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A Women in Comms Glossary

Sarah Thomas
1/18/2017
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You've heard of the glass ceiling, but did you know that the escalators at your office may also be made of glass? And, have you noticed those women wearing golden skirts around the office?

I came across the term "golden skirt" today in an article noting that while women are getting asked to be on boards more than ever, it's the same small group of women getting those calls. It's certainly a valid point, but I was also struck by just how many metaphors there are to explain the myriad obstacles women in the tech industry face on a daily basis.

Since we cover these obstacles every day here on Women in Comms, we thought it'd be helpful to have a handy pocket dictionary-sized list of terms you should know if you're a woman in our industry or a man who wants to understand what we're up against. Let us know in the comments section if there are any other terms we should be adding to our colorful WiC lexicon.


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  • Brogrammer: Silicon Valley, first the place then the show, made brogrammer a common part of our vocabulary by hiring so many of them. Brogrammers are male computer programmers who fit the stereotype of hoodie-wearing macho men. The prevalence of them and the celebration of a frat-like culture at startups has contributed to making the Valley a hostile environment for women who don't fit the mold. (And, no, "hogrammers" and "broettes" are not the female versions...) (See WiCipedia: Facebook's LGBT Stats, Broettes & 'Tiny Lady Hands', Tales From the Valley: Bias, Sexism & Worse and A Vast Valley: Tech's Inexcusable Gender Gap.)

  • Gaslighting: Ever get told you're crazy for feeling a certain way? You may be a victim of gaslighting, which is the process of manipulating someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. It usually refers to something that happens in personal relationships, but it certainly could take place in the workplace as well. Even more troubling, some suggest US President-elect Donald Trump may already be making 2017 a huge year for gaslighting on a national scale.

  • Girl boss: Girl boss is a woman who is in charge. It's pretty self-explanatory, but the term coined by fashion business mogul Sophia Amorusa has become a way to celebrate female leaders, which are still rare today in the tech world. The more women we get into the C-suite, the closer we'll come to just calling them bosses. (See WiCipedia: Girl Bosses, Returnships & 'Women Don't Require Fixing'.)

  • Glass ceiling: The glass ceiling was a term coined by the Wall Street Journal back in 1986. And, while some might argue it no longer exists, any number of women will tell you it does, and they have statistics to back them up. The ceiling is glass because you likely won't see it as you're working your way up the corporate ladder, but it represents those barriers and challenges that arise in the workplace as women struggle to advance to the highest rungs. (See Infinera: The Glass Ceiling's Been Broken and How the Glass Ceiling Became a Window of Opportunity for Ixia CMO.)

  • Glass cliff: A glass cliff is the notion that women are often put in leadership positions during times of crisis when chances of failure and criticism are highest. Boards are then suddenly more open to looking outside of their usual white male hire. If you're optimistic, this is because companies know women have the right skill set, point of view and experience to right the ship. If you're pessimistic, they are simply setting them up for failure. See Yahoo's soon-to-resign CEO Marissa Mayer for one such example. (See Clearfield CEO Takes Fiber to the Glass Cliff and Marissa Mayer & the Terrible, Horrible Day.)

  • Glass escalator: With all this glass everywhere, it's becoming clear why so many women feel the need to tip-toe around the office. The glass escalator is yet another disturbing phenomenon in which men enter female-dominated professions and receive promotions to ride up their career echelons faster than the women. This is less common in the tech industry solely because it is already so male dominated, but it's a reminder that even those traditionally female fields have gendered issues as well.

  • Golden skirt: The aforementioned golden skirt refers to the small group of women being pursued as a result of an increased focus on female representation on boards in the tech industry. These women are well-qualified, talented and typically highly visible women, so they are getting the bulk of attention from recruiters. Diversity in terms of gender split may increase, but the landscape doesn't actually become all that much more diverse with such a small group of women being courted.

  • Mansplaining: Mansplaining is a relatively new term on the Interwebs, but it's something that's long been experienced by many women in the industry. It is when a man explains something to someone (most likely a woman) in a way that is patronizing and condescending, typically assuming said woman knows nothing -- or at least less than the man -- about the topic. (See WiCipedia: Following Women on Twitter... and on Stage.)

  • Returnship: Returnships are becoming more popular in the tech industry as a means to help mid-career professionals return to work after a leave of absence, such as for parental leave or after an extended career break to care for an ailing family member. Anyone, but especially women, with a big gap in their resume can have a hard time re-entering the workforce and commanding the same paycheck they had when they left. The idea with returnships is to ease these employees back in, although they come under fire for making seasoned executives partake in trial periods doing work below their pay grade with no assurance of hiring when the internship concludes.

  • Sticky floor: While women may get locked out of the top, an even larger group never leave the bottom often due to the sticky floor phenomenon. The sticky floor is defined a few different ways, depending on the industry and situation. Traditionally, it can refer to so-called "pink collar" workers, such as secretaries or assistants, that are kept at the bottom of the job scale throughout their careers. On a personal level, author Rebecca Shambaugh calls them "self-limiting beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors that can self-limit women's ability to achieve their career goals and bring their greatest gifts and value to their teams and organization." And, from a workplace support perspective, Michele Schimpp, associate administrator of the US Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Investment and Innovation, recently described it to WiC as when "one is held back because they lack the team they need to succeed and are held back from showing leadership talents." (See SBA Leader: It's Time to Get Women on Board .)

    — Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

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    kq4ym
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    kq4ym,
    User Rank: Light Sabre
    1/30/2017 | 9:12:03 AM
    Re: "Girl Boss"? Really?
    Nonetheless, an excellent article on a glossary all should recognize of behaviors we see everyday. Especially interesting to me was the gaslighting issue which indeed seems to be taking place now on a national if not an international stage if we don't stop and recognize what may be going on.
    Mitch Wagner
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    Mitch Wagner,
    User Rank: Lightning
    1/25/2017 | 2:36:38 PM
    Re: Brogrammers
    Interesting. The men I know with combat experience are, well, nerdy. You wouldn't think that was their background to look at them. 

    My uncle Nat, who was a New York cop for decades in some bad neighborhoods, has a commanding presence, but you would not look at him and say, "There's a scary dude!" Quite the contrary; he's a peaceful guy. 

    I think of this every time I see brogrammers, men's rights advocates, and their ilk, who seem to be compensating for something.
    Joe Stanganelli
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    Joe Stanganelli,
    User Rank: Light Sabre
    1/24/2017 | 4:08:44 PM
    Gas Light
    Re: "Gaslighting"

    It's worth mentioning the origin of the term (which has been around for quite a long time): A 1938 play called Gas Light (and subsequent film adaptations -- the most famous of which perhaps being the 1944 Gaslight w/ Angela Lansbury) about a husband attempting to drive his wife insane.

    FWIW, I am aware of a successful "gaslighting" involving a couple of friends of mine before they got married -- in which, over the course of weeks, He managed to convince She that her shampoo bottle was possessed.

    Of course, this was more of a lighthearted prank (as lighthearted as pranks go, anyway), as opposed to something more sinister.
    Joe Stanganelli
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    Joe Stanganelli,
    User Rank: Light Sabre
    1/24/2017 | 4:02:46 PM
    Re: "Girl Boss"? Really?
    @Kelsey: Perhaps this is un-PC of me, but it would have been so much easier on our tongues, syllabically speaking, to simply switch to using the term "stewards."
    Joe Stanganelli
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    Joe Stanganelli,
    User Rank: Light Sabre
    1/24/2017 | 4:00:00 PM
    Re: "Girl Boss"? Really?
    It's also worth noting how different nations/cultures treat these terms as well.  The Brits and Aussies (such as I have known, anyway), for example, seem to have a much more liberal attitude to such terms (and, in some cases, apply them much more freely to the gender opposite the one with which they are otherwise typically associated) than we Puritanical Yanks do.

    Of course, best practice is usually to avoid all such terms altogether--especially in the employment context!  (Hurl one at your boss--regardless of gender--and you'll likely end up called on the carpet!)
    Joe Stanganelli
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    Joe Stanganelli,
    User Rank: Light Sabre
    1/24/2017 | 3:51:52 PM
    Re: Brogrammers
    @Mitch: If we're judging masculinity and machoness by war involvement, I'm immediately reminded of a particular friend I have who is a former infantryman (i.e., front-line grunt) -- and who is your stereotyped ultra-macho personality in just about every way I can think of, for better or worse.

    I could ask him, but I highly doubt he enjoys Gilmore Girls.  ;)

    But, of course, he's your "flex-your-muscles" type that you described.  So *shrugs*.
    Joe Stanganelli
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    Joe Stanganelli,
    User Rank: Light Sabre
    1/23/2017 | 4:37:54 PM
    Re: Brogrammers
    @Sarah: Arguably, then, isn't the real issue one of society and traditional parenting/schooling?  Other than what our parents, teachers, and marketers tell us, there is no good reason why things like golf and ping pong must inherently be masculine.

    Something I am reminded of: At a family Christmas event once, I watched as three young relatives (children) were opening some of their Christmas presents.  The two boys got all kinds of cool, interactive stuff: action figures, robots, LEGOs, and the like.  The girl?  Barbie dress-up stuff, hair-styling stuff, and pink dresses and accessories.

    It made me feel pessimistic about her future.  Why didn't she get the cool action figures and robots and LEGOs too?
    Joe Stanganelli
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    Joe Stanganelli,
    User Rank: Light Sabre
    1/23/2017 | 4:32:34 PM
    Re: Brogrammers
    @Sarah: I also work from home a lot.  Hoodies tend to be reserved for especially chilly days because I don't avoid turning on the heat.

    As for the culture here?  It's too inconsistent.  Sometimes when working from home, I dress up (business casual, at least), even if I don't ever leave the house, just because it makes me feel better and not like a schlub (making me more likely to be productive), but "Casual Fridays" tend to also be "Casual Wednesdays" and "Casual Other Days of the Week," depending upon a variety of factors.
    Mitch Wagner
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    Mitch Wagner,
    User Rank: Lightning
    1/19/2017 | 5:00:09 PM
    Re: Brogrammers
    I'm with Paul Rainford on this one.

    At the risk of mansplaining, I would not describe brogrammers as macho.

    Ernest Hemingway was macho. He hunted big game, was a war correspondent, and celebrated masculinity.

    Brogrammers are just jerks.

    --

    Something I have noticed many times about men: The guys who are quickest to flex their muscles often have the least to brag about. 

    John Wayne was a swaggering macho man who espoused violence.

    Jimmy Stewart was gentle and soft-spoken. In later life, he wrote poetry and read it on TV talk shows. 

    John Wayne got a draft deferrment during World War II. Closest he got to a battlefield was in his movies. 

    Stewart was a decorated combat airman in World War II, who put his life on the line on the battlefield. After the war, he suffered severe PTSD over all the men who lost their lives under his command. His tormented behavior in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, made during that period, was at least in part real.  

    Or, more recently: I just heard an interview with a member of a sniper unit in Afghanistan or Iraq. During off hours, they didn't have much opportunity for recreation -- this was in 2005, when Internet connections there were bad. So they watched DVDs. Their favorite show: GILMORE GIRLS.
    Sarah Thomas
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    Sarah Thomas,
    User Rank: Blogger
    1/18/2017 | 3:37:15 PM
    Re: "Girl Boss"? Really?
    "C" and "D" continue, but reverse, the trend.
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