Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Women Still Must be Brave and Sing Out Loud

In tech it's easy to accept the way things are. Initially it rankles; but, you're one voice drowned out by others. And, hey you chose to be a trailblazer; you have no one to blame but yourself. A thread that started last night on Twitter surfaced a wave of fresh voices.
This week's mantra: Be brave; let your voice sing out loud. #SundayScramble
When I woke up Tuesday morning my Twitter feed had a few occurrences of the hashtag #1reasonwhy. The hashtag attempted to capture the one reason why the number of female game developers was the lowest it had been in decades. For those keeping track, the number of women with computer science jobs has fallen 3% percent over the last decade and the number of female graduates with computer science degrees dropped 16% over the last two decades.
As I scanned the tweets many sounded familiar; they mirrored my experiences as a female in the tech industry (as well as being a female in civil engineering/construction). Sadly, they echoed experiences my mom had in the mid-1960s as the only female drafting student in her college course.
My mom thought that by the time I entered in the workforce in the 1990s discussions about gender would no longer be necessary. Of the eight years I worked in the civil engineering/construction industry between 1986 and 1995, I was the only female engineer six of eight years. Tech was somewhat more welcoming to me as a female than civil engineering/construction but not because it was a meritocracy. Tech skewed younger. Many of the developers you worked with didn't graduate from universities that only admitted women into nursing programs. Our coworkers were used to seeing us in their classes. And, they were used to us setting the curve and besting them.
A couple of weeks ago I talked with a friend who works in the gaming industry. He's actually a manager. Our conversation turned to how women are harassed in tech. I'd commented that it's something you sign up for when you work in tech, and I avoid interviewing for the companies with really bad reputations. I've been physically and verbally threatened on occasion and learned that turning to a manager or HR is career limiting. He'd had female direct reports who were harassed by another coworker and he'd stood up to support women in tech, in gaming, by doing something. The male coworkers were fired. Not one instance, but multiple.
Wow! I thought maybe the gaming industry has something on the rest of tech. The #1reasonwhy Twitter hashtag corrected that belief.

Reasons I've Considered Leaving Tech

Treatment of women in any industry, especially male dominated industries, doesn't get better unless gender discussions continue. I'm not in the gaming industry, but here are some of my reasons why I've accepted the status quo and considered leaving tech:
  • Being told training will be wasted on you because you're only in tech to find a husband.
  • Getting to try your idea only after ideas from the men have failed.
  • Knowing there will be less wasted effort and faster path to team success, if you give your idea to a male counterpart to pitch for consideration.
  • Having to leave the tech industry to get operational experience just to be able to be promoted within the tech industry.
  • Receiving the same pay as a recent male undergraduate even though you have an MBA and five years of industry experience.
  • Because vendors rarely acknowledge you -- even if you have the signing authority -- if there's a man in the room.
  • Before an interview, having to sign a waiver that you know if hired you're joining a hostile work environment, and you're ok with it.
  • Having a direct report disregard critique because you must be PMSing.
  • Being careful who you socialize with to avoid people thinking you're sleeping your way into a job.
  • Because a new hire, mistakenly thinking I was an admin, and not a director, and handed me his coffee cup and told me to fetch him coffee.
Not all women have had the same experiences; some have been lucky enough to have never worked in an environment where women are discriminated against or harassed. These are some of my experiences.
Gender stereotypes and discussions of gender differences are something that I've started following more closely since I found out I was pregnant. I realize actions speak louder than any words so I want to give Gates a good foundation. For example, she'll see both cubes and I washing up dishes after a meal.
I'm constantly on the look out for encouragement and stories. One of my favorite stories so far is Neil Gaiman's Blueberry Girl. Last week's focus was inspiration and being original. And this week's mantra dovetails nicely with it: "Be brave; let your voice sing out loud."
Ciao Bella!
Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.