I once had a male boss tease me for organizing a “girls only” happy hour at our company. I looked him in the eye and said, “The next time you’re in a board meeting where it’s 9 women and you, let’s talk.”
To be honest, it’s exhausting being a woman in tech, and even more marginalizing to be a mother in tech. I imagine it’s exhausting being a woman in a lot of industries, but this is the one I know. I have heard women council female presenters at conferences to downplay their femininity on stage (“Pull your hair back and wear modest, dark clothes”) in order to be taken seriously. I have heard women advised to never mention their family in a job interview for fear of being seen as less dedicated than other candidates.
I understand the desire of these women to just survive the experiences and be recognized for their work, not their gender. It’s for this reason you’ll see articles like “Why I’m Not a Woman in Tech.”
I share the frustration, but not the approach.
I AM a woman in tech, and I consider it my responsibility to help pave the way for future female techies. Removing gender from the conversation will not get more women onto board seats. Pretending it was easy to have children and go back to work (after a 3-month unpaid leave, obvi) will not get us any closer to universal paid parental leave. Only by addressing the problem head on will we make progress.
My personal means of smashing that ceiling is by being genuine, which, by the way, is something I worked for years on. A workshop by the author of this book was instrumental in transforming how I relate to coworkers. Now, I am unabashedly a working mom. I do it on purpose. I consciously bring my “whole self” to work, partly because that’s just who I am (now). But there’s a more intentional reason, too.
There’s a younger female colleague in my office who reminds me a lot of me ten years ago. I want her to know that if one day she wants to have kids and also wants to continue her career, that she can make it work. In our current environment, I’m not sure I believe that women can “have it all,” despite a desire and willingness to Lean In. But I never want my colleague to question if she can be a #girlboss and a mom. I want her to have the confidence that she can do it, even if it’s really damn hard, because she’s seen it done. Just seeing someone walk the path is so powerful.
I had a great conversation with my mom a few weeks ago. She asked me why I thought there aren’t all that many women in technology. I said that there are challenges at every level. In recent years, a wealth of active communities and support by women, for women in technology have formed. Two of my favorites are Moms in Tech and Women in Product.
It starts with role models for young girls, though. It starts with books that tell you that science and math are things girls like. It starts with having a woman in tech in your own community, your own family.
It’s for that reason that I have pictures of my kids on my desk, and I don’t hide the fact that I have child-related responsibilities that sometimes require me to offset my hours. I’m incredibly lucky to work for a company that values their employees’ happiness and recognizes the juggling act of working parents. I don’t discount that at all, and I know that many businesses aren’t this progressive.
I recognize that privilege and I use it to make as much progress as I can. To show my boys that it’s normal for a woman to succeed as a leader at a tech startup. To make space at the table for future female colleagues.
Come on over, ladies. I saved this seat just for you.