Being the only woman in a male-dominated workplace with a dysfunctional culture is not easy – how can women professionals speak out to effect change, while also maintaining constructive relationships with their teammates?
Last summer I was doing a software engineering internship at a large tech company in New York City. I ate lunch every day with my team, who was all male. I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with them outside of the context of work and to learn more about their interests in tech.
One day during lunch, we were talking about our favorite apps, and ways to integrate our favorite apps into features in our company’s product. One of my coworkers showed us a Japanese app that creates sounds when you tap different emojis. With his phone hooked up to loudspeakers, he pressed a heart emoji and his phone began playing a loud young female orgasm.
How did you respond?
I was disgusted, but the employee kept playing it over and over again. I was in a room of fifteen men between the ages of 24 and 34 as well as the VP of engineering who was probably in his fifties, and they were all laughing at the sound of an orgasm from a girl who sounded like she’s my age or younger. It was so abhorrently inappropriate, I hardly knew what to say or do.
Eventually, the VP of engineering glanced towards me, and suddenly remembering that I was in the room, between laughs, begrudgingly said, “We should probably stop this before we get a sexual harassment complaint.” I was horrified.
What are your takeaways in hindsight?
I think this is a great example of what happens when a culture can live in isolation and perpetuate itself to a disgusting degree. These “bro-y” coders had carried on acting like this for so long going unchecked, that the sudden new presence of a female intern was not enough to cause them to change their behavior.
Unfortunately, due to the power dynamics of me being the only intern in the room, I don’t think there was much more I could have done. I certainly felt helpless in the situation—I didn’t say anything.
Throughout my internship, I found that bonding with the (few) other women at the company was a huge saving grace. It was helpful to have another person to talk to about these issues, even if they were just there to listen and understand where I was coming from. I wish I had gotten in touch with them sooner.