Tech & Work

Three FAQs from working women

Despite all the changes over the years, women in many workplaces still seem surprised by what the men around them do or say. John M McKee shares the three questions he gets most frequently from women readers and clients.

In many tech-centered organizations, the department heads are, more often than not, guys. That's not a surprise. In most such organizations, there are more male employees. And while there are a lot of opinions about why that's the case, it is what it is.

Even in today's workplace, for a woman in a male-dominated space, life can be a bit confusing. I frequently receive email from female clients and readers asking questions as they try to move in tandem with the men around them. Most of the questions are of the nature, "What's up with that?"

Readers of this blog (who likewise are predominately guys) might be interested to see the three most frequently asked questions I'm asked by women:

1. What is it about the word "no" that guys don't understand?

2. Is it still true that guys spend over half the day thinking about sex?

3. Why do my male coworkers keep getting credit for my ideas?

Note that only one of these FAQs (that would be the last one) is specifically job related. But all can affect productivity.

My answers:

1. Guys are more likely to have learned how to "tune out" the word "no" without realizing it. Many pick up this behavior in competitive environments as they grow up. Interestingly this hasn't changed significantly despite a lot of energy directed to it by both moms and dads. Here's the experts' consensus:

When growing up girls are still more likely to prefer games where everyone wins. It seems to sit better with them. Little boys on the other hand are often more likely to play games where there are clear winners and losers. Research shows that when either is involved in competitive sports while growing up, they learn that they can affect things by pushing back, or convincing others. For example, when a coach wants to pull a player because of lack of performance, they learn quickly how to convince the coach to give you another chance even if (s)he said you were finished for the game. More often than girls, the boys learned that the "no" really meant, "Convince me and I'll let you do it."

2. Guys "only" think about sex several times a day according to a 2007 article about men and sex in Psychology Today. However, depending on the age of the guy, he may be much more likely to joke about it with others in meetings -- so it can feel like men think about it half of the day. (As an FYI, only about 19% of women think about sex every day according to another study.

3. Women aren't just making this up. They really can miss getting the credit they deserve for their ideas due to both style and gender. The reasons have to do with how they deliver the message and where they are when doing it. Because of a woman's particular pitch, tone, and volume, she may simply not be heard over the guys when several people are speaking during a meeting. And if the boss is male, that's even more pronounced because guys often have less of a range of hearing -- women are more likely to hear higher highs and lower lows. My advice: make sure you're sitting in clear view of the person who's asking for ideas, and make sure you really do get heard.

Here's to your success!



John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...


I am a female JAVA developer at a competitive Cloud Hosting organization. I got my Bachelor's degree in Computer Science in 1999 and my Masters in Computer Engineering in 2004. I have worked with a variety of technologies from the lower level programming languages up to OO languages and frameworks like Spring and Struts. I worked for a large government contractor for almost a decade until we lost a multimillion dollar project. At that point about 50 employees were laid off, most of them women and ethnic minorities. We were given severance packages as long as we signed paperwork indicating we wouldn't sue the company for discrimination. At my first government contracting position both men and women with Computer Science and Engineering degrees were hired. However, because we did large government projects and because of the way the company was structured often individuals had to play roles that were outside of the traditional technical role. Infuriating to many of the women hired, most of them would get assigned to tasks such as requirements documentation, team management, configuration management, and process management while the men were allowed to program. I was hired at my current job less than two months after being laid off at the government contractor's. During the interview I explained that I had strong technical capabilities including enterprise wide development experience in Java as well as projects written in C for customers like NASA and the air force where I wrote software deployed on the A10 aircraft today. I also explained that I had no desire to lead or manage. I explained I had excellent communication skills and was a team player but that I tried managing before and I was extremely unhappy. But I do like to share knowledge, help others around me, do good work, and take responsibility for myself and my work. I have been at my new job for less than two years and have made significant contributions to my team and the software products of the company as a whole. However, I am currently being pressured into the role of managing people again. Because my communication skills are good, my technical skills are strong, I care about the products, and I am friendly people interrupt me constantly with questions. My current manager told me to come to him to get more work. I went to him and he basically said he wouldn't give me anymore work until I went to all the other developers on my team (who are all male) to see if they were stuck on any of the tasks he had given them. The tasks he had given them were minor graphic issues not major projects or chunks of work that would take a dev more than a day or so. But when he gives the men work he doesn't tell them to go check on everyone to see if they need help. Maybe I am a strange woman, but I have no desire to climb the corporate ladder. I have two young boys who are 2 and 4. I like my family life but I like to program. I love the feeling of writing a nice piece of code that provides business value. I'm willing to take a demotion and pay cut if it means people will leave me alone to do that. However, I feel like the field of technology is set up to actually punish the average woman. The average woman is friendly and willing to help. She was raised to care and nurture. I was a tomboy growing up and still am today but I still have caring and nurturing in me. However, I find that rather than set a true standard to measure the well-roundedness of a programmer people exploit the gifts I bring as a woman. In particular, as a woman who loves to learn about technology as well as things like Philosophy and Theology. In other words, the modern developer in a complicated, fast-paced business environment should have strong technical skills in addition to other skills like good written and verbal communication skills, analytical skills, problem solving skills, and perseverance to accomplish something amidst what can be a chaotic environment. As a woman, in particular as a Hispanic woman who grew up with her grandmother in the house, I value things like communication, hard work, and knowing you have to push through and do things that aren't always easy in order to accomplish an end goal. In my house growing up, we just called that "life". We had no concept of women's liberation, gender roles, or any categories like that. You just did the task that life presented you to the best of your ability given your financial and temporal means, end of story. In my work experience I have met a lot of nice men (and some not so nice). However, the majority of them just didn't have the same communication skills (or didn't want to have them) as women. To me that is a deficiency and it should be treated as such. Just like not having strong technical skills should be treated like a deficiency. But instead my experience has shown me that it's acceptable for men to have poor communication skills. So the women who work their tails off to get technical degrees and fight the feelings of isolation and self-doubt that sometimes accompany being in a field where you are one of the few women still end up having to do more work. I have to do the work of making up for the communication deficiencies in my male counterparts as well as my own work and the natural work in the field of staying on top of changing technologies. I work in an open source environment right now which makes the latter extremely fun and challenging. So this has been my experience in the field. That and I have seen mainly white men sitting around scratching their heads wondering why they can't get more women and minorities in the field. My advice, when women come into the field listen to them. When they tell you they want to program, have gotten technical degrees, and have strong technical skills leave them alone to do that. Don't push them into management or exploit their communication skills because of the deficiencies of those around them. Also, if you want people who are different than you to come into the field then you have to be willing to change yourself and the system around you so that it is more hospitable to those with differences. That's not an easy thing to do. I have personal experience as I've pretty much had to go through painful personal changes to be a Hispanic woman in this field. So in all good conscience, I don't know if I can honestly recommend this field to other women unless they are sure without a doubt that they have a mathematical, logical inclination, are willing to make personal sacrifices, and are strong enough to hang in a field that doesn't even realize it's taking advantage of you.


Why would you assume that it's the women who don't get it and should change? Equality of opportunity doesn't mean everyone becomes like traditional men. It can just as much mean that men need to learn to act more like the traditional female role. Or, better still what about a middle ground where the best attributes of both traditional roles are combined?


The "Women in IT" issue is just a PR stunt, "Torches of freedom" type (google it!). Not worthy of discussion. "Torches of Freedom" campaign fought for equal opportunities for women to get lung cancer. "Women in IT" fights for equal opportunity for women to study for offshoreable professions, and get saddled with student debt for life.


Excellent article, John! I feel that the smaller (and I don't mean to demean these points) are what keeps the perspective that women are treated worse than men. The point of having an idea taken is a great example. As a man in a management role, who has worked both under a woman, as well as over them in a small office, we have many different circumstances that highlight this point. Perhaps just in the very method of delivery is why a woman's idea might be overlooked, because (in general) most women introduce ideas, especially ones that may be controversial or subversive, more delicately, whereas most men will be more direct and be sure their point is heard. Not a problem, or an insult to women, its just a fact of life from my perspective. Working with women that are more direct about their thoughts, are generally heard even clearer, because it is almost a shock, a fact to support my very point. I fear I may be digressing, but this is a great read. I don't want to encourage more sensitivity training, or normalization, but more so point out that if we realize that there IS a difference in manners, methodology, and overall attitude between the sexes, it can become a benefit to both sides!

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