What’s it like being a woman working in tech?

I’ve worked in the tech industries and with techie people for the whole of my working life and this is the first time I’ve really considered sharing my experience. 

I love maths, problem-solving, getting things working, making things. I love a starting with a challenge, thinking big with others to figure out a design, working out the core functionality, getting excited about what this thing might do, and then getting stuck into the practicalities of actually making it happen. Evolving ideas, questioning the dream against the practical, testing whether it works. Then the thrill of seeing the finished product. 

For me, the thing that tech gives me is the ability to have a go and make something. Test it out, see if it works and if it doesn’t either go away and figure out if it could be possible, or tap into my creativity and find another way. 

In the early part of my career being in the minority was something I relished. I was proud to be the only girl taking further maths a-level, and one of two girls (with 20+ guys) in my physics class. It meant I got to know the guys well. 

There was a practical element to this too – I’d always been a bit of a tomboy – playing football, climbing trees, getting dirty. But during my early teenage years, I’d found that girls were super bitchy. Girls would be nice to your face and then talk about you behind your back. Boys just seemed so much more simple and straight forward – so as I moved into 6th form, many of my mates were boys and doing science and maths fit pretty well with that. 

I held this approach through most of university and into my career. I had female friends, but I preferred to hang around with guys. So being in a male-dominated engineering company fit me quite well as my first job. When I was first promoted into a management role I remember looking around the other managers in the company and being proud to be one of the few women to have reached such a position and feeling pretty comfortable being there. 

The turning point for me came around the time I discovered coaching. I went on a course to learn to coach and we did an amazing exercise where we looked at a photo of us as a child and described the child we were seeing and all the things we would want for that child when she grew up. 

What was interesting was that I talked about girliness a lot. Whilst I’d been a tomboy as a child I had also loved playing with dolls, getting dressed up, reading fairy tales. Things that I’d now shunned because they weren’t practical and didn’t fit in the male-dominated world I’d lived in. 

That one conversation started to unpick the way I saw my life and I realised I’d been living the way I thought I needed to in order to fit in. I wasn’t being the whole of me – and that was holding me back. I had created a life of structure and analysis, where everything needed to be logical. In the process, I’d also lost my connection to my creativity. 

It wasn’t that my logical, analytical side wasn’t an important part of me – it’s just that it was out of balance and as a result I had lost the connection with the creative, imaginative, free-flowing part.

It was around that time when I started to notice the male-dominated environment more. In many of the meetings I attended I was the only female, and when those meetings were making decisions, for example about where to invest money, I realised that those decisions were more likely to lead to investment in tech that men understood.

This increased awareness meant I started to think differently and realise that I brought a different perspective to discussions. Slowly, as my confidence grew, I was less in the background and more willing to speak out. I wasn’t always listened to – but I don’t feel that was just because I was female – I also had to learn how to use my voice. This was a really important part of my development into a leader. 

As my career has progressed further I’ve moved more into roles where I am guiding and mentoring the people I work with. Whether that’s in creating a business from their tech, how to become a leader in their tech field or even how to interact with others in different disciplines to build inclusive teams, all of these need a balance of male and female traits. 

Of course, when providing this sort of support in tech, the majority of people I’ve worked with are male, but I have also worked with a good number of women too. These women have really deepened my own reflection and understanding of what the tech industries need. 

With a little support, many of these women have gone on to become strong leaders themselves. Once they reconnect with who they are and become comfortable with the idea that it is ok to bring female energy into the tech world (in fact, the tech world is screaming out for it), once they have tapped into the confidence they need to go out and share their skills and share their message, they have stepped up and made a difference, and really start to be noticed. 

It takes a leap of faith to be different. The tech world has been created by men, and the male structures have been reinforced. But in a world that is accelerating so fast, a world where businesses need innovation and creativity to stay alive, female leaders are needed more than ever to bring these different ideas and approaches.  

Where do I fit into this now? Well, my mission is to help those female leaders stay connected to their truth. To help them to have and maintain the confidence and belief in themselves so that they instead of adapting to fit in, they know that they have the most impact when they stand out. 

Photo by Noah Näf on Unsplash