I work in the technology department for a software as a service (SaaS) company. It’s based in an area that has a decent technology industry but nothing quite as mythological as San Francisco. What they do have in common, though, are similar problems that have permeated the industry. There seems to be no changing it in the immediate future.
I joined my company approximately a year after I graduated college, so my professional experience was limited in the first place. I’d briefly worked at a start-up prior to this job so I assumed that that hectic, non-traditional position prepared me enough for close to anything.
From the beginning of my orientation, which was cross-departmental, I noticed that the contingent of new hires in the tech department was overwhelmingly male, even down to the interns. I found myself trying to ‘fit into’ what seemed already like a boys’ club, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do and also I already felt like an imposter being there. But it already made me a bit uneasy, having to shift my behavior to better suit what was clearly going to be a male-dominated workplace. Nor did it help that out of the presentations done during our orientation, only two were done by women – none of which were ‘C-suite’ executives.
I’ve since been at my company for over two years and as I’ve spent more time there, I’ve noticed smaller things that slowly have added up to feel like true symptoms of the problem the tech industry has with women. And the thing that makes me feel as if I don’t know my workplace, my colleagues, or myself is that often times, these instances are small enough to make me doubt them. Some include a male senior leader only responding to a male colleague, even when the same message and idea had already been presented by myself and my female colleague – as if we weren’t authorities or informed enough for it to be taken seriously. There have also been the dozens of times that I’ve had different male colleagues mansplain something to me – whether about a project or something I’m already intimately familiar with. Or the multiple occasions myself or my female teammates are expected to organize the birthday activities for a colleague – and buy and serve the refreshments, as if anyone that happens to be a man is physically incapable of using a serving utensil. Another favorite was when a male colleague I’d only just met very clearly gave me an ‘elevator look’ at happy hour: you know the one, when a man looks you up and down to really and truly check you out. He later pulled me into a very awkward one-armed hug.
These are only a few examples of what I’ve dealt with during my day to day life at work. I’ve felt uncomfortable plenty more times than I can count and felt myself getting angrier because I’m swimming in this sea of men that see only themselves and their work as relevant. I understand the importance of the work that my company, my teams, and I do, please don’t misunderstand me – but also, what true significance are we bringing to the world through the code we write, the documents we edit, and the interfaces we design? How many lives did we save or people did we heal?
I know that that last sentiment will read as angry, dissatisfied, or misplaced but I think a huge reason that the technology industry has a problem with women is because men in the field cannot see past their work expertise – and therefore, their own experience. While that is a generalization, I do think that there is something about the work done in tech that lends to the people doing said work being unable to connect as fully with their reality around them. Everything lives in the cloud or is disrupting an industry or lives a digital life. Without that connection, and because so much of this focus is online and not in the real, tangible world, there’s a loss in human interaction and investment in actual problems – problems like having a diverse company, and not just meaning in shades of beige.
I feel fortunate that I have built close relationships with people at my company that value feminism, diversity, and social equality and justice as highly as I do and want to do something about it at work. Though the trouble is, we know that the work we want to do is going to take an immense change and massive buy-in across our company. Which, when we look at it, is still overwhelmingly white and male. How many times can we try to engage a population that historically speaking has everything to gain by existing?
With hope, our plan is to propose and implement a diversity and inclusion initiative that will be forming affinity groups for underrepresented groups at our organization. We’re hoping by carving out a space for individuals of those groups, we’ll build solidarity and community that will lead to positive monument in our professional setting. Most importantly, we want to be taken seriously and see that diversity is important to our colleagues. It seems wild that myself and my partner in this effort are doing this in the first place considering we’re two associate-level employees, but change starts from the ground up. And while we might not be building anything with code, we’re still hoping to disrupt something and create something better.
Author’s Note: I write only about my personal experience as a young able-bodied cisgender college educated caucasian woman and do not presume to speak for all women in tech nor all women at my company. These situations, encounters, and observations are specific to me and my own reaction and perception to them.