Recently there have been a glut of articles about how to resolve the women in tech “crisis”, all full of similar ideas. Unfortunately, a lot of their suggestions can only be implemented from a top-down, not a bottom-up, approach. I think tech is a great field, and there are many reasons to work in the field. So how can we make the atmosphere more inviting, encouraging, and tranquil so we can feel engaged all the time, and not just some of the time?
From a Young Age
– Get girls involved earlier: Girls Who Code is a group who is devoted to creating tech opportunities at even the elementary school level.
– Emphasize intelligence and abilities: A recent study found that girls as young as six stop thinking of themselves as people who are really smart, and instead as people who “try really hard”. 1 Part of that is how we educate them; we project our societal norms on them. We need to push beyond past precedent, and teach our girls that they are not “less than” their boy counterparts.
From the Top Down
If you are in a position of authority, there are a few consistent themes that all articles espouse for keeping women engaged and within the tech world. A lot of the suggestions out there are good ideas, but not something you can easily implement if you’re just part of the hoi poloi.
– Allow women to work from home: This sort of answers a few of the points I have raised before. It gives you more flexibility if you have a family, aides in the work life balance, and also diminishes potentially hostile interactions, thus increasing your cultural affinity.3 If you feel like you can talk to your boss about an alternative schedule (maybe one or two days from home), I recommend it. One downside: it can also strand you on an island, and that can be lonely.
– Make diversity a key priority, and have workshops on unconscious bias: This is something a lot of companies (ahem, Google) are now doing. The higher the initiative comes from within the company, the more the culture will shift around it.4
– Hire more women: Bringing in more women at a company will easily adjust the status quo. However, that’s easier said then done.
– Change the way you hire: Thought works, the company known as having the most women in tech approaches hiring differently. Instead of looking at degrees, they onboard people through a five week simulation of a real project.5 Once you’re hired, there are many opportunities to be trained in-house on different technologies, and lots of room for growth.
From Inside Yourself
– Join a support network: Join either online, in person, or both. A place where you can find like-minded individuals who can encourage you and help you along. It’s important that you be able to both speak and listen.
– Follow rad women in tech: I am still in the process of bulking up my group, but I love medium for this. There’s an entire category! A few people I love — Danielle Newnham (her post Women in Tech, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly has some great motivational suggestions) and Jenn Schiffer on twitter because she’s hysterical and satirical.
– Find a place at work where you can take a minute: Sometimes you need to just take a break and get yourself out of a situation to calm down. It’s always good to have a safe space where you can detach for a minute. At one job, we were right near a river, so I’d always walk down to the pedestrian bridge in the trees and enjoy the sun on my face. It made things better (and often calmed me down enough from saying something stupid).
– Find ways you can educate co-workers: This one is tough. Because I’m in a male dominated field, I often feel the need to suppress the aspect of “other”. However, I think a fair bit of tech bias is unconscious; the result of decades of past precedent. If you feel comfortable, when somebody says something “off”, you can try gently turning the subject around. “I think we’re on the same page here, let me clarify”, or “It really bothers me that you say this because it makes me feel undervalued. Does that make sense?” Of course, you cannot always use this approach, but I think you should try with a person at least once.
– Talk to somebody you can trust: Get feedback on what you’re feeling, and perhaps they can also provide insight from their point of view. Validation in the workplace helps.
– Mentor somebody else: Sometimes the best way you can reinforce your own views, is by helping others. Reach out to get back.
– Be kind to yourself: It’s easy to get discouraging and talking yourself down internally. Focus on the good aspects of what you do, and realize there is always room to learn.
– Let go: Things may never be as easy as being a man in tech. That’s why it’s important to realize that in the end, it is a job, part but not all of what defines you as a person. I am not saying stand for being belittled or marginalized (because you shouldn’t!), but some people will just be annoying or irksome.
One common suggestion these days is to use a “Lean In” approach to work, popularized by the book by Sheryl Sandberg, which covers a variety of different approaches. There are many components, but the core message is to be your own advocate, and keep pushing for equality. At least, that’s what I can glean from reviews and articles about the post (I haven’t read the book). If you’re interested, you can check out the website, leanin.org.
Whatever approach you decide to take, it’s definitely takes work, time, and patience. However, anything worthwhile takes work – and even outside of tech I have never had a job that was “perfect” (and I owned my own company). The key components of whatever approach you take I think revolves around people – scholarships, encouragement, mentorship, networking.6 So make sure to reach out and share with others!
Do you have any ideas for how to keep women engaged?
1: Young Girls are Less Likely to Believe Their Gender is Brilliant As They Age↩
2: The Lack of Women in Tech is More Than Just a Pipeline Problem↩
3: Want More Women Working in Tech? Let Them Stay Home↩
4: The Stats on Women in Tech Are Actually Getting Worse↩
5: Chicago’s ThoughtWorks Was Just Named the Top Company for Women in Tech↩
6: Women in Tech: What’s the Real Story?↩