I’m not a woman in tech

My name is Maria. I happily identify as female. I work as an Agile Coach for a tech company in Cambridge, UK. I am not a woman in tech.

I grew up in Pjedsted, a village in Denmark, with my mum and dad and my little sister. I climbed trees – sometimes I fell out of trees I had climbed, I built a soapbox car – and crashed the soapbox car, I cycled in the fields, ran in the woods, built fortresses out of snow and spent some time in A&E. I also dressed up, played with dolls and dressed up the cat (which could have led to another trip to A&E!)

Some of the activities I’ve described above, requires society to give me a label.

Tomboy

I thought that’s what you call “a child”?

I actually spent some time thinking about this when I was a kid. It meant I wasn’t a proper girl, but I wasn’t quite a boy either.

Luckily, I didn’t give a fuck…

Or… It’s possible that I just didn’t get it.

In any case, I went about life, thinking of myself as mainly a girl but also “one of the guys”.

I played Diablo II, LoD so much that I clicked an imaginary mouse in my sleep but I also loved (the concept of) my high heeled boots.

After discovering that I absolutely *hated* studying English at the university I decided to do software engineering at a business college. I *loved* that! I loved programming! I loved the Advanced Algorithms and Data Structures class! I loved lots of really technical, computery ย things that only men know about… Teehee…

I got me a job as a programmer right out of school. Whoop!

The ignorance started to wear off…

I still loved being a woman and I really loved working in tech!

But I fucking hated being a Woman in Tech.

“Woman in tech” is just another label I don’t need. Like tomboy. I feel like I’m a rare species. For you to ogle. Like in a zoo. “This particular one has brightly coloured hair; not an uncommon trait for a ‘woman in tech’.”

Maybe I’m representative, maybe I’m not, but don’t ask me to represent!

I don’t want your ‘exclusively for women’ support groups

I want inclusivity, not exclusivity.

You’re victimising me when you do that. You’re indicating that it’s most likely I need special, extra support. Just because I’m female.

You’re also indicating that “this is a women’s problem, best solved by women” but that deepens the divide, creating an “us” and a “them”. Just based on gender…

(I can understand your argument if you say that sticking together makes an already marginalised group stronger, like gay pride for example. I also wish gay rights == human rights. If you throw a parade celebrating women who did awesome shit in STEMM and invite the world to join, I’m in and I’m bringing pom-poms!)

I don’t want your special award

What is it about tech awards specifically for women? Have new studies shown a correlation between technical abilities and Y chromosomes? Don’t we all, in theory, have the same possibilities for succeeding in tech?

By creating special awards for women I think you’re belittling the impact and effort a group of humans are having in their field – just because of their gender. It’s behaviour like this that leads to the news headline being that ‘a man nearly beat his own record’ and in smaller text or below the fold ‘a women totally smashed any previous record into the ground’.

If you actually wanna say “look, women can do this too” – inspect your unconscious biases and nominate the women who deserve it for the not-only-for-women awards! Because I know there are a shit tonne of deserving women too…

(And I don’t even know why it’s just women… Is there an award for each non-binary option, or do all non-binaries have to share? Are XY-ers, who identify as female, welcome at DevelopHER?)

I am not the problem you’re trying to solve

Is it a problem that of computer science degrees earned, only 28% are earned by women? Or that the rate of women in computing has been steadily in decline since 1991? Or that twice as many women quit the high tech industry as men?

Well, I certainly think so, and I assume you do too. Studies are showing that more diverse teams have higher collective intelligence – here is some research from 2011 and you should google for more:ย Defend Your Research: What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women

Assuming we can agree there is a problem, I’d say it’s something like this: the problem is, that the tech industry isn’t able to attract and retain enough women.

I’m already here, people. So I’m not the problem you’re trying to solve.

It’s hurtful when you say “we need to solve the problem of women in tech” and “Maria, you’re a woman in tech” in the same breath…

Lose the label

Inspired by my friend Michelle, I implore you to lose the label. Lose all the labels! That is an important step on the path to inclusivity.

lose the label maria

 

 

 

Advertisements
Standard

61 thoughts on “I’m not a woman in tech

  1. FeepingCreature says:

    So, what do you think of Path of Exile? (If you haven’t tried, it’s sort of like a F2P Diablo 2 sequel-in-spirit that tries to avoid the dumbing-down of D3 for deep, meaningful character customization.)

    Like

  2. Hi Maria thank you so much for this article! As a person, a dude, with pursuits some “masculine” and some “feminine” I just wish the collective desire for inclusiveness outweighs the need for pigeonholing, and making overly simplistic cause and effect assumptions, especially in regards to today’s challenges regarding race and genders.

    We are living in a truly wonderful era where the shackles of mere survival for survival sake are lifting. Where there’s the potential for culture, civilization, and humanity to flourish. We have issues in the West and it’s better to deal with them honestly, then allowing these potentials to decay. To honest work, and good play, I wish you the very best.

    Like

  3. flaizeur says:

    ha, love it. feel the same way about any segment specific categorical groups or recognition, like ” history week!”, or ” pride group”

    you’re literally acknowledging that, “i support the idea that i am less than you because of “

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bob says:

    Why are we upset that so many women don’t choose STEM? We don’t care when they don’t choose garbage collecting. Or sewer inspecting. Or crab fishing. We’re not upset when many men don’t choose special education. Or elderly care. Or home health.
    Why can’t we just let whoever wants to go into whatever field they want? (And stop counting jobs by sex and saying, “We don’t have enough [insert sex here] in [insert field here]”) Some women, but not most, dig STEM. Cool! Some men, not most, dig early childhood education. Cool! Can’t we just leave it there?

    Like

    • Women made up over 35% of the CS workforce in 1985, while now it’s less than 20%. What changed? The introduction of the personal computer, which was marketed almost exclusively to men. Until the 1830s, all teachers were male.

      There’s nothing inherently male or female about liking STEM or liking early childhood education, it’s just how we’re socialized. Shouldn’t we, as a culture, strive to socialize ourselves so that all professions are viewed as equally desirable to any sex individual?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ola says:

        Yes, there is. Male fetuses on average develop with higher levels of testosterone which leads them to be more drawn to “thing” oriented careers and less so to socially oriented careers. You can see this in action very elegantly… In university, cell biology was an even gender split. biochemistry had a bit more men. Chemistry even more men. Physical chemistry even more men, and physics was mostly men. The more numbers oriented (ie. dry) a subject is, the more men it attracts, proportionally speaking. There isn’t anything better or more desirable about these fields.. they just attract a different type of brain. All professions *should* be viewed as equally desirable, but like Bob said, I don’t see anyone having mass campaigns to get women into garbage collection.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joe says:

        I am actually totally apathetic as to who joins the ranks of any given profession.

        However, let’s not be exclusive. Why is there such a big outrage about tech/programming and not petroleum engineering or shaft mining or offshore oil drilling?

        Other than that, I don’t really think focusing on gender, sex, race, or sexual orientation as denotations of diversity is going to get you diversity and inclusivity. When you highlight that certain physical attributes are rare in an environment, and you’re instituting policies and initiatives to work around merit to get those physical attributes to be less rare in an environment, you do nothing but breed resentment, patronization, and dismissiveness towards those individuals – ironically generating more of the thing you claim to decry.

        If you want to increase the amount of diversity of physical attributes of people in tech or any other field, you must, ironically, stop focusing on the group you wish to increase, and instead focus on everyone. Code schools and code workshops just for women is so counter-productive – you’re literally setting someone up to be a token X wherever they end up. Instead, teach them the skills to be a programmer who happens to be X.

        Liked by 1 person

    • If everyone shared your opinion, then we wouldn’t need to “care” about women doing something that’s not “traditionally for women”, but the fact that you can easily name several professions that are traditionally for either gender means that we– that is, the collective societal “we”– aren’t yet to a point where jobs/careers are genderless. We need to push back on the gendered-ness of jobs by praising women joining in. Once everything is FINALLY balanced, THEN we can be indifferent.

      Liked by 3 people

      • eloone says:

        I very much agree with you! I am an engineer, I am a woman and I proudly accept to be called a “Woman in tech”, there is absolutely nothing demeaning about this. The fact that some people hate it only perpetuates that it is somehow “negative” to be female or pointed at to be “female”.

        Such movement exists, because yes, it is needed. It could be branded as something else like “Inclusive sth” but most of the problems are really related to how the female gender is unfairly handled so it is branded with “woman” in it. It gives women existence, and make their opinions legitimate. And ideally these opinions should be listened to by the broader community and included to make Tech inclusive. For now Tech is not gender neutral at all, and such “branding” highlights the adjustment needed to reach a real gender inclusive Tech. When inclusivity is reached, indeed it will naturally sound weird to refer to someone as exclusively “woman”, but we are so not there yet.

        As for “representing” women, it is challenging but it is also reality, the best one can do is to add positive to women’s achievements, the more women accept the challenge, the more perception will change naturally for everybody. All female-specific movements are not bad, I sort them as: if they promote women’s capacity as something normal, that exists by default and reinforce it by giving you the tools to get stronger in areas you think you need to get stronger, then YES it is a useful movement; but if it’s a movement that promotes women’s capacity as something exceptional, or not natural and try to convince you that you are by default weak and need to adjust with special care, then NO it is a weakening movement. But I don’t think rejecting all of these efforts is fair, I totally support endeavours to make Tech inclusive and I think “women in tech” movements (depends which kind) work towards that.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Far McKon says:

    I don’t know your experiences or what you have been through, and it sounds like you have been treated pretty fairly. I think that is a good sign the tech community is growing in a good way.

    Most of the people I know who are for (and attend, and benifit from) ‘Women in Tech’ or female-centric awards events got involved in them because of repeated shit behavior. Year after year, of constant discrimination, assuming the knew or did less then men, or being overlooked or not listened to. Repeatedly and insultingly treatment.

    Which is to say, they didn’t set out to be a ‘Woman in Tech’ Women in Tech came about as a flag to where that behavior would not be allowed, the way it is in the broader community.

    Hopefully, if or when the tech community solves these internal problem, those things will evaporate as they are less needed.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. When women say stuff like they are ‘one of the guys’, they are tokenizing THEMSELVES.

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts (and I definitely agree on the no special awards section!), but when you start the piece saying that you liked guy-stuff and that’s why you got into tech, you are part of the problem. As long as people continue perpetuating the idea that tech is a male field because liking computery things is a male trait, we will have less women going into tech.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Non sequitur says:

      She didn’t say she got into computers because she liked “guy stuff”. She got into computers because she hated studying English. She brought up the “guy stuff” to say that it’s not really guy stuff…it’s kid stuff…but it still earned her a pointless label. Her entire thesis is that there are no such things as “guy stuff” and “girl stuff.” Just stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Although I would add that it seems fairly clear that the author made a statement about being ‘one of the guys’ as part of her development as a child. It seems a bit harsh to hold that against her.

        Like

  7. ReturnToNormalcy says:

    THANK YOU for restoring my faith in humanity.

    Things have gotten absolutely insane lately with hypersensitivity and mollycoddling. Those virtue signalling white-knights who claim to be standing up for the rights of minorities and the oppressed don’t realise that they are demeaning the hard work and accomplishments of those very same people.

    Like

      • Anonymous Coward says:

        Do you review or read other people’s code?

        I am asking because I am trying to determine what “working in tech” means nowadays. If I work for Google HR, do I “work in tech”?

        Like

      • It’s probably been 3-4 years since I wrote production code.
        Do you think it only counts as ‘tech’ if you (still) write code? (Because in that case, the title is literally true ;-))
        I endeavour to help teams set better goals, plan, write stories, be responsive, take care of their users and the quality of their products. How to communicate and influence. Does that count? (In your opinion, I mean)

        Like

      • Anonymous Coward says:

        IMHO you work on the business side, not on the technology side. But I consider Agile to be a dangerous cult, so I’m biased against your job from the start ๐Ÿ™‚

        Like

      • Don’t get me wrong – I don’t like my title. I’ve changed my email signature to stuff like “here to help you continuously improve” or “want assistance solving a problem?” It doesn’t have to be “agile” – it just has to produce valuable software without killing you with process (or something, I’m having beer and should probably put my phone away)

        Like

    • I would like to announce that I recently wrote and deployed some code! I also backed up and restored a SQL Server database including setting up permissions and all that jazz. It was for a system I originally wrote in 2008 and upgraded in 2011. Please, can I be “in tech” again? ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      Like

  8. alice says:

    I was thinking about this very thing recently. I have some colleagues who are working on a program to encourage middle school girls to pursue STEM education. While listening to their proposals I was thinking of myself as a twelve year old girl, and how none of their ideas would have appealed to me and may have even alienated me. But I also realized that, as a woman who did pursue an education in a STEM field without any additional encouragement, I’m not really representative of the young women they are hoping to attract. And after reading this, I’m no longer sure what it means to be a “woman in tech” or just a woman, in tech, but thanks for this thought-provoking piece.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. You’ve written something compelling and important – start with basic kindness and humanity, then build from that. If a ‘non-majority’ colleague gets labeled and special treatment, it lessens the basic kindness of listening to them and valuing them as a fellow human.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I recently gave up to all the frustration with being called a Woman in Tech and wrote a very very similar piece.
    Very much agree on all above.
    I’d frankly say my main problem with ‘being a woman in tech’ is the Women in Technology monster that keeps creeping onto me everywhere I turn…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. hoshomoh says:

    Good piece you have here. I have been saying this for a while now, guess what? Women are the problem, they like the label. We are all techies. Why group into sex. I will actually start referring to myself as man in tech.

    Like

  12. Joana Carvalho says:

    Exactly how I feel! I’m a Performance Engineer and you seem to have taken the words out of my mouth! I have an issue with shoes an lipsticks but I also have to decide if I will spend my money on shoes or on the Steam Sale. I’m a woman, who happens to work in tech.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Maite Larraechea says:

    “If you throw a parade celebrating women who did awesome shit in STEMM and invite the world to join, Iโ€™m in and Iโ€™m bringing pom-poms!” —> this is exactly what the Women in Tech organizations do!

    Like

    • Sounds like she wants all the fun celebrations of progress without anyone working to create events or progress. You know, like those spontaneous Pride parades organized by the “People of All Orientations” groups.

      Like

    • Hmmm… Fair point. I can see that doesn’t read the way I intended. I’m only opposing the current events because I see them running like this: “find me the best ten women who have accomplished that thing” instead of what I want to see, which is: “find me the best ten humans who have accomplished that thing” and where “humans” is more and more likely to include a representative number of not-your-stereo-typical-middle-class-white-man-from-a-fancy-uni.
      And you’re right, that’s not what that sentence said.
      Did I understand your comment correctly and did this blurb vindicate my original sentence?

      Like

  14. I agree with some of what you say, but I have some nuanced disagreements also. I’m focusing on disagreements because I think that’s where learning happens, and I think you are bringing up some great conversations here.

    First, I want to keep the label “women in tech”because it has been immensely valuable to me. “Labels” are “language for a thing”, and without “language for a thing” we can’t talk about it – and it’s invisible. When we talk about issues affecting women in tech disproportionately, we talk about things like:
    – Communication strategies (e.g., interrupting patterns)
    – Negotiating biases (e.g., women get penalized when they negotiate for themselves but not when they negotiate for others or for the community)
    – The lesser Dunning-Kruger effect in STEM for women, and greater imposter syndrome (I mention these together because I believe they are related)
    – Skills that get women promoted to leadership roles are different from the skills that get men promoted, but what they are is less well-understood
    – Stereotypes around appearance and gender
    – Stereotypes around the range of personalities and how they relate to competence by gender
    – Biases about responsibility for problems and successes
    – Not being able to use many typical male strategies for self-promotion without social and career-affecting backlash (and some alternatives that work for women but not as well for men)
    – Family expectation impacts (mentioned last because it got too much air time as a WiT issue in the past – and I say this as a mother of four)

    A lot of my early issues at work as a developer had more to do with a failure to manage gender expectations and occasionally conflicting technical professional expectations well than with incompetence per se. I misinterpreted being interrupted more as a sign of my incompetence; I tried to ‘be one of the guys’ and didn’t realize they were evaluating me by different rules, so it was a lost cause anyways (this showed up more after 5 years in); I would say things that were ignored and assumed it was because my words weren’t valuable, then would get blamed for not pushing people to listen – even if other people were simultaneously praising me for my persistence in bringing up problems. I stubbornly tried to ignore the possibility that I was playing on uneven ground, and was seven years into my career before I finally got it, and started learning about my career development in tech through the lens of gender.

    This knowledge made a huge difference to my effectiveness in the workplace. I learned what behaviors to call out, what behaviors to play to, how to inform coworkers about bias so they can manage their own contributions to systemic bias, and useful information that I wish I’d known early on so I can mentor young women who aren’t aware that they are experiencing normal effects of bias. I’ve learned how to discuss self-promotion in a way that makes it accessible to women without backlash, both when talking to those women and when talking to their peers and managers.

    I’ve learned that a number of traits that, sadly, are unsupported and even lead women to leave tech – are actually advantages. Like our lower likelihood of overestimating our own skills early on – which opens us up to faster skill-building and greater efforts to grow our skills early on, since we are more aware of what we need to know, but may also leave us more vulnerable to imposter syndrome without proper support. Our different socialization from boys, as girls? Teaches us skills and traits that are deficient in tech and which make a real difference to the bottom line of the companies we work for – but without support, we will simply see that these skills are undervalued and, ourselves, feel undervalued – but undervalued things are often great investments in the long run, and this wisdom has applications beyond the stock market!

    So, how do I mesh this understanding of “women in tech” being a valuable label with inclusivity? Basically, I believe we need to first develop a greater understanding of what professional and technical skills and traits are valued for all professions in tech, which are valued for men in tech, and which are valued for women in tech. Right now, we conflate the first two categories – which is why women are e.g. told to negotiate salaries just like men, even though the research shows women get backlash after starting their new roles that men do not, even if they get what they ask for. What if we told women to get a recruiter who will negotiate salary for them, and maybe even pushed tech culture to generally change so this is the norm and recruiters are judged largely on their salary negotiation skills? I bet many men wouldn’t mind not having to negotiate on their own behalf anymore! Or what if women knew that they might get less backlash in a new role if they can offer a communal benefit to justify their higher ask rather than a selfish one? Honestly, shouldn’t this be true for everyone – that others are more likely to give us things we want when it benefits the group and not just ourselves? Maybe all people should work at this tactic.

    Once we understand where we are – what is perceived as a valuable quality of a technical professional, a valuable quality of a man in tech, and a valuable quality of a woman in tech – then we can start talking about what we *should* be, as a profession. My guess is that we will naturally gravitate toward broader options for both men and women, and our expectations of male and female tech professionals will come into greater alignment. Gender bias is rarely something people want. If nothing else, it doesn’t make good business sense.

    So, I think the path to inclusivity isn’t by removing the separate analysis and support of women in tech – but rather, comes from adding the separate analysis for men in tech and removing advice that disproportionately benefits men from our general tech professional advice. That is the only way we can stop giving women advice that works for men but harms women, which often happens because we conflate “good for professionals in tech” with “good for men in tech”. We can then also call out the behaviors that are good for all professionals in tech, and realize when we are ignoring them because we are hung up on women being women and forgetting that they are focused on being professionals in the current context (e.g., the WiT events that give out… beauty supplies… as door prizes. WTF much?).

    Pardon the length; I found your article thought-provoking, and would be greatly interested in your reactions and thoughts to my perspective. Though I also recognize that you are likely a busy person and may not have time to respond ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

    • Hey Ethel,
      thanks very much for your reply. It was very interesting.
      I like that you have provided (almost?) the whole list of issues hiding under “women in tech”. What I am asking is, please can we use your bullet points to describe the problem instead of my gender?
      I can’t claim I’ve experienced all of those problems neither first nor second-hand (and someone in another comment called my ‘lucky’ because of that!) so they don’t all apply to me. By saying that, I am *not* saying that they don’t apply to lots of women and that they don’t deserve attention and solutions. I’m saying, when you chose a label based on something as generic as gender you’re doing yourself a disservice. Now, of course, that’s just my opinion on the tactical advances we should make to bring genuine inclusivity into the tech industry (and other places too).
      Tactically, I’d use your bullet points as headlines instead and leave gender out of it, thereby also inviting others affected by it to participate (and not creating groups with a woman-centric mono-culture (in which I suspect I personally would be absolutely uncomfortable as well))
      All the best!

      Like

  15. brandon says:

    “I want inclusivity, not exclusivity.” Nice and succinct. IMNSHO people need to focus more on what makes us the same instead of what makes us different. The us vs. them mentality needs to go, but it seems very deeply ingrained and we see it everywhere. Black vs. white, women vs. men, this team vs that team, this nation vs. that nation, this political belief vs that political belief … I understand that from an evolutionary perspective humans vs lions is a good thing but how do we move forward in times that are clearly beyond such simple classifications? Loved your spunk, spirit, and balls (metaphorically) for putting yourself out there. Thanks!

    Like

    • Humans versus lions – but also this group of humans versus that group of humans has been relevant to survival, sure.
      I’d love to point to _the thing that is the problem_. For example: we have a problem with communication, how can we solve that? If we break it down, we might notice that a specific group is more affected and we could tackle that first. Like when you decide to tackle a problem for one specific user group first. Spend 10% of your energy solving the problem for 90% of your “customers”. Fundamentally I think it would be great to solve the problem of exclusivity in the tech industry, but please don’t label the problem “women in tech”.
      Thanks for your comment, brandon! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  16. ๐Ÿ‘ says:

    This is such a breath of fresh air. As a not-a-Latino-in-Tech who grew weary of SWPL and MWPL SJWs trying to frame me as a victim for their own political ends and making my race an issue on the job, I’m really grateful that you wrote this.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Taylor Jacobson says:

    I don’t really understand the point of the article, and I think people are too quick to be congratulatory for indiscriminate irreverence (read: attention grabbing).

    My read is that this is a classic case of the Fundamental Attribution Error at work. We all tend to think that good things happen because we caused them, but bad things happen because of circumstances.

    Giving someone a label suggests that maybe they are part of a system or that some external force acted on them, thus reducing the ownership they have of their awesomeness. Well, the truth is: all of our lives are a result of internal and external forces.

    Like

    • Well, as a man, you’re entitled to your opinion. I’m pretty sure you do a good job, for a man.
      I also think you’ve interpreted something from this article that wasn’t my intention to convey – maybe that happens more for men than women?
      All jokes aside, I am not saying anything about whether I’m good or bad at my job, whether I am judged to be good or bad at my job – so I’m not sure where the “attention grabbing” comes in. Are you able to point to where you see that?

      Like

  18. Pingback: The move for gender diversity in Tech: Yay or Nay? - Techlator

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s