Saturday, September 15, 2007

of skirts and absurdity (a rant)

Yesterday I overheard a male product manager say, "I used to wear nice shirts to work, but now I dress down so that my engineers will respect me more."

I turned around to look at him. He was in a very casual T-shirt and jeans.

Over the years, I've heard this sentiment frequently, usually from women. Many female engineers have told me, "I purposefully dress more sloppily than I naturally would, to be more respected as a coder."

THIS IS SO RIDICULOUS!

With all the issues that women face in a male-dominated industry, now we are also curtailing our clothing choices??

Yes, there is a stereotype of the brilliant engineer with mismatched socks and ill-fitting pants. This stereotype also includes a penchant for social awkwardness! Are you going to dumb down your interpersonal skills in order to "be taken more seriously as a computer scientist"?

I fear there might be women in this world for whom the answer is yes.

It's nice that Google has many examples of glamorous women who are obviously rock stars at their jobs (Sha-mayn!). Perhaps it will seed the overthrowing of this harebrained notion.

I myself have worn my indian kurta two-piece to work many times -- the outfit I consider most opposite to the "T-shirt and shorts" category -- and no one judged me. So obviously it doesn't matter what you wear. (Actually, my intern laughed at me, but no one else batted an eye.)


(photo of aforementioned outfit, from Google Bangalore guesthouse)

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

But since product managers are not in fact engineers, it's a valid concern that the engineers not focus on their part-of-flashy-sales nature.

Seneca the Younger said...

Okay, first of all, let me just say: hubba hubba. You look great in that. It also looks tremendously comfortable.

I remember when I first interviewed for Sun Services years ago. First thing my prospective manager said was "you've gotta lose the suit." We were actually told not to wear suits and ties to engagements, because Sun was a technical company.

I also used to write for the trade rags, and learned to go to Comdex with both suits and jeans. Wear the suit, and marketing guys talk to you. Wear jeans, and engineers talk to you.

Anonymous said...

That outfit isn't the opposite of jeans and T-shirt -- it's just as casual and informal, only wacky and weird. The opposites of jeans and T-shirt are formal: a suit and tie, or an evening gown, or whatever you call the standard professional-woman-at-work outfit.

I do agree it's a myth that people need to dress casually to be taken seriously. Still, even if it were true, that beats all the places where you have to dress "professionally" to be taken seriously.

William said...

It's not "dumbing down"; it's being context-appropriate.

I'm a geek by nature, and a t-shirt and jeans is the traditional dress of my people. Anybody outfitted differently than the natives is taken as an foreigner. When I visit other cultures (like boardrooms) I change my outfit to match.

Although the clothing is different, the pattern is the same in pretty much any social context. What you wear to the Zeitgeist isn't what you wear to the Marina. What you wear to a formal wedding isn't what you wear to a business meeting. What you wear on a hot day in Los Angeles is not what you wear on a hot day in Amritsar. Swap them around and you'll get stares.

Dressing sharply or sloppily isn't a completely different axis; there's some correlation. But it's definitely not the same thing. You can look sharp (or cute) in hacker-wear. You can look like a dork in a suit.

So set 'em straight! They can look good and be right for the context.

Tough interview questions said...

a small corection. It is kurta and not purta. Thanks for your blog. Enjoy reading it.

- prem

Anonymous said...

And the "two piece" is called a salwar kameez.

John said...

Sad, but true, stereotypes of engineers, scientists and anybody technical or smart persist and continue to perpetuate, especially in mainstream media (i.e. The Revenge of the Nerds, or CBS's new sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, which takes place at Caltech and its premise is of two Caltech nerds dealing with their new hot female neighbor).

My friend was incredulous when I told him I've never worn a suit to an interview (product management, bus dev) in Silicon Valley (well, maybe the first time when I moved out here). I told him one would simply not be taken seriously...

When the job market was not so hot during the dot com bust, I saw more people wearing suits at interviews, but with the job market the way it is, it's hard to take seriously anybody wearing a suit at least for non-executive positions.

chao said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Less interpersonal skills means that you probably have spent more time on your trade and have better coding skils.

So you should go out of your way to pull the super engineer from his shell and you will find the best of the best in ideas.

Hard to believe that Niniane could compete with the best when she spends her time traveling the world.

Thomas Edison was not much of an engineer but he got all of the glory because he was the business man.

Karthik said...

I would have thought that engineers wouldn't care. From what I've seen, the quality of one's code, algorithm, theorem, etc is what defines one's place in the hierarchy, not their style of dress. This is precisely why engineers get away in jeans and a t-shirt: they don't need their clothes to sell their minds.

nisa said...

Ohh. So is this why they put me on marketing? Boooooooo! :R

After graduating naively thinking my brilliance may save the world by building a system that scans cancer cells, criminals or something - my first job at a telco landed me in marketing. I still remember while they were arranging my desk & computers, they have some trouble. & they look for a guy to fix it up. I was like, "I'm here!". I can fix this. I mean... :R

But I should be fair. The guy probably thinks I need help with my computers, a nice gesture actually. Only imagine if the staff thinks Bill Gates need help installing Windows - ha ha ha. I can cry inside.

It takes a while to proove myself. Do the guys get that instantly on first impression? :T

About the geek level - the CTO do seem young & too approachable. The CEO meanwhile looks like a military general. But he may prooves a geeky side by using a ringtone of "KRING.. KRING..." Actually I don't know if that's geeky, but my brother use that ringtone too & he is geekish. He's wearing black t-shirt & jeans all the time, he thinks NT WIndows is funny.

I meanwhile probably change a lot before going out. The guy I talked to said, he thinks ladies do well in programming but not in hardwares for weight reasons - strong men carry hardwares. & I very vaguely remember him telling once of tripping a cable & making connection off for an area ha ha. Man, should I speak like that. So geekish. :D

Anonymous said...

"With all the issues that women face in a male-dominated industry, now we are also curtailing our clothing choices??"

now??? where have you been?

at least this is a gender-neutral issue: people are judged by how they look.

Anonymous said...

When I see a woman in 4 inch heels, I know she is a dumbfuck and likely a whore.

Only a dumbfuck would ruin her knees, ankles, hip joints, and lower back just to look fashionable, and she is a whore because she thinks it will garner male attention + gifts.

Dumb + whore = I will flirt with you cuz I can fuck and chuck you for the price of a dinner.

So yeah, women do get judged on their clothes. They have since the beginning of time.

ArC said...

Suits are not comfortable. Dress shirts with properly sized collars might look good, but again, they are not comfortable.

A nice shirt on my manager is one thing, I wouldn't mind that, but any fancier and I think it would create a cultural mismatch that would serve no good end.

alang said...

So Sweet

Philipp Lenssen said...

I once wore a knee-ripped jeans to a job interview for a programming position. I did bring code though. It was the "future boss shallowness" test if you want, to see if they understand what's important in programming. Admittedly it wasn't as much a conscious test setup as just my attitude at the time to not care about these things, and I wouldn't have started in a job where the boss cares about that stuff. (They passed the test and so did I, and they were really cool bosses allowing me to program cool stuff in the years to follow.) Naturally deriving "sloppy clothes == good programmer" from this would be as wrong as "terrific clothes == bad programmer".

> Are you going to dumb down your interpersonal skills
> in order to "be taken more seriously as a computer scientist"?

Talk about dumbing down. Actually I got to know a manager or two who are seriously experiencing dissonance if a programmer shows common sense, linguistic smartness, an eye for design, usability, concept etc. That's because sometimes people feel they live in "survival niches" at work and always feel competition when someone crosses the border into their niche. There are some strategies to approach this (dumbing down, or wrapping some common sense stuff in a "technical context"), or you can just quit that job and look for a team which doesn't think as much about "survival of the ego" and more about the end results. A real team, that is.

Anonymous said...

you look pretty good in the salwar :)

disclaimer

doesnt mean that you dont look good otherwise ..

minya said...

I remember seeing you wearing that! The picture doesn't capture how soft and fluid it is on you, especially when you are moving... Nobody could forget once they see it.

Anonymous said...

niniane
i was getting ready for my interview at your co this morning and remembered this entry. i actually have somewhat decent taste in clothes and i actually hesitated to wear a nice button-down shirt.

so i've geeked it up a little bit with some unironed clothes and ill-fitting shirts. hope it helps. thanks for the post and insight into G culture.

F1NCH said...

at google "You can be serious without a suit" right? nice-bl0g ;)

cdruzgal said...

hmm interesting, and nice blog. as a female engineering student i feel like my professors won't take me as seriously if i wear a funky outfit. and I'm even afraid to wear shorts and tank tops to class because i feel so exposed compared to the jeans and tshirt guys! not to mention that since i'm one of the few chicks, my legs will be the only legs being stared at by 200 males... i guess i just get the impression that fellow male engineers will think i did well in a class more for my looks than for my hard work. maybe i should just toughen up haha.

Anonymous said...

As a young female engineer, I feel that age is more noticeable than clothing. I'm a Hispanic, bit overweight, short young engineer. I wear pants, a blouse or a dress shirt from Monday to Thursday, on Friday I wear jeans... but I usually wear a blazer on top... it 's flattering to my shape and it 's part of my choice as a professional. If I see a good looking women wearing a dress or a skirt I assume she an office administrator ... not an engineer. Something that I do, it 's to show clivage, and as a latina I feel I can get away with it.

Anonymous said...

As a young female engineer, I feel that age is more noticeable than clothing. I'm a Hispanic, bit overweight, short young engineer. I wear pants, a blouse or a dress shirt from Monday to Thursday, on Friday I wear jeans... but I usually wear a blazer on top... it 's flattering to my shape and it 's part of my choice as a professional. If I see a good looking women wearing a dress or a skirt I assume she an office administrator ... not an engineer. Something that I do, it 's to show clivage, and as a latina I feel I can get away with it.