Re: A NEW TOPIC: gender/cultural... bias

Subject: Re: A NEW TOPIC: gender/cultural... bias
From: Karen Muldrow <karen -at- HAL -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1993 13:56:48 CDT

> The tech writing team where I work is composed of two other women. We deal
> mostly with men engineers. I am curious if any of the other women
> technical writers have had a difficult time getting respect from their
> male co-workers (writers or otherwise). We have found that is difficult to
> communicate the idea that we are writers -- not "typers"

I've worked as a technical writer for several years - first writing
"user" documentation and now documenting more technical topics (mostly
for programmers). I have worked for three different companies, and
have experienced "writer" bias at each one.

I would agree that some of what (we) experience is gender bias. The
percentage of women technical writers is much higher than the percentage
of women in other technical areas of most companies. Interestingly
enough, I wouldn't say that men are the only ones having this bias.
In our society, women are expected to have less of an aptitude for
learning technical information. They are expected to be "followers"
rather than "leaders" when there is a group project.

I've worked in some unique situations (in one company I worked for writers
were considered the usability experts and had a strong influence in
the design of the user interface), but most writing positions are
secondary to programming positions (read "subordinate") in the development
of a product. Combine this with the fact that many technical writers
work with third party documentation or are "revising" current
documentation and you further complicate the issue.

> Any ideas of what we can do to a) bridge a cultural, gender, and
> generational gap and b) get people used to us?

1) Above all else - educate yourself. Become a product expert. Know MORE
than is required to document the product. KNOW your audience. Do
your research.

2) Let your knowledge show. You have something to
contribute! :-) Send email with suggestions, concerns, etc.
Make sure that your mail is well thought out, considerate of
others' feelings, etc - in other words - make a good impression.

3) If you have a manager - talk to her about your concerns about
the type of work you are asked to do. Technical writers are
expensive typists. If you are asked to type things up for
people - it COSTS the company more for you to DO it than to pass
it on. In one company, several development managers thought
that when a secretary was busy they could come to us....our
manager intervened. If you do pass something along to a
secretary - let them know that (whoever wanted you to do their
typing for them) they should take projects directly to the
secretaries next time.

4) Ask people for input. Ask developers/Support/Marketing what
they NEED.

5) Take initiative. If there is a void - fill it. Write some
internal documentation (if it is needed)....

6) Try expressing your frustration - "confide" in someone that
has shown his/her bias that you find it frustrating that
"some" people in the company think writers just type....(not
THEM of course)....

I'm sure others will have plenty of suggestions.

Good luck,

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