Sometimes I feel like a bit of a “bad guy” for saying, “Hey, PHP Women! Let’s eat together!” But then I have such a great experience doing it, and it’s so positive. I will definitely do it again. I don’t do it to be mean to men in the industry. Let me be clear, we are not getting together to talk about men in the industry or even women in the industry. We just talk about work and life, and it is awesome. It’s relaxed. For one meal we are flipping the table on the traditional ratio at conferences, at our jobs, and just being ourselves. In that one little lunch, I let my guard drop. It’s a guard that I have grown very accustomed to having up at work. It is a shield that I use to “not be so sensitive” and it “translates” some types of interactions that I would normally be bothered by.
Now at the lunch where I don’t have to filter or measure every response, I am able to make a personal connection with another woman or women in my field, and that is very valuable to me. During my university career in Computer Science, I met a lot of women who loved to program. Some of them I lost touch with because of changing contact info and/or last names. Most of them are no longer in the industry. So I haven’t really grown that support network at home, and I count on it at conferences.
I have a few female peers at work, and I enjoy talking with them. Lunch with them is drastically different from my regular lunches with the 4-15 guys at work. Those regular lunches are fun and silly most days, but the obvious fact that I’m the only woman in the group is highlighted nearly every time. Sometimes I do point it out when they say “like a girl” or something else and should be called out. Usually it’s by someone outside of our group. Occasionally my gender is blamed for someone filtering their language or abruptly ending a story. So, that’s great! I get to be the reason you cut your story short. But honestly, the guys I regularly eat lunch with are pretty great to work with. They’ve supported me and allowed me to vent about frustrations, and I’ve listened to theirs. Most of them are generally accepting when I call them out. And I look forward to lunches with them.
Flipping the table on the normal ratio is super awesome! It’s not about man hating or griping. It’s just about being comfortable and building or repairing the kind of confidence you often need in this industry. I feel connected to these women after we sit together and talk about our work. I know they’re out there in the world doing what I do, or something completely different, and that brings me comfort and confidence. So if you’re one of the men who has felt rejected by my doing this, I am truly sorry. I hope this can help you understand what it was about. And maybe as a supporter, if something like this is happening again, you can let it happen without attaching any guilt to it. It really isn’t meant to hurt you. It’s a tool to build us up for the work months ahead.