UPDATE (May 4, 2018) — Next weekend, Backfence PDX invites you to hear tech tales too ticklish not to tell. They've gathered a formidable quintet of women from the industry to share their experiences at a mainstage storytelling event May 12 in Portland. These ladies have many kinds of stories to share, but much of what they have to say pertains to things no one should have to deal with at work.
One of the stars of the show talked to us in 2016 about #MeToo in local tech. Here’s our segment from 2016:
Catch that widely shared blog post, ranking Portland as the worst major city in America for women in tech?
The data shows that only 24 percent of tech jobs in Portland are filled by women — women who, on average, are paid 20 percent less than their male counterparts. Compare that with Washington D.C.’s tech industry, No. 1 on the list, which employs 40 percent women and pays those women 99 percent of what their male counterparts make.
The numbers speak for themselves, but we thought, "Come on. What's it really like in the industry these days?"
We invited three women involved in with PDX Women In Tech to help us write job descriptions reflecting stuff that actually happens on the job. We also asked other women in the field to share their experiences.
As you can hear in the sound file above, we got an earful.
Megan Bigelow, Kasey Tonsfeldt and Amanda Brooks all said the SmartAssets article was not a shocker.
"I wasn't surprised, given the experiences I have had over the 15 years of my career," said Bigelow, customer support manager at Jama Software and co-founder of PDXWIT. "I think women in particular, when they join the workforce, are starting at a lower salary and incrementally, over time, their salaries are not increasing enough to keep pace."
PDXWIT co-founder Kasey Tonsfeldt added, "The tech community in Portland is still very small, so you have less agency. You can’t jump from one company to another in order to better advocate for yourself and for your compensation."
But it's not just the wage gap. Portland's female tech workers report experiencing sexual harassment, discrimination around pregnancy and motherhood and the daily indignities of being treated differently.
"I had an experience at a previous employer where there was an issue of sexual harassment," Tonsfeldt recalled. "And the thing that they said was 'This is going to happen in pretty much every environment; it’s how we handle it that makes the difference.’ And I completely agree. It’s not just about handling big cases of sexual harassment; it’s day to day interactions, the many little things. We’re kidding ourselves if we think tech is unique in this — in every industry, women face these issues."
In response to work environments pervaded by institutional indifference and hostility, Portland women are creating their own organizations to support the female community in their business sector. Bigelow and Jones' networking group, PDX Women in Tech, regularly hosts well-attended meetup events in the belief that bringing women together will increase their collective power in the industry. Bigelow and Tonsfeld have also recently co-founded We Are Triple Threat, a support organization for women professionals.
"PDX Women in Tech has been kind of a home for me," says Amanda Brooks of 24 Seven Inc., a recruitment agency specializing in tech and creative workers. Brooks says that she has seen changes over the last several years.
"A big part of it is companies realizing how big of an issue it is and developing initiatives internally, in addition to that, having conventions that support women in technology — like ACT-W and TechFestNW — being more inclusive. We don't know what the impact is just yet because studies come behind the results, but it's exciting."