I was asked recently, why I am inclined to bring my gender to the front when I talk about my work. They wondered if I felt that being a woman was a necessary identifying descriptor for me.
This made me realize that I should clarify my intentions and my point of view.
I haven’t always thought my gender was important to my professional identity. Ironically, my early career had me feel less a minority for my gender, and much more a minority for my age. I was always the youngest in everything I did (boy someone should warn a girl that status is fleeting!).
If I am honest with myself, I suspect I’m in tech expressly because it was mostly men. I have always enjoyed the experience of interacting with men. I’m guessing this has a lot to do with being raised by a single father. It also has to do with the way my early school experiences had me changing schools every year or two. Making new friends was a challenge for me, and after early middle school I found boys more welcoming of new members into their midst than girls. By high school I had more male than female friends. I enjoy the directness, lack of emotion and the general get-to-the-point working style that [most] men bring to solving problems. For all of the horror stories of the bad behavior of men in tech, and I have had some of those as well, the overwhelming majority of my experiences have been incredibly positive. Also,there is rarely a line in the women’s restroom. (So I got that goin for me, which is nice!)
I have had incredible support and encouragement from men I have worked for and with, throughout my career, and I have more positive than negative stories professionally by a large margin.
So why all the girl-power/feminism fuss now?
First, is the reality that women’s participation in tech is shrinking at a time when the need for technical proficiency is growing. As a mother of two girls, the lack of momentum for girls in STEM fields is top of mind.
Second, is the growing realization of the responsibility I have as a visible role model for others. This I find hard, but just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.
Women like Telle Whitney have had a lot to do with my changed perspective on why we need role models:
“...having role models is important for career development, and is an inspiration for women who might consider a different university of career path.
“If you don’t see anyone who looks like you, it’s harder to imagine yourself in that role“
I now feel a strong sense of obligation to be a visible role model for other women in technology. Women who are just entering their careers, and women who are wondering if they should consider putting their hand up for senior leadership. I am mindful of my ability to give back and I take that responsibility seriously.
When I’m on stage, I will often get comments from other women expressing gratitude for what I’m doing. With each comment, I realize even more how important this is.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to be part of the minority of women in tech must make it our personal responsibility for being visible role models for the next generation. If we do not, we are again erasing our contribution to this exciting and important profession. So the next time you are asked to join a panel, step up on stage or share with the next generation what you do for living — don’t let us down by telling yourself that you are not the person who should be on the stage taking charge.
If not you, who?
If you want to be part of the solution, if you want to see more women in powerful leadership roles in our industry, you have to be willing to do your part, even [especially] if it makes you uncomfortable.