Until this moment I’ve been restraining myself from sharing my views on the career success of Women in Tech. Until I came upon a Thought experiment by the Saving Ninja:
A different opinion is somewhat frowned upon in our clique based society, but some of the greatest minds of all time were outliers. They weren’t scared to go against the grain and stand up for what they believed in. So, for this Thought Experiment, I’d like you to reveal yourself:
What opinion do you have that most of your peers do not share?
Thanks, SavingNinja for giving me the spark to vent out something that’s been on my mind for a while. Here’s my unpopular opinion:
Women in Tech have a higher than average chance of career success
I haven’t spoken up on this topic for various reasons. First of all, the opinion at hand touches many sensitive subjects – gender equality, work ethics, feminism. Every one of us has their personal experience. Depending on your upbringing and world view, you would see things differently.
On top of that, my opinion that women in Tech have huge and dare I say unfair advantages compared to our male counterparts is not shared by many.
A tale of victimhood
I’ve long lived with this limiting belief:
Women engineers are like guinea pigs. They are not pigs, and they are not from Guinea.
Somewhat of a bummer, especially if you are a young, ambitious woman aiming at a Computer Science degree at a Technical University. On top of that, you are surrounded by all the guys who’s native language is C++ and Turbo Pascal. They had seemingly been coding way before they could even talk.
Later in women’s professional life, things don’t look any brighter. Here’s what I often hear at women’s networking events:
Tech is a Boys’ Club.
We are not taken seriously.
Our male colleagues get promoted we don’t.
We don’t get the recognition we deserve.
There’s a huge gender pay gap, etc.
We hit the glass ceiling.
You can agree all of this sounds really disempowering. As if women in Tech are the victims of a big conspiracy.
Women in Tech, I don’t buy it
I did take the Engineering degree at the Technical University, and I also took the Master degree. I am a Woman in Tech with many years of work and academic experience in different roles from a web designer, front-end developer to a team lead and a project manager.
I’ve worked in various projects/products/setups: consumer-facing established and startup products, to software for big, premium automotive car manufacturers.
I’ve rarely felt as if I was treated unfairly just because of my gender. Here’s why:
We stand out in a crowd of guys
It’s true that there are much fewer women going into the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). I was one of the few women at the Technical University of Sofia.
Here lies our advantage: As we are rare species, we’re much easier to spot, remember and recognise.
Dear woman in Tech, if you have some great idea or technique go for it and share offline or online. There’re thousands of channels for it. You’ll be immediately noticed, even if your idea is not particularly innovative just because you’re not looking like your regular IT guy.
I have had male colleagues, brilliant conference speakers complaining that no one notices them. But if there’s a female speaker, she immediately becomes a celebrity.
That’s sad but it’s a fact – you’re first noticed for your looks. Once you have the attention of the room, you can work on establishing yourself as a voice worth listening to.
So, play this to your advantage. When you have something to say – just go for it! Don’t be afraid to be seen!
I have learnt this the hard way. Early in my career, I was trying to blend in with the guys. I wore shapeless Tshirts and jeans, spoke the same way as guys do, took part in their jokes. I was suppressing my femininity – a huge mistake!
It might work for a while, but it’s too high of a price to pay. Your authentic self needs air to breath – don’t suffocate it for blending in with your predominantly male colleagues.
The proverbial glass ceiling
Regarding promotions – it took me a while to gather the courage to ask for them. But then I started to note down all my accomplishments and I presented them to my manager at the performance reviews.
If you prepare well and bring convincing arguments (results) to the table, your manager will usually take action. (S)he would at least bring your request one level up – to their manager. I never had a female manager – I don’t know what that would be …
Male colleagues have complained to me about the reaction of their male boss when they asked for a promotion. It was something in the lines of:
You want my place, don’t you?! – male boss to a male report in a somewhat of a passive-aggressive alpha male way
A female report asking for promotion would rarely get this primal response.
It’s harsh but please stop waiting for recognition. No one will pat you on the back for the good work unless you stick it into their faces. Do your homework and ask for the freaking cake!
It takes more than tech skills to rock
It might be true that boys start tinkering with computers way earlier than girls. It’s much more common for a guy to have deep, technical knowledge. They’ve probably invested many, many, many hours of their lives to acquire it.
But in this day and age, it doesn’t only take technical skills to be a stellar IT professional. Long gone are the days of the nerdy, un-groomed male developers in their male caves with 3 and more displays.
There’s a need to leverage the genius of such nerds, to bring them together, convince them to collaborate. Most of all, there should be a framework in place to consistently and predictably transform their genius into business results.
Additionally, how will you know what to build if you don’t have basic empathy for the end user?! You can’t solve everything with clever algorithms and indecipherable lines of code.
I don’t want to go into stereotypes but women by nature have stronger soft skills, collaborative nature, and a sense for organisation and smoothness.
It doesn’t mean you’re soft and you don’t get things done. On the contrary, you can make your team trust you, dig into the deeper issues and fix them.
The woman as a mother, professional and all-round superhero
Last but not least – and this is a walking-on-egg-shells territory. I’m not a mother myself – I just summarize on what I see around me.
Year-long maternity leave or taking time off to take care of your children might be seen as a disadvantage. If you suddenly have to attend to your sick child and you’re missing at work it’s a somewhat of an inconvenience.
At the same time, your male counterparts are present, ready to shine and score at the career game.
Nevertheless, there’s a positive trend that I observe. Many fathers take a fair share of their paternal responsibilities. They take paternity leave, sick leave for child care, or leave the office early to pick their kids from the kindergarten.
KUDOs to those fathers and their managers who encourage this shift to equality. KUDOs to the mothers who leave them do it and let go.
Ladies, this a fight for you and your partner to fight. Have the talk with your significant one and make sure your partner is there to share the responsibility. It’s not a small or easy fight, but just with any cause – good things take time and efforts.
A Little Less Conversation (A Little More Action Please)
Ladies, instead of focusing on your shortcomings, focus on your strengths:
- Speak up, take a small risk at a meeting, raise valid questions
- Build up your personal brand on Linkedin
- Share your opinions on Linkedin, or on online technical forums
- Use your listening skills to manoeuvre like a pro. You have the superpower of instinctively getting what’s between the lines without it even being said explicitly
- Join a Toastmasters club and practice your public speaking and leadership skills. It will be painful at the beginning but speaking in front of an audience will slowly become second nature. The board of my Mercury Toastmaster’s club is predominately female – 1guy and 6women – how’s that for an example?
- If you are aware of some technical gaps – ask a colleague to help you out, read the latest tech trends. Best of all – pass the knowledge forward through a brown bag session, a community of practice or internal show-and-tell. Not only will you learn something even better by teaching it, but you’ll also raise your professional profile.
- Tune up your community building skills. It comes naturally to women to get people together, and to keep the feeling of a team. Isn’t this top-notch leadership?!
Women in Tech have tons of uncovered potential for greatness
To summarise, gender equality, especially at the workplace, is a dynamic act. We, women in Tech, are not victims. It’s in our hands to change whatever biases we might encounter in the workplace.
If we work towards our careers in a positive, constructive way we’re on a good track to keeping a healthy balance.
Onward and upward!
Check out the other unpopular opinions who responded to the challenge!
Caveman @ DitchTheCave
Mr A Way To Less
Miss A Way To Less
Marc @ FinanceYourFire
A Simple Life
Money For The Modern Girl
Andy @ liberate.life (on Rebo)
James @ Rebo