Tips For How Women Can Survive And Thrive In A Male-Dominated Tech Industry
It was a late afternoon tweet from a female developer asking for support. She didn’t cite specifics; she didn’t need to. Her situation was understood by her sisterhood, and they responded.
Being a female in the tech industry is challenging. Women feel unheard, unrecognized. They earn less than their male counterparts when doing the same job and get brought into the company at lower grades even with the same credentials and work experience. Combined with long hours and minimal female representation at the top, women leave at more than twice the rate of men. And for women who depart, almost a quarter of them never return to the tech field.
So when Jax @HolaJackquie tweeted her need for any survival tips and desperately pleaded for a friend, she was heard and lifted. Some responders encouraged her to hang tight and believe in herself. Others provided steps for proactively building a workplace network that included mentors and sponsors of all genders.
Software developer Patricia Aas sent her “Survival Tips For Women In Tech,” a list of 24 suggestions for how to survive as a female developer. Aas wrote the list last year in response to another female developer who tweeted, “Who else is the only woman on their dev team?”
A consultant, speaker and trainer with TurtleSec, a company she co-founded, Aas said she was the only female developer for most of her career, and that she could have easily expanded the list from 24 to 50.
To survive, according to Aas, women need to find comfort in being themselves and protect to protect their work and emotional health. A few of her tips include,
- Don’t try to be one of the guys because you’ll never be able to bring your full self to work.
- Document all your work because it’s hard to steal credit for public work.
- If you have a great idea, make a demo because it’s hard to argue with running code.
- Don’t become like them because you won’t like yourself anymore.
- Leave functions early before your colleagues are drunk because neither you nor they want you to know their inner thoughts. (The recent article “How Women Are Taking On The Wild West Of Tech” referenced the drinking culture of tech and how uncomfortable it could be for women.)
When asked what other advice she could offer, Aas wrote that for women who find it hard to beat their drum (most of them), it would be useful to drop subtle hints and reminders about their experience and background. For example, “I had a similar problem when I worked at (big name corporation) seven years ago.” This example not only points out years of experience, but it also names a previous employer. Or, “I struggled to explain this in a paper I wrote in grad school,” reminds colleagues of their advanced degree.
“Both are subtle, humble brags,” said Aas, “but can help in reminding folks that you are more than qualified to talk about the subject.”
The 2016 update of “Women in Tech: The Facts,” a report produced by the National Center for Women in Technology, reports that while women held 57% of all professional occupations, they held only 25% computing occupations. Those numbers shrink even more when looking at women of color. For example, Latinas, Black and Asian women hold only 1%, 3% and 5%, respectively.
The 76-page report makes the business case for diversity in tech and provides information on implicit bias, institutional barriers to recruitment and retention as well as essential steps for creating change. The majority (white male) is not the enemy, the report emphasizes. We all make assumptions about others. For example, “not everyone identifies as male or female, so framing the conversation in these terms continues to significantly marginalize those individuals.”
The paradox is that women are encouraged to speak up and be seen, but when they do they are often viewed as bossy or aggressive. The best solution is helping all genders better understand ways of working and agree on rules of engagement around communications, feedback, collaboration, etc. Ultimately, we want to expand our network across all groups, rather than limit it to only people like ourselves.
Camille Stewart, senior policy advisor for Google, encourages women to proactively seek out a diverse set of mentors inside and outside the organization and industry, male and female, junior and senior. “The intersection and synthesis of all this advice can provide the insight needed,” she said.
Stewart, whose legal career began in-house at a tech company providing cyber threat intel has held a number of government and policy roles. She now focuses on global cybersecurity, national security and privacy issues.
Her best piece of advice is to value the power in a focused, brief exchange.
I’ve heard a lot of women voice hesitation with taking on formal and even informal mentorship roles because they feel like they don’t have the time to invest as they’d like. I have and continue to encourage women to embrace the concept of mentorship moments. Mentorship moments are taking opportunities to impart wisdom, provide feedback, share insight, promote or sponsor someone, share opportunities, etc. as a situation arises. There is no pressure for consistency, the women around you learn from you, and you may build an informal rapport that can grow naturally.
It takes time to identify and surround yourself with a support network, but that is an investment in yourself that will pay off. “I have taken to building strong peer mentorship/support networks where we amplify, sponsor and otherwise support each other in our career progression,” said Stewart.
Jax @Holajacquie tweeted the following day how overwhelmed and grateful she was by the support. It’s out there if you need it. All you have to do is ask.