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Just Give Them a Chance

racism Asian
Phil Chu
Phil Chu
Making software since the 80s

I don’t pay much attention to HBR articles ever since I saw one of their collections on the shelf at a Ralph’s supermarket featuring a “study” on left-brain vs. right-brain people. But I just saw another HBR-published study concluding women score higher on leadership skills than men, and it reminds me of other claims I’ve seen about how women are better leaders and managers because they’re more teamwork-oriented, more nurturing, have less ego, etc.

While well-intentioned, this sounds a lot like the folk wisdom of girls are sugar and spice and boys are made of snails and puppy dog tails (which logically spirals into “boys will be boys”). It’s the type of “science” that ends up in Google Manifestos and not only do I think it’s not helpful, it’s not true, at least not in any useful sense.

Sure, I had a woman manager who baked me a cake while I crunched on a project (which my male coworkers ate, to her irritation), but I also had a woman manager who cursed like a sailor (maybe she baked cakes, too, but I expect she’d curse during the whole process).

And they were my favorite woman managers. My first one, when I worked at the microcomputer center in college, liked to give pop quizzes to all the staff, scolded me for talking to customers, and lied that she sent my timesheet to payroll for three months, until I quit, whereupon she deliberately withheld my pay (I got paid after I wrote a letter to her boss saying I needed to pay my tuition bill).

In fact, I’ve been cheated out of more pay by women than men (and also by more artists than programmers, so all those bemoaning the lack of programmer ethics, hey this is a case where we can paint with a broader brush).

The most egregious case was a woman-run game studio that I’d quit and made the mistake of going back to for contract work. When I sent her my final invoice for several weeks of work including crunch time, she said she didn’t expect it to be that much, then that she didn’t expect to pay at all, I was taking advantage of her, she was really uncomfortable, it was all a misunderstanding, and finally, can we still be friends?

This was the type of thing that made me quit in the first place, so that should have been a lesson learned (and now I assume contracts end when they end and don’t continue until someone explicitly says they’re going to pay).

My point isn’t that women are worse leaders and managers than men. Saying men are better is just as silly as saying women are better. What I’m saying is that women are fully capable of being as terrible as men, if they’re just given the opportunity.