Photo by WOCinTech Chat, Flickr CC

Numerous studies have emerged on gender inequality in the workplace, several of which discuss the differences in treatment, employment opportunities, and pay for women in tech-industries. However, very few studies address how sexuality, gender, and race intersect in the tech workplace for female employees. In a new study, Lauren Alfrey and France Winddance Twine investigate how women’s race, gender, sexuality, and gender fluidity either help them navigate the tech industry or further subject them to critique by their male peers in the predominantly male tech industry.

The authors conducted extended interviews and surveys with 18 women from a larger study of tech workers in at companies like Twitter and Google to examine their experiences of navigating predominantly male work spaces. Women discussed their how their race, sexuality, and gender fluidity influenced the ways men interacted with them in the workplace. 

The findings indicated that race and sexuality together determined the degree of male peer acceptance. White and Asian lesbian women that were more gender fluid experienced greater support and acceptance. The authors suggest that male coworkers perceived these women as more competent because of their ability to look and act like “one of the guys” through the way they dressed. Yet, Black, dark skinned Hispanic, and straight women who conformed to traditional styles of femininity through dress and behavior were more likely to face criticism from their male peers. For example, females who wore plain shirts and jeans were accepted, and those who wore dresses experienced more isolation. The theme of “geekness,” or the level of expertise one possesses in the tech-field, along with knowledge of popular culture including Japanese Anime and Star Trek, were also key indicators that females would be accepted by their male peers.  

While the acceptance of alternative forms to femininity may benefit some gender-fluid women, Black, dark Latina, and straight women are locked out of these benefits and continue to experience gender inequality in the tech industry.