Death by a Thousand Cuts

Death by a Thousand Cuts

By  Kristin Milton

Kristin Milton
Kristin Milton

Kristin Milton wants the conversation about “the leaky pipeline” to broaden, and include applied researchers and specialists who navigate gender discrimination in STEM. Her post focuses on the “many little cuts” that applied women in STEM face in their daily work. Her story shows that the conversation about gender inequality needs to be inclusive of women in STEM beyond academia, as there are many intersections in our experiences of “everyday sexism,” as well as some unique challenges that we should collectively support.

STEM Beyond Academia

People need to understand that “careers in STEM” don’t just mean teaching or research scientists. I left university with an undergraduate degree in Geography and IT. Since then, I’ve worked on Marine Park planning, flood-modelling in the Murray Darling Basin, ecological assessment of river habitats, decision-support tools for social policy and asset management applications. These days I am more technical and I do less science research. I provide advice and support to scientists and policy makers on the best ways to use spatial technologies in their work.  I manage a team responsible for data administration, technical support and strategic advice on spatial analysis, and web services to make the data publicly available.

I am really passionate about helping people to use maps and spatial analysis to make better decisions, and also about Open Data initiatives that can put this information into the hands of everyone. I’ve been sharing these passions on social media, writing about GIS, maps and cartography since 2011.

I have fifteen years experience in my industry, and three years specifically in my organisation, in a senior role. My qualifications and experience are questioned in a way that simply does not happen to my male colleagues, and I’m asked to prove myself over and over, when their credibility is taken for granted.

Yet it’s not just me. There is plenty of scientific evidence that women in IT experience gender inequality.

My qualifications & experience are questioned - Kristin Milton, Spatial Professional
My qualifications & experience are questioned – Kristin Milton

A Thousand Cuts

Researchers (male and female alike) are more likely to find applicants unsuitable if there’s a woman’s name at the top.  Women in IT get more critical comments in their performance reviews than their male counterparts, and more negative comments about personality rather than skills. American statistics suggest that the number of women studying IT is decreasing while more women are generally quitting their work in IT. Despite the evidence, people, generally men, seem to demand more evidence of gender inequality.

Below are some of my experiences of workplace sexism. These comments represent professional death by a thousand cuts; incidents that chip away at women’s career resilience, demanding patience and endurance not expected of men. For example:

  • An executive who only explains his ideas with sporting analogies (what the hell is a yellow jersey?).
  • A Windows admin guy who says, “Oh, you are a real IT person, after all!,” because I explain to him that I have built some of the web servers.  My job title of Enterprise GIS Team Leader clearly wasn’t important.
  • The former colleague who asks who’s face I sat on to get my current role.
  • The random who says “I didn’t know girls were into stuff like this!” at a conference I’ve attended for gosh, at least eight years.
  • The manager who decided his female staff wouldn’t be interested in fieldwork because they have kids (even though his male staff have kids too).
  • The user who would not accept my instruction to resolve a technical problem, but would follow directions exactly when given by my male subordinate.
  • The guy I interviewed, who, even when told that I would be his supervisor, kept responding to my questions to the other, male, interviewer.  And when that interviewer was pulled from the room, refused to answer any more questions – even when told by both of us that I would continue conducting the interview on my own.
  • The people who assume I’m a guy when I comment on tech stuff online.

These, and various other, thousand tiny cuts look very different when you are female. They are couched in terms of “maybe you should try a different field” rather than “you should develop your skills in this.” They come with a constant subtext that these are not your peers, this is not your expertise, this is not your world.

These thousand tiny cuts come with a constant subtext that these are not your peers, this is not your expertise, this is not your world. - Kristin Milton, Spatial Professional
These thousand tiny cuts come with a constant subtext that these are not your peers, this is not your expertise, this is not your world. – Kristin Milton, Spatial Professional

About the Author

Kristin runs a Geo Geeks community. You can read Kristin’s writing and contact her on Google+.


Image Credits

1. Photo courtesy of the author.

2. Google Maps

3. Google Maps

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