Episode 66: Men on Women

I was told [the job] was going to my female co-worker, and it enraged me. I thought, ‘This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. I expressed myself in the masculine...and you gave it to a woman.’
— Benjamin DeBoer
I think it’s very easy for men left alone without any women in a group to have a boys’ club environment...and maybe there is a young man who feels uncomfortable with that but he doesn’t feel empowered to speak up.
— Erik Michaels-Ober

In this episode two men share their views on women and men in the workplace. One is straight, one gay, one works in tech and one in the arts.

We talk about how gay men can be sexist too, why society values masculine qualities over feminine ones, and what one company,SoundCloud, is doing to increase the number of female engineers who work there (including making its job descriptions less exacting).

Thanks to my guests Benjamin DeBoer and Erik Michaels-Ober for being on this man-only episode of The Broad Experience.

And don't forget to check out my sponsor for this week at Doodle.com - they make setting up meetings a lot easier, and the basic service is totally free.

And now for the T-shirt news I mentioned on the show. Anyone who donates $50 to the show via the support page will receive a Broad Experience T-shirt like the one below. Yes, this is a ladies' shirt, but guys, if you're interested, I can definitely get a man's shirt made up as well.

Please go to this Google form to fill in your name, address, email, and most important,size. The order will be sent once the shirts have arrived and the donation has been made. Shirt is 90% cotton, 10% polyester. It displays the graphics from this website's banner, including the text 'a conversation about women, the workplace, and success'.

If you're female here's what I can tell you: these T-shirts are not overly large. I'm 5'8 and broad shouldered and I wear a medium, whereas with other T-shirts I can easily wear a small.


Show Transcript

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, men discuss their feelings about women in the workplace. And those feelings aren’t always warm…

“I was told that actually it was going to go to my female co-worker…and it enraged me, and I felt incredibly resentful. I thought that this isn't how it's supposed to go.”

And we’ve talked quite a bit on this show about being a woman in tech. What does the landscape look like from the guys’ perspective?

“Being in an environment, especially on the engineering side, it just sort of becomes the wallpaper, and you stop noticing there aren’t any women when there should be.”

But he is trying to do something about it.

Coming up.


Benjamin DeBoer is in his early thirties. For years after college he lived in New York, working in the opera world. Now he lives just outside Washington DC and he has two jobs – he does marketing for an arts organization and he works for a coffee company.

“From the outside looking in right you know working in the arts and working in the coffee industry, they are seemingly very progressive industries and in many ways they are, they're very inclusive. But I think that sexism still is part of those environments and there are very few women in power in the arts. I mean there certainly are some, but many of them tend to be gay women. “

Ben’s gay himself. And he shares a house with a female couple – they’re married, and he says the 3 of them spend a lot of time talking about gender and gender stereotypes. Here’s what he’s noticed working in the arts – for one thing he says it is still largely straight, white men at the top…and they feel comfortable with people who act like them.

“I’ve noticed that gay women who express themselves more in the masculine or present themselves more in the masculine versus women who are more traditionally feminine, or perceived as more traditionally feminine, are treated more as equals. And I can't help but wonder if we value expressing ourselves more in the masculine in the workplace than we do in the feminine right, because expressing yourself in the masculine tends to mean that you pursue success, that you are more aggressive, that you display more emotional control, and I just wonder why we feel that everyone has to conform to that standard, that masculine standard.”

He has both sides himself. And he’s found his feminine side that generally isn’t a good thing at work.

He has always worked with plenty of women and he had always thought of women as equals. Or at least he thought he thought that way…

“I came to realize that actually a lot of my close gay male friends and co-workers at times could be very sexist, and that sexism isn't just for straight men and that was very surprising to me, and it was surprising to me that actually at times I played along with that and that and that I – I mean we all think that gay men are our woman's best friend. But you know sexism and sexist comments and sexist thinking can happen in the gay community too. And you know I think the thing is that you know, I think a lot of it is this sort of an unconscious prejudice, and I don't know if you feel this way, but I think a lot of times in the workplace there's an unconscious prejudice against gay women. I think there's also an unconscious prejudice against gay men from other men. And I wonder if you know, we put women down because it's the easiest group to target and maybe we, maybe we as gay men -- I can't speak for others but maybe myself -- it was a way to feel more important or to self-aggrandize or to not feel like I was on the outs.”

One incident made him think profoundly about his own biases. He often feels like an outsider in the company of other men. Yet he IS a guy, and he’s tall and well built. So when this macho-sounding job came up at the coffee company he works for, he decided to prove himself…

“I had applied to work in the back in the roasting facility, and the positions of coffee roaster tend to be held by men and it was between me and a woman who worked there and she had worked there less time than I had, I had more time on her at the company, I was older than her. And I went into the interview and presented myself kind of, or I thought I presented myself as this guy who was capable, who could fix things, who could work with tools who could, that I could lift things there were in the job description you had to be able to lift I think more than thirty pounds, and it wasn't necessarily a sexist requirement. It was just a requirement of the job that you had to be physical.”

He threw every male stereotype in his arsenal at that interview. And he left feeling pretty good about how things went.

“And then, I was pulled in to the into my boss's office you know a couple weeks later and I was told that actually it was going to go to my female co-worker. And it enraged me and I was felt incredibly resentful. And I thought that this isn't how it's supposed to go. I expressed myself in the masculine, I presented myself the way I thought I was supposed to be. And you gave it to a woman.”

They gave it to her because they told him she had the right skillset and background for the job. Still, he stewed. He thought he’d followed the unwritten rules of the company – it felt like a boys’ club and he was trying to be one of the boys. And it hadn’t worked.

AM-T: How long did it take you to get over that?

 “It took a couple weeks and in fact I applied for another job there and I was told that in the in the interim in the period between my not getting that job and me applying for another job within the company, that I was difficult to be around – and that I didn't display a certain level of professionalism that they were looking for.”

AM-T: Ooh…

“Yes. And it really forced me to do some real critical thinking about…I mean not to be too hard on myself but you know, I understood what they were saying. I was very disappointed and I'd applied for several jobs for several jobs within the company and I was feeling undervalued and under-appreciated, and I thought…it was my perception that I didn't get the job because I wasn't being perceived as a capable man, that I wasn't teachable, that I couldn't work with tools. And then I guess on the other hand you know I am…I mean I’m a human being and I should be allowed to express emotion and disappointment. And I think it goes back to that emotional control. I think men are really expected to show emotional control perhaps in a way that women are not expected to.”

AM-T: How has it been at work since - have you recovered your equilibrium?

“I have, yes, and you know I I'm very happy for the woman that got the job in the back. She is doing a great job and I think that she definitely has the right skill set and I think it's it kind of you know, failure or disappointment are things that we have to deal with in life, and it was a growing experience for me and when I didn't get the second job because of because I was told that I didn't handle it that well I felt that I recovered from it very quickly. But I will say that it has really, your podcast and my experience of losing a job to a woman where I thought that what they were looking for was this sort of classic and the stereotypical man for the job? It's really helped me to be more aware, more conscious of how I think of women and be more aware of my own sexism and my own prejudices at work, something I was not aware of before, or I didn’t even think that that was within me. I didn't even think I have those issues.”

Glad to be of service.

We’ll come back to Ben and perceptions of masculine and feminine behavior a bit later in the show.


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My next guest works in a heavily male industry – technology. He’s a software developer and he works at SoundCloud, which actually hosts this podcast. He’s also a listener of mine, and when I put out a call a few months ago for men in tech to talk about their perspective on women at work he got in touch.

Erik went straight from college to working in Silicon Valley. There wasn’t a single woman engineer on any of the teams he worked on.

“…and I don’t even think I interviewed one the first 8 years of my career. And that was despite the fact the first two companies I worked for were founded by women.”

Then he moved to SoundCloud. He works at their head office in Berlin.

“Here there’s a number of great women who I started working with and just learned a lot from and them, and they became some of my favorite coworkers to work with. That’s when I began to see what a loss it was not just for women, but for the men in the industry, right. Like, we’re missing out in the experience of working with women and learning from women and having that perspective in our lives and in our work.”

Of course I asked him to describe what he meant. He didn’t want to reinforce stereotypes, but having said that…he was willing to say this…

“I think the women who I work with tend to be much more methodological in their approach and for men a lot of times it’s, here’s the problem, let’s race towards it and hit it with a hammer and go as fast as we can and just make a beeline for it. And I think a lot working with women – and with some men – it’s more an attitude of let’s take a step back, let’s think about this problem holistically…is the thing we’re solving the real problem, is it the root problem?”

Also he says when it comes to computer code he’s noticed something else. In general he says women put more emphasis on the human aspects of code. He says that means their code might be easier to read and understand…even if it makes it slower. He says a lot of the time that’s the right tradeoff to make.

Not that he notices everything. His girlfriend sometimes has to nudge him into awareness. She also works at SoundCloud.

“..so you know there might be something like an all-hands meeting, the whole company comes together, and there’s a presentation by four of our executives, there’s a panel at the front, they’re doing questions and answers, and it’s an all male panel. And maybe once or twice that’s fine, but if it’s 2 or 3 meetings in a row that’s something she would notice and point out, and I might not even notice. And being in an environment, especially on the engineering side, it just becomes the wallpaper, and you stop noticing there aren’t any women when there should be.”

He says the company has been making a concerted effort lately to get more women into its engineering department, and it’s been working. They’ve largely been small tweaks. For one thing SoundCloud studied the wording on its job descriptions…

“And we said, OK – this is actually based on some research that showed that women will only apply for a job if they apply for 100% of the qualifications where men will do so of they meet some smaller percentage, they’re willing to put themselves out there even if they’re not fully qualified – and so we looked at a lot of things, so having a college degree was a requirement on many of our jobs. And when we looked internally we said OK, how many of the engineers we’ve hired have a college degree? Is it 100% No, it’s not. We’ve hired a lot of male engineers who don’t have a college degree but decided to apply anyway.”

So they removed that college degree requirement from several job descriptions.

Another thing they did is a bit like something you’ve probably heard about from the classical music industry – blind auditions, where the judges can’t see whether the musician auditioning is male of female – in this case it was blind reviews of computer code applicants had written…

“… we removed the name and resume, any identifying information from that code and just presented the code as is and had people review it blindly – just to remove any implicit biases that might be going on as people were reviewing it. I think that’s really helped make our process more fair. And as I said we’ve increased the number of women – we’ve actually doubled it in the past 18 months or so.”

It’s a big jump. Still, the number of female engineers at the company hovers at about 15 percent. There’s a lot more to do.

There was one thing I really wanted to ask Erik as a young man. A few years ago, right around the time I was starting this show, I assumed Generation Y men were total converts to equality…utterly enlightened.

AM-T: “What about men your age though, because you must be about 30, right?”


“Because what I was saying earlier, I thought this was going to be a completely enlightened generation…then I heard all these stories about…a tech startup in the Boston area…girls were part of the attraction of the Christmas party…these guys were raised by mothers who were feminists…I’m curious as to what your friends are like and whether people outside your company with all its initiatives have any interest in this topic at all?”

“I mean first of all I think really the best educated people don’t have those attitudes in my experience. A lot of times companies talk about culture fit as a criterion for hiring. And to me it’s about that – it’s like, I don’t care about how good of a software developer you are, if you’re a sexist asshole I’m not going to hire you.”

But what about those young men at the startup I mentioned? I bet they all had good degrees.

“I don’t know, I just think it’s very easy for men left alone without any women in a group to kind of have that boys’ club environment, so some idea like using women for advertising manages to get through. And you know, maybe there is a young man in the company who feels uncomfortable about that but maybe they don’t feel empowered to speak up or they feel they may be ostracized in that group.”

Perhaps it’s all about fitting in. Peer pressure. Ben DeBoer is familiar with those things as well.

“I mean certainly there's a long way to go for women in the workplace. I think there's a long way to go for men in the workplace, gay or straight. I think many work environments are still run by you know straight men and I know that for me as a gay man in the workplace I have been afraid to be perceived as weak, as a less resourceful, as less capable. I have a fear of being perceived as feminine by my other male colleagues, especially those who are in power or who are making decisions. And while some of that may be my own insecurity I also can't help but think that that is what the world has messaged to me from an early very early age is that…you know, I’ll use a classic example: when I when I was a young boy I was more feminine and so I was often called a girl. ’Oh, Ben’s a girl, you know, he's a little girl, he's very feminine, and that was said very negatively. And when I asked my roommate who is, you know, she's an athlete. She's very masculine in certain ways – she, you know, has a short haircut she was always a tomboy when she was very young, and she said not once did anyone ever say, ‘Oh you're a boy.’ She was never called out for being athletic, she was never called out for being a tomboy. And I just can't help but think that's because in our society we value masculine qualities over feminine qualities.

Men are number one, women are number two, and to be a man expressing himself in the feminine is bad, but to be a woman and express yourself in the masculine, that is OK, that is good, and I would love to see that gap closed. I would love to see us expressing our masculine and feminine sides both as men and women and not assign that to one gender and to value both.”

Ben DeBoer. Thanks to him and Erik Michaels-Ober for being my guests on this man-only episode of The Broad Experience.  As usual you can add a comment beneath this episode on the website or on the show’s Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you.

And if you’ve never used it check out Doodle, my sponsor for this week’s show.  It makes scheduling meetings so much easier – and you’ll be supporting a company that supports The Broad Experience.

And talking of support…I’m mentioning this in my newsletter but I thought I’d say something here too. As you know this is a one-woman show with no support other than occasional sponsorship dollars and listener donations.

If you are willing to support the show with a $50 donation you can get the official Broad Experience T-shirt, which I first had made last year. Now this is a ladies shirt but given you’ve just heard a man show, gentlemen, I’m sure I can do something for you too.

You’ll find more details of how to order, including a photo of the shirt, under this episode at The Broad Experience.com.

I’m taking a brief production break so there won’t be another show in two weeks…but I have lots of shows in the archive so I hope you’ll check those out if you’re a new listener. The topics include work and sex…why women have a hard time negotiating with female bosses, and emotions at the office.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.