The experience of being a woman working in tech is sometimes challenging.
Tech is a world created and dominated by men, so there is less openness to the struggles women face and less flexibility in the system.
Being in the minority, it can be hard to find others like us to share our stories with, and so many of us suffer alone, thinking that we are unique in our challenges.
This blog post shares stories from women working in tech about their experiences – both positive and negative, to help other women start to see that they aren’t alone and that many of us are facing similar challenges.
These challenges aren’t intended to be whines or moans, they are an attempt to share experiences and perspectives with the aim of learning from them.
It will hopefully also start to help others understand what it means to be a woman working in tech, and start to shift the way that the tech world is structured to make it more supportive of women.
What's Great About Being A woman In Tech
I Was Already Visible
One of the things that was great about being the only female in my group was that I got asked to do demonstrations of tech for customers.
Working in Image Processing, our tech was quite easy to showcase so we were regularly on the demo trail. The graduates and younger engineers were often the ones leaned on to do the demos, especially if they had people skills, and in a male-dominated company, being a woman gave me an added advantage.
I must have demoed our Video Motion Anomaly Detector to hundreds of customers. The most impressive was Prince Andrew for the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
I didn’t recognise it at the time, but it was a great way to raise my profile. The MD and other directors knew who I was and what I did. Over time I learnt to get better at selling the applications of the tech, and talk about its benefits.
I’m sure this is part of the reason why I ended up on the company Entrepreneurial Development Programme, which led to me becoming a manager after just 3 years at the company.
I Was The One Making The First Impression
Being a woman and in sales roles within STEM I was often asked to head up front end discussions with customers and suppliers. It was deemed as a more a ‘hospitality task’ that the newest and less experienced female member of the team could take care of whilst they wanted to get into the ‘real’ work like selling and negotiations.
What my male colleagues failed to realise, was that unless we took the time to build our relationships then we were never going build enough rapport to progress to the opportunity to pitch our offering.
It turned out I was quite good at building rapport and showing empathy, so our customer base naturally migrated to me, they asked me to be present in meetings and valued my opinion. I was getting visible being asked to speak at conferences and represent the business it was helping me build my profile which was only going to be of benefit to me in the future.
My confidence grew and I started to hone my skill and before I knew it, I was being encouraged by senior management to create revenues for the business, showing the path and proven way to get customer engagement and landing a huge promotion to run a team that looked after that very task that was dismissed in the beginning.
I turned a perceived negative task into a competitive advantage, and it felt satisfying and fulfilling even if some of my male colleagues still felt they had ‘thrown me a bone’ I knew I could make an impact to customers in a way they couldn’t see and that was more important to me.
Let's Talk About Emotions (or not!)
Emotion Expresses Passion
When people say you’re quite emotional, I would ask them to reframe it as passion, especially when I believe in something that needs to be pushed and backed – I am all in 100% that’s me!
It seems to be a strength that I am labelled for but also the strength became a weakness especially in the view of senior male management in a STEM environment.
I felt as a woman in a male dominated environment. I had a tight rope to walk that my male colleagues didn’t need to worry about. If I was passionate, I was too emotional and if I was quiet and stoic then I was being arsy.
The anxiety around how much level of passion was allowed to come out just grew and the label that the male senior management team gave me stuck firm and I found no matter how hard I tried any rise of passion or show of positive animation would be labelled as ‘too emotional’.
This came to a head where there was an opportunity to lead a new team that I had spent 2 years cultivating, researching and developing yet because of the labels I was given this was awarded to a male colleague who had no experience in this area at all. I had to watch my hard work being handed over and pulled apart in front of my eyes.
I was gutted, I felt ashamed and my self-esteem was rock bottom, needless to say emotions were high!
I spoke to HR who just sat on the fence, my manager who said my emotions were the problem and the male colleague who had been given the opportunity on a golden plate was trying to ‘coach me’ into where I went wrong.
I was the most qualified for the job and I then had to sit and watch him bumble through it all whilst being told by senior management if he was struggling then they expected me to step in and carry him. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
I made the decision at that point that my passion, energy and emotion could be best placed somewhere else where it could be put to good use and harnessed rather than being asked to politely be suppressed.
I was able to secure an opportunity where I was the standout candidate not just because of my CV but specifically because of the passion, drive, tenacity and energy that I displayed. NOT emotion – that word was never mentioned.
What one male dominated company could not see as a benefit another one, that incidentally had a higher balance of women, employed saw it as their competitive advantage.
Emotion Contains Valuable Information
I’ve always been emotional. I can hold it in for a while, but the more I do, the more I explode later.
I’ve sat in meetings, so frustrated with how they are going and how no-one seems to be listening, and had to walk out in tears. I was always told this was unprofessional and felt bad about it, until a particular event.
I and my colleagues were at a strategy away day with our boss, sitting round the table discussing what we should be doing to help our staff. It was so clear that my boss wasn’t listening. He wanted an easy answer so he could tick a box and leave us to do the rest. But it wasn’t going to be that easy.
I could feel myself getting angry and frustrated and in the end I exploded. I have no idea what I said, but I had to walk out to get some space and recover.
My boss called a break to the meeting, and my colleagues came to find me. What I discovered was that I had expressed their anger and frustrations too. I found out that I was the one who had expressed what everyone was thinking. It was like the emotion had been channelled through me.
When we reconvened the discussion did change. I didn’t have much involvement as I was still reeling from the emotion, but my outburst somehow released a valve that encouraged others to express themselves.
I’d like to say that it all changed from there. It didn’t. My boss didn’t get me, despite plenty of follow-up conversations. I still got emotional. But that support from my colleagues made the difference which helped me get better at expressing myself despite the emotions. Instead of dismissing what came up when I felt emotional, I realised that there was value in what I had to say.
Bullied Into Promotions?
One of the people I managed had decided he deserved a promotion.
We’d discussed it several times and I had sought out others perspectives too. He wasn’t ready. While he was achieving some great results in his current role, there was more that he had to demonstrate before demonstrating he met the competencies of the next grade.
One of the biggest issues were his communication skills. He didn’t listen and tended to push for his own way, something he demonstrated well in our discussions.
I don’t know how many times we met, but as time went on I began to dread those meetings. It was only when sharing what was going on with a coach that I realised I was feeling bullied:
- He was pushing and pushing and pushing to get his way.
- He was questioning my authority.
- He was questioning my methods.
- He was going behind my back to others.
It started to feel personal and I just felt drained.
In the end it was proposed that he move to another manager. I didn’t like the feeling that I’d given up, but the idea of not having to deal with him anymore was compelling. So I allowed him to move.
At the time I took this as a sleight on my management skills, my resilience, and also had some assumptions about him pushing me harder because I was a woman.
This might have been true – I never compared notes with the other manager, but he didn’t get his promotion through the other manager either.