Opting out of sexist workplaces is straight out of the universe of boycotts and strikes. It acknowledges that this is a political problem, not one to be solved by HR
15 April 2015
Women in tech have been told to lean in, back off, be bigger blowhards and simultaneously let others shine. But by far the most inspiring – and probably the most effective – piece of advice is the one found on the otherwise rather mysterious new website tableflip.club: “Fuck that, we’re done. It’s not us, it’s you.”
Meaningful change, the anonymous woman behind the site told me over email, requires not just tweaking but reinvention from the top down: “It’s virtually impossible to change a sick system without being the one in charge.”
You can’t destroy the master’s house, it seems, when the master’s a tool.
Her site went up on Monday and hosts a single, 500-word piece of writing giving voice to years (or decades) of exasperation:
“When we try to play by the rules (which we do because we’ve seen what happens to women who don’t) we’re denied opportunities because we aren’t “ready” for them – and we are ALSO denied the things you say we need in order to BE ready. When we do these things without your corporate approval, we do it knowing that we may be the next woman who gets quietly fired for being too forward. When we try to take a seat at the table like Sheryl said we should, we’re called presumptuous.”
The solution: “It’s time we take our potential elsewhere.”
What makes her campaign so novel is that it applies the language and techniques of political activism to something that’s been treated as a business problem. Many self-help books and workshops designed to support women at work actually place the onus of responsibility on them, encouraging women to brag more but promise less, to be more assertive and less aggressive.
But the tableflip.club founder rejects the idea that women should try to adapt to the demands of an already-broken system in order to survive: “Flipping the tables takes the ‘just try harder, just sit at the table’ advice and flips it on its head. We’re already trying so goddamn hard and it’s not working, women are leaving in droves. So we need to change something”.
Opting out is straight out of the universe of boycotts and strikes. It acknowledges that the problems faced by women in tech are inherently political, and can’t be solved by a human resources department. The difficulties women face aren’t the problems of one woman, or one team or one company. They’re not just limited to Adria Richards or Brianna Wu or Ellen Pao; they’re not just Twitter with its no-women board or Wikipedia with its 91% male editors. The problems are systemic – and no amount of attitude adjustment or leaning in on the part of those who get screwed by the system can possible change it.