Posted in work on September 17th, 2013
I was recently reminded of a big reason why I love working at Etsy.
It was when I signed in to Facebook as part of my waking-up routine and found some comments on a photo I’d posted the night before. The photo and caption:
I love this photo. I love the adventure that my fellow engineering managers (many of whom aren’t represented in the photo) and I went on the other night, running through the streets of DUMBO in a torrential downpour to our monthly happy hour. We were soaking wet but chose to hang out late in the evening with each other anyway.
Before I went to bed that night, I received and deleted one comment on the photo, from my former CPA. He wrote, “You are the only woman? No wonder you love your job…getting to hang around with guys all the time :)”
I deleted this comment because, well, it’s unnecessary and weird. Yes, I’m currently the only engineering manager at Etsy who is female. But that’s certainly not why I love my job. I don’t typically remove Facebook comments, but this one just seemed really out of place and, well, weird. Off it went.
So when I signed on the next morning, I was blown away by the conversation that happened overnight between my fellow engineering managers and some of our friends.
Commenter 1, a friend of a coworker: “Only 1 lady?”
Reply from my Etsy coworker, an engineering manager: “[Commenter 1 name]: Etsy is doing wonders to close the gender gap at the workplace, probably more than any other tech company, but for now only one of our eng managers is a woman. We want to fix that, want to apply?”
Commenter 1: “I know. I applaud etsy for their efforts with getting women engineers started and in the door. I’m happy you are thinking about it at the management level too. And yay to Lara for being a trail blazer.”
Reply from another Etsy engineering manager: “Etsy is definitely leading the industry on terms of equality in the workplace. We’re all equally drenched!”
Commenter 2, who I used to work with: “Here’s my pitch – Bringing women into STEM starts in middle school. The ladies turn on to Math and Science and need encouragement and acceptance then. Support STEM early in education! www.asdnh.org”
It’s really hard to articulate why this conversation was so powerful to me. Why was I so surprised by this string of comments on my own Facebook wall? After all, I talk about the issues surrounding women in tech pretty frequently elsewhere. And why was I so struck by what my coworkers had written?
1. I didn’t have to respond.1 Usually when the issue of women in tech comes up, people look at me, whether it’s because I’m the one with the two X chromosomes or I’m the one who is more vocal about this issue or whatever. I tend to be the defacto carer about the issue, and when everybody suddenly looks at you to speak about that thing that you care a lot about, you do it. But get this: these two coworkers totally stepped in and stepped up. They very swiftly responded to the question, and…
2. …this was an amazingly positive response to a very hard question. “We’re all equally drenched” is phenomenal. “Want to apply?” is tremendous. These guys nailed it. It didn’t get heated, it didn’t get defensive, no one had to come and put out fires; it was simply accurate and positive.
3. I didn’t expect it to happen because I don’t feel like a token at Etsy. In my career I’ve been told by other companies that they wanted to hire me because I’m a female developer, that I was promoted “70% because of my skills and 30% because I’m a woman”, that I was invited to present because they had a quota to fill. As I’ve written about before, I don’t feel like I was hired at Etsy because of anything except my skill set and ability to do this job. And as I wrote there, do you have any idea how refreshing it is, as a female technical manager, to not wonder if I was given an offer of employment because of my gender?
I know that Etsy is working hard on this issue. In this moment I was reminded that it’s not just “Etsy” as a generic organism, but also individuals around me day in and day out, for whom the topic of gender imbalance in our industry is close to their heart but not necessary to speak with me about every day. Because it’s an issue, but it’s not a token issue. I haven’t forgotten that I’m the only female engineering manager at Etsy, but I am certainly not reminded of it daily, because of the way I feel here.
It is not a bad thing that people noticed that I was the only woman in that picture. But my favorite part about this whole event was summed up by my engineering manager coworker Justin Kerr Sheckler, whom I’d emailed to thank for his words on Facebook. He replied to me:
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a clear example of how much scrutiny women in our industry are subject to. Your gender was literally the only thing anyone could think of when they saw that photo! I’m glad you found our comments helpful, and I’m glad I work with you, because you’re very bright and talented!”
This. Yes, I do love to talk about the issue and how important it is that we solve it. But Justin perfectly summed up for me why I was so struck by it happening in this way. It’s not just battling weird comments like the one I deleted; it’s dealing with the other really messy parts of this issue that are harder to talk about or wrap our heads around. I feel incredibly fortunate to work at a place like Etsy, where I’m surrounded by people who see me for what I bring to the job, and who are actively by my side.
1 Okay one more Etsy anecdote about not having to be the one who responds: I have to shout out the Etsy coworkers who spotted a creeper at a conference months ago who was sitting and staring at me for too long. He’d positioned himself at a table just far enough away where he could overhear our conversation but not be a part of it, and he wouldn’t stop trying to make eye contact with me. But I wasn’t the only one to notice; some male Etsy coworkers picked up on it without me even mentioning it. I never bring up that stuff to coworkers after getting laughed at for it at a previous company. But my Etsy coworkers were totally aware of both the dude and my discomfort without any heads up from me, and they ensured I made it back to my hotel room un-harassed.