Women in Technology

Design , Feminism , Technology / March 18, 2016

I got in really interesting debate with a co-worker last week, on International Women's Day no less, on the topic of lack of women in the tech industry. The spark of the discussion was Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant's article "Speaking While Female" which speaks to why women tend to stay quiet at work. This isn't isolated to just tech, but across multiple industries. The article is quite heartbreaking to me as women are often punished for speaking out while men are rewarded.

I have read horror story confessions of how strong and intelligent women have been treated in Silicon Valley. How do you fix the Catch-22 of encouraging women into technology, when 60% of women experience sexual harassment who work in the industry? This death by a thousand cuts is a very prevalent problem in any male dominated field including science and engineering. I overheard one of my science heroes last month, describe how she was told by a superior she would never be taken seriously because she was a woman, blond, and liked to laugh at her own jokes. An incredibly intelligent woman who left one of the most important space projects undertaken because she knew she would get nowhere. I see that as a huge loss for that project.

Stating that because Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer made it to executive positions marks the end of gender discrimination in the work place is like saying racism is over because we elected Barack Obama. We still have a long way to go. There is a wonderful New York Times article by Eileen Pollack on why women decide to stay out of tech. It really brings me back to the Catch-22.

I am incredibly grateful to be at a company where even though I am often the only woman in the meeting, the people I work with are open to my opinions and ideas. I have never felt insecure in speaking up with my peers, and I think a lot of it has to do with the safe environment they have created. But I also feel that I am in the minority and my experience is not the typical one.

So how do we begin to fix this disparity? Recruiters say they look for female talent, and want to fix the large gender difference in their company but can't find the talent to fill their needs. Encouraging women to apply for more jobs would be the first thing, but we also know women will undercut themselves and their skills. Sheryl's message of 'leaning in' still needs to sink in, and resonate. But once we DO get in the door we still need to be encouraged to speak up and given a seat at the table. We should all practice basic manners and not interrupt people (men or women) when they are talking. Giving a safe environment for women to express their opinions without getting shutdown, and steamrolled goes a long way. Lastly, there needs to be a cultural shift and we need to burn this sexist notion that women are pushy or bossy for speaking out. Right along with all the notions that women aren't as good at technology, math and science as men. I would like to burn the notion that women can't make great leaders, or that gender discrimination is a female issue. I want to burn all these outdated stereotypes. But not my bra. I am keeping that f*cker.

And now this: