Sexism in Tech: The View From Vegas

When well-known developer Julie Horvath announced that she was leaving programming network GitHub due to what she described as a sexist workplace culture, the incident sparked a new round of conversations about the treatment of women in the tech industry. In a preliminary survey of 84 tech companies, women made up only 12 percent of the engineering workforce in 2013, according to business website Quartz. Horvath, who had been on a crusade to boost those numbers at GitHub and elsewhere, recounted discrimination and harassment from the subtle (men gawking at women hula-hooping in the office) to the more overt (a co-worker deleting her code from projects after she turned him down for a date).

We talked to three female leaders in the Las Vegas tech community about their own experiences and their advice to other women interested in entering the field.

suzSuz Hinton, Front-End Developer, Zappos

What she does:

Works on Zappos‘ search and product pages, and co-hosts the Downtown Podcast on Thursday nights. Hinton’s expertise extends back to when she was nine years old and her father brought home a hand-me-down computer as a gift. It was so outdated that she had to learn how to program it herself.

The bug:

Being a woman in tech can make you a novelty, she says. At Zappos, she’s one of around 20 female developers. “You do stick out,” she says. “Even if you dress like the boys.”

One of the biggest challenges comes in the form of “micro aggressions,” Hinton says—subtle comments and actions in the workplace that can get women down. When working on projects, many female developers have to prove their skills to earn their male counterparts’ respect.

The fix:

Men and women need to be more active about speaking out against minor injustices in real time, Hinton says. Women should also seek out female mentors. “Mentors can be a good sanity check,” she says. “They can help you put that anger to practical use.”

Jackie M Jensen close overexposedJacqueline Jensen, Co-Founder and COO, TicketCake.com

What she does:

Oversees marketing and operations for TicketCake, a company dedicated to revolutionizing event ticketing for smaller venues. Unlike other platforms,  TicketCake allows users to post events for free, tracks ticket sales and offers additional marketing by their staff. Think Salesforce for events.

Jensen and co-founders Dylan Jorgensen and Joe Henriod relocated to Las Vegas from Salt Lake City in 2012 and became one of the first companies to receive investment capital from the Vegas Tech Fund. Now, they have 320 event organizers who use the site and have processed $1.5 million in ticket sales.

The bug:

Jensen said it never occurred to her to think about her gender until she was approached to speak on the topic of women in tech at a conference. Now, she’s a regular speaker on the subject.  After listening to many women’s stories, “what I find is that at some point, many women were told they can’t do something,” she says.

The fix:

As a co-founder, Jensen has the power to set the tone for workplace culture. She believes her confident attitude, paired with the experience of founding a company as opposed to climbing the ladder of an existing corporation, have helped shield her from sexism.

“My advice is whatever the barriers are, just let them go,” she says.

bwRioShavonnah Tièra, Program Coordinator and Advisor, UNLV Startup Center

What she does:

Along with her team, acts as a silent board of advisors for entrepreneurs, helping them with everything from networking to testing and refining ideas. Before landing at the UNLV Startup Center, Tièra worked at the now defunct startup Ayloo, an app aimed at finding local events and gatherings. She fell into tech by accident in 2011, when, bored in her current job at a law firm, she decided to organize a Startup Weekend in Las Vegas.

The bug:

Tièra says that many women steer away from tech because so much of the programs available are created by men and geared toward men. Introductory tutorials often feature subjects like building a video game with a single shooter, which might not attract many women. College courses can also be barriers since many require a long list of prerequisites, when many women are looking for a straightforward programming class.

The fix:

“The best advice is to find your peeps,” she says. “You have to build a base of good people who you trust. It gets lonely out here and that helps keep me motivated.”

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