Let me start with a very unsurprising statement: I hate the phrase woman in tech.
But I am a woman and I do work in tech; so even though I may not subscribe to what this phrase often stands for, this is how one can bucket me. I guess. I think? I would much rather be a bunny in tech, or even better, a bunny NOT in tech, but that is unlikely to happen in the near future.
What I am about to say will be heavily stereotyping for some, but for me – that is just my reality. I am very much what one would call a girly girl and I am all about embracing it; I do happen to work with plenty of people we would commonly refer as total nerds too. I am not out and about on a witch hunt here – this is just my reality.
Sooner or later Women in Tech will get you
The most important part of being a woman in tech is that there is really no escape from being just that – a woman in tech.
I would love to be able to just call myself a young professional or whatever else this appalling corporate language has for me these days, but that would simply not do. Sooner or later one of the enlightened social initiatives will come my way and there is really nothing I can do to escape it.
I mean, nothing.
So instead of working on… well, my job, I end up in some sort of meeting that is meant to lead to a bright future for women in technology, and has very little to do with my actual job description. And by little I mean: none.
Because the most patronizing part of being a woman in tech are other women in tech. The ones who believe we all need a grand push and help to achieve what we are out to achieve. The ones that organize all these pointless meeting where we all discuss how to capture little girls into occupations that they never wanted. The ones that will always remember you didn’t show up, because the attendance list is so short (due to the lack of women) anyway, you not being there actually makes a visible difference.
Women in Technology initiative is the only thing that ever makes me wish I was NOT a woman in tech. Men in Technology do not exist.
There really aren’t many of us
How few women actually work in technology may be one of these things people tell us all the time – but somehow entering the technology world was the first moment that made me realize how true it is.
Companies love showing off statistics on how many women they currently employ as if they were expecting a special prize for treating women with respect; but the truth is that a female developer is a bit of a unicorn in any tech company. Sure, there are some of them – I met quite a few across multiple companies, some good, some bad, as, surprisingly enough, your gender does not actually determine your programming capabilities – but in comparison to the amount of male developers, it is but a droplet in the sea.
Your typical woman in tech will be a business analyst. A project manager. Maybe even a product owner of a sort. She still works in technology, but in the less technical side of it.
And there is nothing wrong with that, either. I am one of these crazy people who thing that no job is better or worse than any other, so long as it is legal and does not kill people. It is just an observation.
And if you are a woman in tech, you are likely to drop out
What is often not mentioned, as it reflects badly on all of the Women in Technology programs, I am afraid, is just how many girls drop out of their technology roles at the first opportunity.
Since I do work in a company that publishes plenty of different studies, I am often exposed to useless statistics like that; I don’t want to throw around any numbers I cannot be 100% confident in, but the not-so-sad fact is that women in technology are as likely to change field completely if technology was their first job, as to remain where they are. 5%, 10%, even 15% is not a bad drop-out rate – but going 50:50?
I don’t want to analyse the reasons why women may want to leave technology as they are very complex and way out of my understanding – some people like to blame sexism, but, frankly, this simply couldn’t be all of the problem, even if I agreed with them. I have my own list of reasons why technology does not work for me, just as I have my list of reasons why technology is kind of alright. What I am trying to lead to is…
Technology can be a lonely field for women
I can hear people shouting You don’t work to make friends or maybe even Men can be great friends too – and both of these statements are right. But sometimes I just get starved for the companionship of other women. Any female companionship, let alone one I would be happy with.
I have a degree in Physics (which, by the way, is not exactly a girls’ fest) and I work in Tech – these two things are the major reasons why, ever since I turned 18, I have made maybe 10 female friends. And since people come and go, out of my uni and work circle I have kept maybe two of them, if we are being generous.
It’s a little bit like living abroad – I love being surrounded by people of all cultures but sometimes I just need something more familiar. I have this terrible craving to just hear Polish. And, working in tech has given me a terrible craving to interact with women too.
A woman in tech can do more
The most obvious advantage of being a woman in tech – and I mean, a woman in tech, not anyone working in technology, as such jobs have their own pluses that are completely irrelevant to one’s gender – is that not all the rules apply to us.
I admit I abuse this privilege horribly and pay an even worse price for it, but the truth is, in such a male dominated space, women are just allowed more. It is not fair, it has nothing to do with equality and men end up kind of screwed because of it, but that’s the way the world rolls right now.
My favourite example is just how little of a dress code there is for women. Now, come on, we can complain that everyone judges our outfits (most men in tech really don’t), but summers in short dresses are way better than in long trouser suits. Winters in woolly jumpers as well. What I found out about tech is that often there is little to no dress code for anyone – but a woman can stretch it to absolutely anything.
Trust me, I have tested it left, right and centre.
But a woman in tech does struggle to get her point across
Now this is the point in the post where all the so-called rational people stop cheering my anti-current narrative attitude and call me an oversensitive snowflake; but I am just trying to show you the world as it is. I guess my word is very little to trust on – that is all I have though. My life and my experience, and an assurance that I do strive to always look for the blame in myself first.
To say that the tech industry is sexist is a terrible overstatement and it is vastly unfair towards a great many people who work there. To say that there are no sexist morons in the tech industry… well, that is just trying to push a completely different agenda altogether. None of these attitudes are correct. Both are hurtful for the dialogue.
Because the answer is, as always – it depends.
I said above that I abuse my powers to be treated with little privileges here and there, but there is another side of this story, namely that the same people who are willing to turn their head away from me breaking irrelevant rules are often people who find it hard to trust my competence and actually listen to me.
I may be hopping around the office in a nice, pink dress but even if I dressed up in a full suit and tried to act and look as professional and fake as possible, these people would never see more in me than a little girl. Being a little girl is great, but it often sucks as well. The sheer frustration I experience with certain individuals who refuse to acknowledge me as their co-worker is… simply insane.
These are the people who will never ask me a question, even though they bloody well know I have the correct answer, and if directed to me by someone else will go out of their way to ask my boss instead. These are the people who constantly send me emails starting with Sorry, I forgot to include you in them. People who will ignore my emails to them for weeks and weeks, till they finally call back to respond… I mean, call back my boss, they never call me back. They barely ever speak to me and if they do, it is to tell me to open the window or something, as if I was employed only to open windows.
People do think a woman in tech must be a PA
Being a Personal Assistant requires a great many skills, none of which I possess, I feel. Yet the people mentioned above will go out of their way to treat me like a glorified answering machine (I bet they treat poor PAs this way as well – all Personal Assistants of the world, I feel your pain).
They somehow never assume I can produce a piece of code. No. Surely I am here just to make notes. How much do they even pay me for that? Couldn’t some nice lad do it instead on the side? And this piece of work that just got finished – that was your boss, no? You are just presenting for him?
I wish I was exaggerating, but that is often how I am left feeling. Part of that may be due to my age – but other people my age around me do not get treated this way. Maybe I am just incompetent? But how would people that never met me know it?
Imposter syndrome can be a big thing
You see, I am as arrogant as one gets, but even I do sometimes feel like I have taken not my place.
What doesn’t help is a horde of people complaining about how many women are being hired just for being women. Yeah, I get it. It happens. Parity laws are not something I ever agreed with. But at the same time a great many women get hired because of their merit and they deserve a good old portion of innocent until proven guilty.
We cannot assume all women get into technology because people are forced to hire them. It is unfair and against everything the current law and justice systems stand for. We should instead assume that they got into technology because they enjoy it and are skilled in it. Any exceptions to that are just that – exceptions.
I often hear that women are playing victim cards and getting away with things thanks to it (and some do, trust me; although I like to get away with things with personal charm instead), but what we fail to notice is how talking about women forcing men out of technology just because they are women… is nothing else but playing the victim card.
Gender should be irrelevant when we hire people. That works both ways though – no one should be hired just because of their gender but also no one should be shamed for being hired just because of their gender. Both concepts are plain ridiculous.