Tearing Down and Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes, All in One Sentence

I was just re-reading a whitepaper I’m writing, and encountered this sentence:

If the lead developer on an open source project takes maternity leave, there aren’t necessarily resources to replace her.

I made a software enthusiast female–yay! And yet she’s threatening the project to go have babies–boo!

Fear not, this is just the first draft, but I had to laugh at my own, uh, misguidedness.


  1. The thing is that we are required to observe ‘gender-neutral’ rules for our writing. I am still torn about this. But well, I live in Canada and write for a Canadian audience, so that is that 🙂

  2. Is “parental leave” the new standard? If I heard it without the post’s context, I’d assume the person was taking time off work to look after their sick mom or dad.

  3. If the lead developer wins the lottery and runs off to the Caribbean…

    (I started using this instead of “If the lead developer gets hit by a bus.” It’s much better karma.)

  4. As an open source developer, it is not your use of gender that worries me but your use of all-prevailing management speak, namely referring to human beings (with emotions and other stuff) as “resources”. I hear this everyday in my line of work, and frankly I always find it annoying. I summed up my feelings about it here:


    Male/female software engineers of the World repeat after me: “I am not a resource. I am not a resource…”.

  5. John: Coincidentally, I’m writing a whitepaper for executives, so the management-speak is appropriate.

    Personally, I don’t really see a big deal about describing employees as resources in a corporate setting. Not all resources are the same, just as not all employees are the same.

    That, by the way, applies to carpenters and lawyers as well–not just precious software engineers.

  6. Well I am old fashioned, for me a resource is something you dig from the ground like gold, oil or natural gas. When you describe a human being as a resource, are you not also lumping them into a similar category as these other commodities, something for the corporation to mine until all the value is gone, then move onto the next batch?

    “That, by the way, applies to carpenters and lawyers as well–not just precious software engineers.”

    Well us software engineers are only precious to those managers running software teams (or should be), but carpenters are just as precious to site foremen, and lawyers are just as precious to legal firms: I just singled out software engineers because that is what I currently am, and that is what your post mentioned.

    In the distant past I worked as an apprentice plasterer on a building site, and I never heard my boss refer to me as a “resource”, but this term is commonly used in the IT sector. So what’s the difference? Is it commonly used in other office-based professions?

    If your paper is for management types then I agree the language is appropriate, but just be aware that some of us techies find the term annoying.

  7. “Is it commonly used in other office-based professions?”

    Maybe I’m over-simplifying, but don’t most companies have a, uh, Human Resources department?

  8. “Maybe I’m over-simplifying, but don’t most companies have a, uh, Human Resources department?”

    Yep, the name gives away it away alright 😉 In the past those departments used to be called “Personnel”.

  9. Maternity leave is not actually the same as parental leave. Maternity leave is only taken by women — it’s time to recover from giving birth. Adoptive mothers cannot take maternity leave. Parental leave is available to birth and adoptive parents of both sexes. At least, this is how it is in Canada.

    Neither maternity leave nor parental leave is available to self-employed individuals, even those who previously paid into the system for 10+ years. Grrr.

  10. Everyone: yes, I realize that men don’t get maternity leave, on account of not being mothers. I was trying to jape Darren about his agonizing over stereotyping in a perfectly normal (and frankly, routine) example of employee absence. My example wouldn’t be so much gender-neutral as gender-nullifying.

    At my place of work, the HR department is called “Employee Relations,” which always sounds a bit improper to me.

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