You will almost never hear me get into a political or religious debate. Simply because I’ve never seen anyone have a reaction of “oh, I never thought of that” in those conversations.
However, I will engage in the topic of challenges women in tech often face because I have experience that may help others. Now this is not my lead off conversation nor does it even come up that often. Truthfully, I struggled to understand my stance on this subject. I’m a very outgoing, not easily offended, always been more tom-boy kind of girl. (Yes, I know I just described my daughter too). I watched those sexual harassment videos and laughed a little. I wouldn’t have been offended by most of the examples they give. I’m not saying that it is ok (or wouldn’t bother people), it just wouldn’t have bothered me. Instead, I wish the videos would also cover topics that did make it more difficult for me as a female in tech. The experiences that taught me it was important to share. So I won’t really focus on specific situations of what I think is ok or not. I’m not sure there is one list that everyone can agreed on. Instead, I want to focus on helping people understand that a blanket dismissal that women don’t face different challenges in tech is inaccurate.
Sexual assumptions are more likely
After receiving a lead developer position, I was falsely accused of sleeping with a partner to obtain the promotion. As this person was my “friend”, they asked me directly this “question – assumption”. I asked him if he had asked anyone else that question before and why did he go there with me? He had no answer. I called the only other female developer that I was close with and I’ll never forget something she said to me: “I wish I could tell you that this is a fluke and it will never happen again but I don’t want to lie to you”. She didn’t lie.
When a direct reporting lead developer continued to express gratitude for my leadership, people “jokingly” told him that he should back off because it appears that he just wants to sleep with me. He was devastated and concerned that I thought that too. I didn’t but because I was a female it was easy to joke about it.
Now these are just two examples but ask yourself, do they happen with male promotions? Do they happen to the respected male leader? I’m sure occasionally but it’s almost as if now I’ve come to expect it as a female. It’s the “easy” joke as a female and sometimes that just pain SUCKS!
Women stereotypes and general tendencies:
A group of developers were at a client site. The lead developer was doling out tasks. My three male teammates got coding tasks. I got data entry and note taking. I wasn’t quiet about this assignment distribution. The answer was “you are really detailed oriented”, which is true. Yet, don’t you want coding to be detailed oriented? I don’t think this was intentional, it just happens. And this isn’t just males assigning women tasks issue. Often, I will have women self-assign themselves the more caregiving tasks and enjoy/prefer them. The point is that we can easily fall into these stereotypes/roles that can hurt our ability to fully engage as a team member.
There have also been studies that indicate men are more willing to ask for a raise and negotiate. I am HORRENDOUS when it comes to this. I have a mindset that says…people will treat me fairly for what I’m worth. This has resulted in numerous equity adjustments (increase my pay to align with my peers – when an audit of pay occurs) throughout my career. It really sucks to find out that you were being paid less for the same work. Yet, this is my problem. I didn’t negotiate when I started the job. I didn’t ask for a bigger raise when I was promoted. My male counterparts did. Leadership was just trying to make it right over time, to which I’m grateful.
You try being one of three women in your entire Computer Science graduating class. If I wanted to be a part of a study group, I had to form it. I watched a group of my friends go off to class together, as I walked by myself towards the engineering building. This all seems petty now but in college, it’s not. It took until my junior year of college before you saw the same people enough to make friends. Think about how many late night exams or coding projects you worked on with others…I did most of them by myself.
Fast forward, you try being the only women on your entire team. Sure, you get a bathroom to yourself but the rest can be isolating. There have been studies that show how much more effective a team can be when it’s diverse. Women often think differently. We engage differently. We communicate differently. We feel differently. I like to talk through my emotions. Personally, I’ve been lucky to have had many men willing to listen. Not everyone is that lucky.
Do I belong here:
For a long time, I spent a lot of time trying to prove to myself that I earned x, y or z when in reality…I had proven myself in order to earn the spot. Call it imposter syndrome. Call it side effects from isolation. Call in insecurity. Call it whatever you want…the point is that many women continuously feel like they need to prove they belong. Personally, this was my issue and challenge to address and one that still presents challenges today. I very much appreciated Lyssa’s blog post about this topic and not just because I’m in the picture at the bottom 🙂
Yet, I get opportunities too:
I’m not naive. I understand that as a competent woman in the tech industry, I’m in high demand. I know that I’ve received opportunities ahead of others because I was doing a good job and bonus – I’m female. So as much as there are challenges, I have also experienced situations much earlier than others – partly because I’m a woman, who has worked hard at her craft. This is what I remind myself and others about…yes, it can be tough but it can also be really amazing being a woman in tech. However, for the latter to occur, you have to have mastery of your skills. Getting opportunities as a female but not delivering is not good for anyone!
Here’s what it comes down to for me. Everyone experiences challenges. Some hurdles are small and some you think you tripped over so hard that you broke every bone in your body. Some happen more frequently and some very rarely. However, to blanket dismiss challenges women may face in technology is just closed-minded. Just as I would say to dismiss challenges men face is inappropriate.
I can’t speak for men. And I can’t speak for women as a whole. In fact, there are some topics that just don’t fire me up as they do others, such as women shirts at a tech conference (I don’t really wear t-shirts period). However, I can speak for myself as a woman. I can speak to the countless mentoring conversations with other females as they face their hurdles. And because I’m not afraid of conflict, I can speak out loud to educate why that statement, assignment, assumption, etc was insulting/offensive. Thankfully, I’ve yet to encounter the person who didn’t take accountability and learn.
Ultimately, dismissing/denial/ignorance doesn’t solve/help anything. Instead, let’s talk when it happens. Change happens from small continuous improvement not from massive polarizing incidents. A friend recently told me that he went to a zumba class with his girlfriend. He wondered if that’s what it can sometimes feel like…standing out in a sea of similar with so much attention drawn to you because you are different. Yep, sounds familiar! So the next time a woman raises an issue she is experiencing, listen or I’m taking you to zumba!
What are your thoughts?