggered me was not that. I had made my point and was going to go on with my life. I was thinking it was an opportunity for them to reflect on the sausage fest incident, and reply saying, we would like to make it better, we are trying to make it better. Then some people started writing to me, I had a look. One of the organizers wrote “There have been many women speakers at Java Day Istanbul so far. There have been times where we have included certain names in order to ensure representation by being flexible with our quality criteria, in accordance with positive discrimination. I don’t think I can change your prejudice, but that’s the case.” When I saw them mentioning “being flexible with our quality criteria”, I said that’s it! They think that because you’re a woman, you’re definitely not as good as they are, and it’s a blessing to even consider your application. It’s an insult to all the women who have previously delivered speeches, lectures at this conference. I could not get over that. Why should any woman become a part of this platform? Why should women enter an environment where it is implied that they are seen as inadequate; their experience and knowledge are ignored, and they are accepted only because of their gender? So, I wrote: “These are your prejudices.” Then a discussion broke loose on Twitter. To attack a woman, someone who is not a part of the organizers wrote: “Ms. Dilan, if the positive discrimination against women in the software industry stops and real equality is achieved, you will be unemployed. Some of my sentences may seem out of line to you, but these are the facts.” After that, hundreds of men followed, and wrote “someone finally said this”, “congratulations”, “good luck coach, we have your back”, “this should have been said anyway”, “look, you made these feminists mad”, etc. Things we are familiar with, they had a moment there. There were also some people who criticized them, like us, there are still many sane people in the industry.
As if they are the owner of the house, and you are merely a guest.
Graciously they hire us or appoint us as lecturers/speakers. When this discussion started, many trolls, whose origins are not clear, started attacking women who defended their rights. A mob that did a lot of research on us and attacked us personally. While going against every single thing we say, they were also searching for our CVs, how many speeches we delivered thus far, how many years we have been in the industry… They don’t care about the implication of a man tweeting, “you would have been unemployed”.
They tell us that “these are sensitive issues for us, you are putting a lot of pressure on us.” I wrote back, if they were as sensitive as they claimed to be, they “would be thinking about why we cannot reach these women, and try to find ways to do so, it’s easy to let go of the situation because no applications are coming forward.” Or, they can simply say “I don’t mind about this issue, it’s going to be a full male panel, I don’t care.” Then, the message is clear, and we can go on with our lives. If you want to create a sausage fest, just accept that. Don’t be sensitive about these comments. Then someone else replied, “Exactly, they should be digging the ground in search of women, that’s their job, too. As if they don’t have anything else to do.”
Digging the ground? Searching for them underground?
We are so absent that it’s as if we are seven layers underground, and they need to dig us up like this. Our friend, who was the first to say that the entire conference consisted of male speakers, invited two different women to apply to the conference within two days and received a positive response. It means that if you would like to find them, you can– without the toil of digging seven layers of soil. We frequently see that when women software developer applications are low, the responsibility of solving that problem is placed on women.
Today, I wrote to the speakers and sponsors; “Are you aware, have you seen what’s been going on for a week?” saying. These tweets that came in, “Enough, leave us alone, we have been listening to your cries for days, you undermined that nice event, I’m sorry, this is not what women’s rights are really about. Behave yourself. You are someone who harms the just cause of women’s rights with your aggressive attitudes.”
Apart from these sexist comments, what do people standing up in solidarity with you say? What are their messages?
People experienced in community management told them they are not on the right path and pointed out their mistakes in a number of tweets. There were friends who have newsletters with three thousand subscribers, who told us that their platform is open and that we can always use it. There were platforms I was creating podcasts for, with people who care about equality, they said that we can use their platforms to talk about these issues if we want to do so.
There were others who asked what can be done, what should be considered beforehand to avoid such a situation in the future. These are very important. Other groups launched solidarity initiatives by recognizing the inequality and women’s experience in the industry, and to mentor women developers. Another point of action is to put pressure on these events and their organizers, to make sure application criteria are announced transparently, to reach out to women beforehand if you care about their participation, to provide logistical support, to select keynote speakers among women to deliver their opening and closing remarks, and to invite them… It’s great that we are able to discuss these issues now. For example, if the events care about diversity and inclusivity together, they can receive a badge. If such a system is in place for events, it has the potential to increase participation.
Yeşim: Was it Teknasyon that had a balanced men-women ratio on their list of speakers? It was an inclusive event by a company from Turkey.
Gülçin: Yes, the men-women ratio was almost 50%. It means you can make it happen when you really want to do so.
What do women developers talk about regarding the problems they face? What do they experience?
Yeşim: In the past years, there have been cases of sexism from the industry exposed and discussed. So, it is not the first time, but it seems like this time round is the most public and popular discussion taking place. I don’t remember such an extensive discussion before. The existing sexism is exposed to the point of no return. In fact, women are already in schools with their teachers, in workplaces with colleagues, managers, etc. and this is how they work with sexist people around them. After all, every day, women software developers are trying to survive on a level where they are assumed to be untalented, or not considered women when their talents shine.
That’s a good summary, either talentless or genderless.
Yeşim: What this discussion has revealed is the perspective through which women are not seen competent or lacking certain talent/skills. There are two aspects, one positive, the other negative, of these widespread debates. The positive effect is that the discussion allows for people to see that they are not alone, the only ones experiencing these problems. In other words, it makes them realize that something that they have experienced and suspected is actually a social problem that happens to everyone. The existence of people standing up against sexism, who claim a stake on this issue, empowers them by becoming aware of the fact that they “can do something about it”, “I am not alone”, “I am not the problem”. There is also a traumatizing side to realizing “I knew you were horrible, but I did not see the extent to which you could be”. Personally, it made me think that “I would have a completely different life if I did not have to go through such a horrible experience with sexism, given I had survived it all”. It is a sort of grief, because I have always worked in male-dominated spaces, and I was the only woman for years at a time. We still hear that from women, “I am the only woman in my team”. I could have led a completely different life, but I had to endure this. We witnessed sexism, which determines most things about our lives, to become fully exposed. It is the aftermath we are going through right now. All these make up the empowering and demoralizing aspects of the whole situation. Of course, the main thing is to talk, explain, and struggle against them. Already, people come forward with solutions. I have also seen people who make individual decisions and take immediate action. For example, someone wrote that they will not participate in the activities of this community as a speaker unless this attitude changes. There were also those who tweeted “I learned that I will not be a software developer today” and who made fun of the situation. Of course, there is an empowering side to that mockery.
If I were to give examples of sexism from daily life, in ordinary, concrete details; they expect us to cut the birthday cake at work (laughs).
Gülçin: Asking us to make coffee, cut the cake, organize parties, take notes at meetings… They talk to the male junior next to them at every meeting, so they don’t look you in the eye… They position you like dummies, an ornamental object. They don’t think you’re a software developer, so you can be a marketer, salesperson, or human resources specialist at most. Here, too, lies another type of discrimination. As if these jobs are worth less than what we do as software developers.
Complying with gender roles, caring, serving…
Yeşim: We run experience sharing workshops among women developers team where we learn that different people in different workplaces experience the same thing… A friend tweeted that their manager once said, “we have never seen you bringing börek although we have been having these meetings quite regularly now”. She was really irritated by this comment, and communicated that to her mentor, only to hear that “he probably meant it well, you are being too sensitive about it”. Again and again, we are seeing that women are labeled as sensitive for standing up against the social positions they deem that suits us.
Gülçin: Or aggressive. You are either touchy or aggressive.
Yeşim: If we really have to call each other names, I think sexist people are not able to analyze the world around them. It’s sad that they can make sexist comments after witnessing all that’s going on around them. What was the most recent Turkish translation of mansplaining?
Yeşim: Mansplaining is so commonplace in our industry. The woman at the table has to make a serious effort to convince others that she is right when she has the right to speak on the subject she is an expert on, just because of her gender. These are the standards of daily life for women software developers have to endure. In addition, women get asked questions that are otherwise not allowed to ask in job interviews. The subject was mentioned in Vakıfbank’s March 8 advertisement, which was released with a hashtag #işinebak [mind your own business], to raise awareness around questions that cannot be asked. It is very common in our industry; women are asked about their private lives in job interviews; does she have a partner, if yes, will she get married while she is working; if married, do they have children; if not, when will it happen, if so, how old is the child… Employers seem to think they have the right to ask these questions. Your answers to these questions determine whether you will be hired or not…
As we are talking about hiring, I am curious to know about what happens to someone in a management position.
Yeşim: Kariyer.net has a blog page where the R&D team of the site conducts and publishes their research. They publish employment data on distribution of gender by positions (in Turkish). For example, there is the business analyst title, a role in software development where women are encouraged to occupy because it is not considered technical. There are still people saying “women cannot be developers, go become a business analyst” despite the fact that you have studied computer engineering by overcoming billions of barriers set before you. Compared to the software developer role, this is an area where women work at a higher rate, 60% of the employees are women. And in this role, men are mostly represented in managerial positions. It’s called a glass escalator in literature, which refers to situations where men are promoted faster than women in professions occupied mostly by women.
I have heard of the glass ceiling, but it is the first time I am hearing about the glass escalator.
Yeşim: This is the escalator. It goes up faster (laughs).
Do business analysts make less than other positions?
Gülçin: Yes, wherever there is money, men occupy that space. Everyone knows that when it is free, if your labor is to be given free of charge, those jobs are shoved to women. Like, taking meeting notes, which will not have any effect on your promotion, so they expect you to take the notes. They’re also trying to influence you with things like you’re meticulous, and indeed they probably do. After all, people are trying to be a part of this institution, let’s say the company, you just started working in, you try to get an approval, see a thank you, feel good while you’re there. They are using these. And women are not involved in spaces where a new feature will be developed, or a strategically important project for the company, or anything that will affect your promotion. They give you tasks that no one has handled for three or four years, such as fixing bugs. In other words, even in the field where you receive money, there is an attitude of keeping you away from the things that could make you shine. They make excuses like “This job is too stressful; women can’t do it” or “it requires a lot of attention”. What they mean is that women have other responsibilities, such as housework, being a mother, taking care of children, picking up the socks that the men throw on the floor and washing them in the washing machine. So, let’s direct them to business analysts, testers, managers of projects, but not to coding in the software field that they regard as a very, very high place where intelligent people work. When women work as coders, they respect only a few of them who already work at Google or elsewhere. They hear of her because of the company. We have a friend who was experiencing similar things while she was working in Turkey. She left to work at Google. She is considered to be a deity now. I know about her experiences in Turkey before that, but now she is respected because of the company she works for now. Because that’s where they are trying to reach, where their goals lie.
Yeşim: There are also people who consider software development to be a man’s job, or the field to relate to men, stereotyping the field, thinking it requires one to be asocial. There was a tweet about that in another discussion around sexism, it created a great deal of noise. It read “Women cannot stay up until the morning drinking coffee, cola, smoking cigarettes to play computer games, therefore, they cannot be developers.”
Gülçin: He should drink two liters of cola. Tea, cigarettes, and coffee to stay up until the morning.
Yeşim: People perceive software development a field that does not to have social aspects. They consider testing, analysis, and project management roles within the field to be more social and base their sexist division of labor on that perception. In fact, jobs related to software development, coding or systems are also jobs that require being social and good communication skills. People who don’t think so, cannot perform their jobs well. An employer who is not able to see the social interaction skill side to it will hire the wrong people. Most people who are hired will be fine thinking you have to be antisocial, locked up inside a room coding from morning to evening, from evening to morning, can’t do this job anyway. Being able to explain and discuss the architecture one has developed; to see where the problem arises and communicate with and direct the people when a crisis needs to be managed –whether it will be solved in five minutes or two hours; to discuss, produce and prioritize a workaround, make up the multi-faceted competencies needed in this field. The sexist division of labor produces mistakes, it is not a nerd’s job with a lot of coca cola, coffee, cigarettes. It is not a profession that can be done with the features they think of as “male” traits.
Gülçin: Their point is that women cannot grasps disciplines related to numbers. These disciplines have such high esteem that rest is worthless. That’s what they post, too, “you don’t know maths, you don’t get it”. If you were interested, you would have entered the industry, it’s your fault that you are not interested.
There used to be the same myth around engineering, where coding was seen as part of secretarial work. Then the monetary value relationship between them changed with the coding gaining more attention. And suddenly, coding became a male occupation. What can you say about gender-based biases coming before the work/product itself?
Gülçin: There is a site called Github, where we share our codes. On Github users can have pseudonyms and can send codes using PR to contribute to other projects. The codes are added to projects following an approval process. In cases where the nickname of the contributor is not understood to be a woman, the acceptance rate is higher than that of men, while this rate decreases when it is understood that it is a woman. You can access the study here. This is a well-known example in academia, too, here they send the same CV for lab management, one is John, and the other is Jennifer. They prefer John more for this position and offer him an average of 13% more salary.
What are some of your activities in place or initiatives you would like to take on?
Gülçin: We have a blog on kadinyazilimci.com. We are also active on our Slack channel, and we take turns to manage our Twitter account. We organize workshops on discrimination at workplaces. We are on Youtube, as well. We have had sessions where we shared our experiences. We grouped the subjects, and we tried to tackle them one by one. Couple of months ago, we organized a workshop called “Why are women barred from entering the software development field? (link in Turkish). We received reactions such as “What do you mean you are being barred? Does it say women are not allowed?” They were claiming women would be barred if the job posting read “women are not allowed”. If it does not say so, we cannot talk about barring. That discussion went on for two three days straight.
Are you in contact with young women developers? Can we talk about intergenerational solidarity?
Yeşim: Among Kadın Yazılımcı, there are those who are about to enter the profession, and those who are a few years away from their retirement. Generations stand by one another.
I am also curious to know about the relations among you as women developers.
Gülçin: There are women who don’t think they are being discriminated against. For instance, they come to these meetings saying “I have never been discriminated but I am hearing of women who do” and then to realize that what they have been experiencing is also considered discrimination. We have all been there.
Discrimination at workplace is like a school to us. I learn a lot from the workshops I attend. We are also being supported by experts in the field, academics who research discrimination. We have also brought together a number of studies and created presentations on this issue. We have discussed many aspects with the participants. That’s how we came to learn about the term, glass escalator. We knew about the glass ceiling, but the escalator… For example, they always hit us on the head with positive discrimination, Ece Öztan told us that the equivalent in academia is actually temporary special measures. The reason why it is temporary is that these measures will disappear once this inequality is resolved. It is clear that this discrimination will not go away on its own. That’s why we have to wait, like, three thousand years for equality to be achieved unless policy makers take special measures to resolve it.
We used to talk about gender inequality and the gap of 80 years for Europe and 100 years for Turkey. With the pandemic and quarantines, this gap increased to 150 years in Turkey. It regressed.
Gülçin: Of course, they need to be accelerated. This gap is getting bigger. How is this supposed to resolve itself? My child will not be able to see it either.
Yeşim: I can give another example from Kariyer.net, where they looked at mechanical engineering (in Turkish). “Finally, we decided to examine the employment data on ‘Mechanical Engineering’, which has become a legend 🙂 It seems that the legend is in line with data. With a serious difference, men seem to be much more dominant in this profession. However! When we examine the data more closely, we can see a decreasing trend in this rate after 2015. For our curious friends, we have calculated the line that will best represent the data. If the trend continues in the same way, an equal distribution will be seen in approximately 2275.”
Gülçin: 2275! Of course, they already want this status quo to never change, who wants to lose the privileges they already have, and that’s the gist of it.
Any last comments?
Gülçin: We didn’t get this far all at once, we have a long way to go. Good luck to all of us.
Yeşim: I hope that the exposure of sexism in these discussions will give everyone strength and force rather than demoralizing them. I am able to stand without falling apart thanks to the Kadın Yazılımcı group. I hope this solidarity reaches everyone.
Translator: Deniz İnal
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan