I just got back from a conference in Canada. I was in lovely Victoria for a week – it was the same conference as last year. Luckily, this year my flights managed to work out, and aside from being stuck in Toronto for a few extra hours on my way home, the trip was smooth.
This isn’t about my travel adventures though. That is less infuriating.
First some background: the conference is composed of week-long classes in addition to the usual conference shenanigans of colloquiums, networking, etc. I was enrolled in a programming course. It was an intensive five days. I learned a lot. There was a lot of gnashing of teeth and getting out of my comfort zone. Cool, right?
I had dinner with some fellow conference-goers one night, and one woman asked what course I was in, yadda yadda yadda. I answered and mentioned that I was trying to wrap my brain around it. That the class was tough. Perhaps I was just venting after a tough day. Maybe I was looking for some sisterly bonding. Instead she looked at me and said, “Well, you know, like, this might sound sexist, but, like, I guess I am so surprised to see how many women are at this conference. I mean, women just aren’t as good at computers as men are.”
I was silenced. This is a woman who is attending one of the top PhD programs in her field. She is no dummy. Yet what she said was an incredibly stupid thing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprise only 29.7% of people working in “Computer and Software.” Considering that is a pretty vague category, the percentage is upsettingly low. STEM careers are one of the fastest growing careers in the world. The wage gap is significantly smaller for women in these careers. (Although the gap still exists, which is another post in and of itself.)
My regret is that I wish I said something to her, to correct that way of thinking. She is doing a disservice to women as a whole. When women are already a minority in the field, having someone voice an opinion with no facts to back it up hurts all of us.
Instead I stayed silent, which some might argue is as bad as agreeing with her.
What about you, dear reader? What would you have done in that situation? What have you done in similar situations?