Women in Tech

I’ve come across a lot of articles recently on women in STEM fields.  I thought I would share some of them with you guys, along with some thoughts and observations of my own.

 

Another article showing the gender gap is smaller than we’re commonly led to believe.  As with all such articles, it only addresses the average salary per gender.  I’d be interested to see more about the standard deviation of salary by gender.  Personally, my performance reviews have always been stellar, yet I have never been paid above the average salary for my position and region.  A huge number of my friends are also high performers in the tech industry.  But the men are paid well above the average salary, and the women…not so.  But all of my data are anecdotal.  I’d be curious to see data on a better sampling.

 

Advice on what to wear.  I’ve recently become very interested in this issue.  It is unfortunate, but I have noticed that even when I am a known quantity among my coworkers, my knowledge and opinions are treated differently when I dress differently.  Generally:

  • If I dress in a way that makes me look younger, some people tend to forget that I have a decade and a half of experience backing me.
  • If I dress “cute”, a small but significant subset of people will essentially pat me on the head and move on as though I didn’t say anything of value….and then repeat exactly what I said within 5 minutes as though they just came up with it.  I also get inappropriate comments and once a guy who wound up with an obsessional delusion.  Whee.
  • If I dress “sexy” I am viewed as a woman with power, to be heard, but my technical skills are less respected.  And, I get a lot of looks, but fewer inappropriate comments to my face.  Judging by lunchroom chatter I’ve overheard, “sexy” women are comment on behind their backs instead, probably because they’re more intimidating.
  • If I dress in a geeky shirt and casual pants (jeans, corduroy, etc), my technical skills are unquestioned, but I am viewed as a powerless minion.
  • And then we have all my quirky personal preferences and predilections.  The most difficult one for me is finding something stylish and respectable that I can still run around and climb things in….because I will.  It just happens.

 

One woman’s explanation of why she left STEM.  My favorite part of this piece is not the story itself, but the detailing of what kinds of reactions were unhelpful and what were helpful.  Even if you have your own agenda that’s affected by what this woman does, there are good and bad ways to express that.  As always, the best way is to listen, think, express your understanding, and then express your own feelings, not as though they are a universal truth or a moral obligation, but as an “I” statement.  “I am sad that you wish to leave because I feel that the field is better with you in it, but I understand why you might want to leave.”

 

Another woman’s perspective on being surrounded by men.  While this perspective is foreign to my personality, I think it’s a very important one that a large number of women in tech experience.  Being different is hard for most people regardless of their gender.  Even when they’re being nice, a group of men may unconsciously view a woman as an outsider and act differently in her company merely because she is female.  They may even consider it a sign of respect, but it may make her uncomfortable all the same.

I admit that I am a weirdo and have a lot more trouble with the opposite problem: being assumed to belong to a group merely because of some superficial characteristic like having the same gender.  I have often shown up at a new tech venue and had women come up to me breaking the ice by pointing out that they are also women.  My inner response the first umpteen times was, “….and that is relevant to me how???”  But I have since come to understand this need that other people have to belong to a group is similar to my desire to connect with individuals, and I try to be less confused and more welcoming, attempting to find something in common that matters to both of us.  And while I’m not a proper extrovert, I make a mental note to try to help her find commonalities with some of the male coworkers/students/conference-goers/whatever.  I haven’t figured out how to fix the overall cultural issues surrounding gender in my field, but I can do my best to help the individuals around me to interact with each other in a less divisive way.

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