Things people say in the drone industry that they don’t realize are sexist

It’s no secret that the majority of people buying, flying and working in drones are male. So what’s keeping women out? It’s generally nothing overtly sexist. I’ve never heard a man say “women can’t fly.”

But a lot of the things people say are subtly sexist, which can discourage women from feeling included, getting promoted or wanting to participate. Many of these things come down to unconscious biases — instances where people automatically assume men fly yet assume women don’t. And while some things people say could be well-intentioned, the unconscious biases behind them perpetuate stereotypes.

I asked some of my female friends to tell me their stories of things men have said to them that the man likely didn’t realize was sexist.

I am printing these because I want people to realize that men and women aren’t often viewed equally in the eyes of the drone world. While it is hard to shake our pre-existing biases, I hope people will share this post so that we can at least be cognizant of our biases, and not say these things in the future. And next time, ask yourself, “Would you say or do these things to a man?”

Here are some selections, printed anonymously to protect privacy:

“Wow you’re beautiful AND smart! That’s rare!”

“Where’s your husband, and what company is he with?”

“You’re really smart. You seem to know what you’re talking about. How did you get that way?”

“You’re smarter than you look.”

To a woman wearing a branded, drone-manufacturer shirt standing at a booth: “Wait, so do you actually fly these?”

“How do you know so much about this?”

To a woman answering questions at a company’s booth during a conference: “Isn’t your job just to stand here and look pretty?”

“Let’s get to the bottom line. What do I have to do to get you to come out and give me private lesson on how to fly one of these?”

“Do you even have estrogen in your body?”

Here are some other stories women shared about their experiences:

“Another drone company came into our office to demo our product. They said, ‘We should let someone fly who has never flown before,’ and without even pausing, handed their drone to me. Of course, I had flown before, while many of my male colleagues hadn’t.”

“If I’m out flying with my guy friends, people tend to ask them questions before asking me. They assume that a guy would know more then a woman.”

“Twice I’ve been promised to go out on a job, but then told flat out I can’t go because I’m a woman and it takes too much energy from my male colleagues to ‘watch out for me’.”

From a family-owned businesswoman: “People assume my husband controls every aspect of our business.”

“A fellow drone pilot approaches, introduces himself to my husband, shakes his hand, has a quick chat about the meet, ignores me and walks away like I was completely invisible. He obviously assumed that my husband was the pilot and my daughter and I were tag-alongs.”

“At a recent drone event, a ‘friend’ said they were pleased I’d be there as I could entertain his wife while he and my husband, who I co-founded our family business with, sought business opportunities.”

Of course, women aren’t afraid to speak up.

Here’s one story from a woman whose company frequently has a booth at trade-shows: “An angry man not happy about who-knows-what comes up to booth and says, ‘I need to speak to the man in charge!’ Then, my awesome lady boss (and owner of company) comes up to him with a smile and says, ‘I am the man in charge.'”

8 Comments

  • For whatever reason, many of the tech hobbies I have entered for the last 50 years have been 90% plus male – this includes rocketry, chemistry (blowing things up as a kid), ham radio, CD and now drones. Even a large part of my other career and interests (alt energy) was male. I tend to look for solutions rather than stating the problem(s).
    Women, IMHO, need to be much more active in the online forums and thereby establish their social foothold. Not only will all participants learn a lot, but the forums may end up being a more civil place. One problem, though, is that a lot of forums allow the sort of talk (towel slapping, etc.) that is not conducive to co-ed learning. Ours (droneflyers.com) certainly does not….but many of the others make me, even as a guy, squirm. I don’t think the answer is all-female communities but rather those same females making other communities their own. Or, start yet another forum and keep it truly civil enough that it attracts anyone.
    Interestingly enough, many of the Facebook drone pages are NOT as crude and sexist as forums. I think this is because participants know they are speaking to a general population (i.e. not a locker room).

    • modulosa says:

      The thing is, we pretty much all start out thinking we will change things (by being active in forums/etc) – using logic, staying calm, and giving borderline personalities the benefit of the doubt. I used to heavily frequent forums (gaming), but, it literally *never* matters how or what I am saying (if gender is known). More jerks attack me (non-public too), than decent people call out the jerks for being jerks. Eventually, like an abusive relationship – one ‘good’ day and three+ ‘bad’ ones – you really just can’t do it anymore. The people who are ‘decent’ often give the jerks a ton of leeway, and you can’t prove much of anything to change that.

      Women can’t *fix* this problem – IT WOULD BE FIXED ALREADY if we could. Through sheer force of will. Too many guys get defensive/territorial over things that they are invested in. We can keep on doing the work, and we will, but we didn’t create this problem.

  • […] It’s no secret that the majority of people buying, flying and working in drones are male. So what’s keeping women out? It’s generally nothing overtly sexist. I’ve never heard a man say “women can’t fly.” But a lot of the things people say are subtly sexist, which can discourage women from feeling included, getting promoted or wanting … Continue reading Things people say in the drone industry that they don’t realize are sexist → […]

  • Săndel says:

    The drone, or any other technical environment, is not sexist and does not discern gender.
    But I do feel that many women are sexist. You and any other chose a hobby, a career, an interest and not the other way around!
    The market is not targeting male clients, it’s targeting money.
    The developers, inventors, innovators promote knowledge not gender.

    It is YOU who chooses how you live.
    There is a lack of interest from women in the technical sphere of activities not an active man-only campaign.
    There is a lack of interest from males too in any area or environment you could imagine.
    I know women that look (very) good and code just the same.

    Companies want the money and do NOT care what’s between your legs.

    And those questions, “How do you know so much about this?” or “You seem to know what you’re talking about. How did you get that way?”

    I get those, a lot, too! =))

  • Tracks says:

    Keep in mind that for every girl on the field wanting to fly there are 50 wives and girlfriends at home asking if we’re a little too old to be playing with these kids toys and don’t we have more important things to spend this money on? Drones racing is one of the most inclusive sports possible, but many times if a guy thinks a girl wouldn’t be interested in flying a drone, it’s because that is what he has experienced. Where are the promotion of girls teams at racing events? Of the hundreds of drone pilots I have met, I have never seen a single one opposed to girls flying, or assuming girls are not capable.

  • Kim Wheeler says:

    Hi Sally,
    We are a unique mother-daughter drone team based out of Florida and have been flying small drones for 3 years! We are sponsored by 3DRobotics and fly their Solo Cinematography Drone. We participated in their March International Women’s Day Article featuring women drone pilots. Just wanted to point out that while we do feel unwelcome at times in the “Boys Club,” particularly not being taken seriously, we also experience special treatment too. An example of this was just last night, we had the opportunity to fly our drones at dusk over one of the largest cruise ships in our local port. Currently, there is a lot of controversy and tightened security to fly drones at the port, but we were able to find a permissible place to take off and land with the ground security personnel. I sincerely doubt two males would have gotten the same treatment we did and wouldn’t have been able to get the epic shots we took last night. Also, I’d like to point out that we let our content speak for itself. We have over 40 years combined photography and videography background, that we apply to our aerials. We have found, that once folks see our work, the fact that we are women is less of an issue. You can follow us on IG: @2Drone_Gals or FB: 2Drone Gals … Thanks for the opportunity to comment and keep up the great work at thedronegirl.com Cheers,
    Kim

    • Sally French says:

      That’s a really true point! I think being “different” has even helped me gain followers and get that “special treatment.” I also definitely get away with flying places that someone who looked differently might not be able too.
      Great attitude, and keep up the flying with your daughter!

  • Randy Braun says:

    Well written, Drone Girl. Thank you.
    You would never believe some of the comments I have overheard at tech shows. And true, most seem to be coming from a subconscious level, and not simply about drones but about “mechanical” things in general.

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