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Background: I'm a transgender data analyst/software developer. In my jurisdiction (Massachusetts), gender identity is protected under anti-discrimination laws, but most of the companies I'm applying to are startups that may not handle HR matters as well as they should. I'm not interested in going to work for a company where casual (or not-so-casual) sexism and transphobia are an accepted part of the culture, and I'm really not interested in only discovering this after I'm hired and ending up in a situation where I feel like I need to stick it out for a while to avoid looking like a job-hopper.

What I'm looking for: tools, resources, or communities I can use to vet companies for problematic culture before or during the interview phase. For instance, are there particular Twitter users who stay on top of sexism in tech/STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)? Are there inclusive tech/STEM groups (for Massachusetts specifically or the US generally) where it's possible to quietly ask about a company's reputation? Are there questions I can use to delicately probe this in an interview?

What I've already found: Joblint, which evaluates job postings for potential warning signs (take results with a grain of salt, obviously).

Potential complications: I'm not a woman and I don't want to be a jerk by inserting myself into a group that's specifically for women, like PyLadies (but if you know of such a group that might be willing to give pointers toward a more appropriate group, I'm all ears). Also, I'm new to the industry (fresh off a STEM PhD elsewhere in the US) and don't yet have a local network of developer friends to consult about what they might have heard through the grapevine (otherwise this would be my first port of call).

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is polling for tools/resources. – Jim G. Jun 17 '14 at 23:41
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    @JimG. It's similar to questions like How can I find companies with strong teamwork when searching for a job? or How to determine in an interview if people enjoy working for the company or the work they do? - all are just asking for ways to find out the culture/environment before they get there. – starsplusplus Jun 18 '14 at 0:05
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    @JimG. -- Hmm. I checked the help entry for "on-topic" before posting and as far as I can tell this is in scope and not chatfilter -- are there other guidelines I didn't see? – Adrian Jun 18 '14 at 0:54
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    Ah, I found it in the on-topic guidelines for StackOverflow, which don't appear to be the same as for workplace.SE (although perhaps they still apply?). I felt "I have X problem; what are some tools I can use to solve it?" to be a better framing than "I have X problem; what are your opinions on how to solve it?" but I'm open to being wrong. – Adrian Jun 18 '14 at 1:06
  • Rather than specifically asking for "tools/resources", I think it would be better to phrase it as "How can I check a company for [...]" (assume the rest of the title is as-is). That way, people might answer with relevant tools/resources, but they might also point out other ways to find this information out that you may not have anticipated. – V2Blast Oct 23 '18 at 23:31
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Twitter users to start with:

  • Julie Pagano: writes about minorities in tech.
  • Shanley (currently locked down due to harassment): writes about minorities in tech, and most recently started the online publication ModelViewCulture. A recent issue was titled Queer and contained, amongst other things, a couple of articles written by transgender people.
  • Julie Ann Horvath: worked at GitHub and quit due to harassment, is vocal in support of minorities. (The GitHub mess was written up at, amongst other places, TechCrunch.)
  • Tim Chevalier: a transgender man who has worked at Mozilla, been active on Wikipedia and written about his experiences with both places.
  • Skud: one of the women who started Geek Feminism. (Incidentally, she was also kicked off Google+ for not having a good enough name, which led to her legally changing her legal name.)
  • Anil Dash: blogger and entrepreneur, who has written a fair amount on racism and sexism (though not, to my memory, about trans- or homophobia — but that may just be my faulty memory).

This list is by no means exhaustive; it's just the ones I can bring to mind at this particular moment.

I'd also like to recommend my go-to place for advice on how to handle pretty much everything, Captain Awkward. It's an advice column blog which has an amazingly good commentariat, and I've rarely seen a letter that didn't get a thoughtful response there. I don't recall seeing a question about this specific issue on the blog, but I'm certain that there will be people in the forums that will have a lot more ideas than I have.

Oh, and of course Geek Feminism!

  • Other twitter people: @ annajayne (UK based, runs a small ISV, covers a lot of trans issues along with C++) @ TransH4CK, then check who they follow and you'll find plenty more. [commenting won't allow multiple @ names] – Kate Gregory Jun 17 '14 at 20:41
  • How does this answer the question, unless they are going to go to work at one of the 10 places these people have worked? – mxyzplk Oct 24 '18 at 1:00
  • @mxyzplk It's an answer to For instance, are there particular Twitter users who stay on top of sexism in tech/STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)? – Jenny D Oct 24 '18 at 7:13
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Since this is critical to you, I think you should directly tell them you are transgender in the interview and see how they react. You are going to go through some awkward reactions probably and lose some opportunities, but those are clearly the ones you don't want and it is better to find out in the interview. But remember there will be some who react awkwardly just because they have never (knowingly) encountered a transperson before and when they go back and discuss whether to hire you, they will have had time to think about it and the impact on the team. So give people the benefit of the doubt a bit if they come back with an offer. On the other hand, you probably have a pretty fine sense of whether people are reacting in surprise or dismay (or worse), so pay attention to your intuition.

I would also look to see if they seem to have a mixed team. In my experience a team with no one person who stands out from the rest tends to have more sexism, agesism, genderism, racism etc. Certainly the many times I have been the only woman, I have seen this pattern, since until they hire someone who is different they don't even notice how offensive much of what they do or say is.

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    Or, since it's a legitimate deal-breaker whatever your gender and you might not want to out yourself, just ask "what are your attitudes towards gender inclusivity and discrimination?" I'm a cis man, but I definitely wouldn't be comfortable working somewhere where transphobia or misogyny was acceptable or normal, so I think it's a reasonable question to ask without needing to out yourself. – me_and Jun 17 '14 at 23:28
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There's a growing list of feminist reviews of tech companies on the Geek Feminism Wiki. Another page it links to is the Micro-Activism Wiki, which lists recruiters' responses to being asked about whether their company has trans-inclusive health insurance. This may or may not be a good proxy for how non-toxic a company is.

I think when somebody at the company uses the term "meritocracy" to you in describing it, that's definitely a warning sign. You can also just outright ask "what is your company doing to improve diversity?" or "how well a job do you think you're doing at diverse hiring?" -- you might think you would just get a pat answer, but in my experience, the answers can be pretty revealing. That's one suggestion question from David MacIver's list of questions for employers, which I also recommend.

A colleague of mine who was interviewing people recommended asking candidates, "Tell me something about a team you worked with before" -- this seems like a very broad question, but he said that it was often a good test of whether someone was racist or sexist: some people would answer with something along the lines of, "Well, you know there was one of those people on the team, so I had to do all the work for them." Perhaps there's a way to turn that question around and use it as an interviewee?

Also, it may seem obvious, but pay attention to who your interview panel is. If you have a typical tech interview where you talk to six developers, and all of them are white men, that says something about the company's diversity.

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    I disagree with your characterization of "meritocracy" - it is intended to mean people are recognized for their contributions, not their connections in senior management. – Wesley Long Jun 17 '14 at 20:05
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    @WesleyLong The concept is subject to all sorts of unconscious biases, cliques, impostor syndrome, etc. geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Meritocracy – ceejayoz Jun 17 '14 at 20:08
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    Claiming to be a full meritocracy implies it's possible to prevent any semblance of bias, cliquishness, etc. in an organization. It additionally implies that there's an empirical, straightforward definition of "merit". In a code-oriented workplace, for example, someone who doesn't write code might be seen as less meritorious, despite doing highly important but less visible work for the organization. – ceejayoz Jun 17 '14 at 20:23
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    The term "meritocracy" was literally coined to satirize people who thought such a thing was possible. There is a ton of writing about how problematic it is; one place to start is Garann Means' essay. In my personal experience (a decade in the industry), workplaces that call themselves "meritocracies" are the most toxic and the most rife with nepotism. – Tim Chevalier Jun 17 '14 at 20:26
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    I agree on the meritocracy stuff, any organization that claims to be one is lying as it is not possible or even desirable (you end up measuring merit based on what is measurable and the mediocre end up getting the rewards because their stuff tends to be easier to measure, this also why you run as fast as you can away from any "objective" performance appraisal system). That is a huge red flag to me as well. – HLGEM Jun 17 '14 at 21:13
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I'm from Germany and not sure how things work at different companies, but there is usually a section with their workers on every website. I try to check them out and see what they like on twitter etc. This gives me a hint of how well we could get along. Also, checking out pictures of work events (if online) helps to form an impression.

In doubt there is always the opportunity to have a 'trial day' where you go test the environment for a day. This is usually perceived as a very senisble move; it shows motivation and interest in their workplace.

I understand you want to avoid being classified as a job-hopper so showing some extra-interest might do the trick.

  • I mean, you can see how people behave there towards each other. What they're talking and joking about. E.g., it made a positive impression on me when I ate lunch with my current co-workers for the first time and they were talking about the environment and veganism. It does say a lot about people; what they're thinking about. It takes time to get to know people but sometimes you can at least say for sure where you don't want to work. – Daniel J. Oct 22 '18 at 17:54
  • Haha, no. This is what I see when I go meet the other workers for lunch. – Daniel J. Oct 22 '18 at 19:06

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