“For the first 25 years of my life, I always tried to be a ‘guy’s’ girl. And, if I’m being completely honest, I spent a lot of my time trash-talking other women. I’d see groups of girls on the street speaking in a certain tone and think to myself ‘Wow, they must be really vapid. I’d never want to be friends with them.’ I’d know nothing about these women other than that they put on makeup in the morning, and probably blow-dried their hair, and I’d already decided that we’d never be friends. Obviously, this was not the right way to think. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve formed some incredible female friendships, and I’m realizing where I went wrong. I wanted these women to be more like men.”
“During my first real-world experience as a woman in technology, I encountered a male manager who was more hesitant to trust my input or my code than my male teammate who was equally experienced. I hadn’t realized how strong the disparity was between men and women in this field until then. Unfortunately, because of this interaction, it took me a long time to build up my confidence in my role.”
“In my mind, it was better to act like a guy. This meant not spending too much time on my appearance, being brazen at parties, and hanging out to play video games. It also meant speaking my mind in class, applying for internships and jobs confidently, and arguing when I felt something was wrong. At an internship my senior year of college, one of my managers pulled me aside to tell me how confidently I came off. I was incredibly surprised—me? Confident? I didn’t think so. When I told my four male roommates about what happened, they immediately responded, ‘Seriously? You don’t think you’re confident? For a girl, you’re incredibly confident.’”
For a girl, you’re incredibly confident.
– Quotes from Ellie Miller and Kaylee McHugh
The experiences of women in the field of technology are as diverse as those above, but every woman I’ve known in my career in engineering shares some degree of a feeling of “otherness,” and they all at one point have been made to feel that they don’t belong or that their opinions have less weight.
As a man in a senior role in software engineering, I’ve seen this play out firsthand in various ways during my entire career, from an offhand comment in a sprint planning session that shoots down an idea (valid or not), to not being included in important business discussions, to an obvious exclusion from a social event. Software development has gone mainstream, and in recent years companies have struggled with “brogrammer” culture driving women away from the field.
In 2019, women with degrees in computer science make up less than 18% of all computer science degree holders. What’s even more concerning is the fact that women used to hold more than double that percentage back in 1984, when 37% of computer science degree holders identified as female. This is an alarming decrease in both the women graduating with these degrees as well as the percentage of women working in the technology industry.
So what can you do to help? I asked Ellie Miller and Kaylee McHugh of the Denver Open Technology Solutions (OTS) Practice to share some of their experiences and advice for other women, men in engineering, and senior male leaders such as myself on how to be inclusive.
If You Identify as Female and Work in the Technology Industry:
Don’t lose hope. Support your fellow female technology compatriots. When a woman is promoted, celebrate in her success because if there’s a spot for her, there’s going to be a spot for you too. She’s doing ground-breaking work and opening the door for more women to follow in her footsteps.
When you fail, don’t feel like you’ve proven the world right—that you weren’t capable of whatever you were attempting. It’s hard to recover and feel like you’ve regained your credibility in a professional environment. But you need to carry yourself with the confidence of an average Joe. Remember—you are here in this job because you were recruited for it. You advanced through the recruitment process because your interactions and aptitude tests indicated you are capable, smart, hard-working, talented, and qualified. Give yourself credit where credit is due—you worked hard to get where you are, so own your success. In the face of failure, remember these qualities about yourself. Remind yourself those qualities are innate within you and this failure will not deflate you.
If You Identify as Male and Work in the Technology Industry:
Help out your female counterparts. History indicates your voices are louder than ours. Men can be the biggest proponent for female equality—they currently have more power in leadership roles that can help boost women up to their level. We need you to be our amplifiers. Support our ideas, encourage us through our failures, help us unload the office dishwasher. You are the best support network we could ask for and we need your help to improve the current gender gap in the technology industry. Help us feel like we belong in this men’s club. Get to know us as individuals rather than assume we fit into the stereotypical “brogrammer” persona.
We can be killer programmers and enjoy knitting and watching The Bachelor after work hours. We can also be killer programmers and be wicked soccer players and love watching baseball on the weekends. Let’s break down barriers into the “boys’ club” and we’ll reciprocate with supporting your ideas, encouraging you through failures, and teaching you how to knit your holiday gifts on the side.
If You Are a Leader in Technology Industry Who Identifies as Female:
Keep groundbreaking. You are revolutionizing the technology industry with your work. Be a mentor to those who are looking at you thinking, “I want to be her.” Reach out to your male leader counterparts if you aren’t getting the support you need. We need you to keep crushing it and building the groundwork for all the women coming up behind you.
If You Are a Leader in the Technology Industry Who Identifies as Male:
Help support our innate leadership qualities as we climb the leadership ladder. We as women have very few female role models in the technology industry. This is one of the leading reasons why women in the technology industry are decreasing. Teach us and encourage us to be leaders in the technology industry so we can become female technology role models to the upcoming generation of female technologists. We are itching for a chance to sit at the C-suite level of technology companies, but we could use your advice and mentorship to achieve those goals. Help hone our leadership skills. We are less likely to approach you directly asking for that sort of advice, so be communicative with your subordinates and offer your support for future leaders.
If you see us sitting quietly in a discussion you know we’re passionate about, we need you to point the conversation to us. If you see us taking on too much responsibility because we’re too afraid of disappointing everyone, we need you to tell us that we don’t have to do more work than everyone else to be respected. We need you to show us that we’re in an environment where we won’t get attacked for speaking our minds and that our ideas won’t be tossed aside. And, if they do get tossed aside, we need to know you have our backs. And we need you to mean it.
Seeing More Women Shine
With these changes, little by little, we’ll start to see more women in technology shine. True equality is not something that happens overnight and it’s not something that can be decided in a memo or rammed into law. It happens within each of us with each decision we make. It’s not an attempt to force an erasure of differences, but an acceptance of them.