Coder livetweets sexist remarks allegedly made by IBM executives

If you're going to openly discuss why you think women make bad hires, make sure you're not having lunch next to one.


Aja Romano


Published Jul 22, 2014   Updated Mar 2, 2020, 12:54 am CST

Note to IBM executives: If you’re going to openly discuss why you think young women make bad hires in the tech industry, you might want to make sure you’re not having lunch next to a young mom who’s also a coder.

We’re guessing Toronto editor Lyndsay Kirkham didn’t stick around for dessert after her birthday lunch was ruined Monday. Kirkham, who’s a self-described “feminist activist, writer, and gentle mama,” has been a freelance coder for about a decade and allegedly overheard a conversation at the table next to her that spoiled her appetite.

It seems Kirkham was seated next to two men she identified as IBM executives. After realizing the tone of their conversation, Kirkham whipped out her phone and livetweeted the whole thing.

“I was eating my lunch and they were already into ordering their coffees,” Kirkham told the Daily Dot. “They started addressing how women weren’t ‘an option’ for new hires.”

Kirkham told the Daily Dot that the tech executives also “discussed holidays and how [women] needed more time to download and decompress from work related stress.”

According to Kirkham, the two executivess thought that “mature” women were less likely to miss “years of work” because they were looking after young kids. At some point, the two men were joined by a woman who not only agreed with their thoughts on hiring young women but joined in their conversation.

It gets worse. According to Kirkham, the executives listed off a number of women who are currently employed at IBM, all of whom apparently have kids, and listed the amount of time the women were expected to take off in the next few years for anticipated pregnancies. 

“They also mentioned women who had left after having children and had gone into real estate ‘because it is flexible for their kid-related schedules,'” Kirkham told the Dot.

It’s worth noting that, according to a recent study by the Center for Work-Life Policy, 52 percent of women who exit STEM-related fields for other careers cite “hostile macho culture” as the number one reason they’re leaving.

Although the sexist conversation soured Kirkham’s birthday, she found plenty of support on Twitter, where her tweets sparked conversation and prompted other moms to discuss their own experience coding while parenting.

The support also motivated Kirkham to get pro-active:

While Kirkham’s actions are unlikely to change the deeply embedded sexism of tech culture, they obviously struck a chord with her Twitter audience,and others in the community who responded to the all-too-familiar tale of wearying setbacks for women that she told.

A request for comment to IBM was not returned at press time. 

Photo via Jhaymesisvip/Flickr; CC-BY-SA 2.0

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*First Published: Jul 22, 2014, 10:13 am CDT