Increasing Women's Representation in Table Tennis

Alexandra McPeak

September 07, 2018

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There are a few things you'll find at every modern tech company. You will likely find an unorthodox seating arrangement—could be a hammock or swing, but for us, it's bean bag chairs.

You will also find free coffee, probably cold brew. There's probably a fridge stocked with IPAs as well. Lastly, you have the ping pong table.

What I've noticed about the ping pong table after working at two male-dominated tech companies is that the game is also male-dominated. This domination isn't to say I've never seen a girl play ping pong, but it's a rare occurrence. I think the bigger issue is that we are rarely, if ever, asked to play.

In an effort to increase women's representation in pong and give us a seat at the (tennis) table, I headed an underground group called STAWPPP, or Secret Training Association for Women Ping Pong Players, where I recruited some female coworkers to participate in occasional table tennis matches.

Not only was the purpose of this society to learn the rules of legal and legitimate pong play, but it was also to hone our skills so that we could confidently go up against the more experienced players in our office.

Though secret, the club was not exclusive. We played games with anyone who was interested and even engaged in doubles with some of the male regulars.

After a while, you could tell our presence at the ping pong table was noted. It was no longer uncommon to see us competing in a heated match during our work breaks. If you asked me, I would say we played a critical role in breaking the gender barrier to the game of table tennis.

However, this blog is not really about ping pong.

What I've noticed is that there seems to be an underlying "bro culture" in some male-dominated tech companies, accessorized with perks like beer and ping pong. As we come to understand the importance of hiring a diverse workforce, we also have to understand that if a company trends too much toward frat life, it will be a deterrent for women.

You don't have to be part of the company to realize that this culture exists. There are so many ways that job descriptions and the language you use can repel women from the beginning. Imagine the ways that companies that trend heavily toward these cultural trends can further drive women away from the tech industry during the time they work there.

Women who work in tech have largely learned to navigate a man's world—we're not asking for pink chairs and kegs of rosé. And we're not asking you to give up your beer or ping pong tables. But there are differentiators, things that we care about.

And if you're a tech company that boasts culture and inclusion, then it's important that you know that we care about more than the perks and pay attention to the things that matter to us. We care about the things that hold real value: Equal pay. Adequate parental leave. Flexible hours. Opportunity. Respect.

I am fortunate to work at SmartBear where there are a lot of things we do well. We have a very active Woman in Tech group full of brilliant ladies and a few supportive male allies. I was lucky to lead a partnership with Girl Develop It and donate our space for their month-long Intro to Python class.

We held a manis-for-a-cure event where we offered manicures in exchange for a donation to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, where some of the guys were even willing to participate. I've seen that our departments make a genuine effort to hire for diversity, and we have multiple women role models in leadership positions.

With every company, though, there's always more that can be done to level the playing field, encourage diversity, and support women in technology, even if it's just asking one of them to play a game of doubles with you.

Alexandra McPeak serves as the content marketing specialist for CrossBrowserTesting at SmartBear, the leader in software quality tools for teams. She runs and manages the CrossBrowserTesting blog with content that is valuable to users, growing traffic consistently week over week. Alexandra leads a portfolio of content that not only increases site visitors but makes prospects more aware of SmartBear's products.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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