I’ve been working in the tech industry since 2012. I know, I know, not a lot of time, but across 4 companies, 2 roles, 2 major cities and an engineering degree, here are three things that have stood out to me being a female in tech.
The right mentor changes everything.
In high school I had a physics teacher, Mr. Herman, that I was particularly drawn to given his corny sense of humor and dad jokes. When he suggested that I take his intro to engineering class in 11th grade I was hesitant —but with Mr. Herman’s encouragement, and again the corny jokes, I agreed to take the class.
The thing I remember most was that out of 20+ students, I was the only girl. And according to the National Girls Collaborative Project that’s fairly normal:
In 2016 male students were more likely than female students to take engineering (3% versus 1%) and computer science courses (7% versus 4%) and enrolled in AP computer science A at a much higher rate (81% males; 19% females).
I was also really short (still am), and the boys in the class used to mess with me by putting my projects on the top shelf so I couldn’t reach them, or groaning when they were paired with me on a project. But I also remember Mr. Herman coming to my defense every time, and using his humor to keep the class fun and to keep my confidence up. I aced that class, and went on to attend one of the top 10 engineering colleges in the U.S.
Education and empathy can be powerful tools.
As I entered the tech workplace, a difficult lesson I learned was that discrimination against women can sometimes be unintentional. At a previous company I worked at, my design director organized a meeting and only invited the male team members. This could have been justified as a chance event, except for the “male-oriented” name (I’ll spare you the details) that the group self-appointed and posted on the conference room wall. I considered going to HR, but instead I confronted some of my male teammates directly and told them how it made me feel. To my surprise (and sadness) they had no idea of the impact that their actions had on me. We went on to have many deep, honest conversations about this incident, and I could see that there were no ill intentions. I believe that those team members are now more aware of when they could and should be more empathetic to others.
Diversity leads to better tech.
Today I’m a user experience designer at Google. I work with a team of engineers who write code and build some of the coolest applications we use today. But despite being at the most fun, innovative company I’ve ever worked at, my gender is still salient. Less than 32% of Google employees are female, and although this ratio is on par with a lot of tech companies, when you think about the fact that 49.6% of the world’s population is female, we have a ways to go.
And why is it important to have a workplace male-to-female ratio that reflects the world’s population? Because research shows that more diverse teams produce more successful products in tech. There are many examples of tech not recognizing darker skin tones potentially due to the homogeneity of the developing team’s skin tones. And decades of research have shown that socially diverse groups are more innovative than homogeneous groups.
It’s still early in my career and I have a lot to learn, but if I can leave you one piece of advice, it is this — harness your gender as a strength, not a weakness. Many times in your education and career, you may find yourself to be the only woman in the room. Use it to educate, inspire, and lead others. Make your presence know and don’t let anyone make you feel less than your worth. Women are already changing the future of tech, and I’m excited to see what happens next.