Estimated Reading: 6 minutes
When we asked professional ladies of tech to tell us about what it’s been like working in the industry last month, it was clear that sexism was being faced by the majority of these women. Coupling that insight with an overwhelming wealth of research, I was able to show that systemic discrimination against women does still exist in the tech and infosec worlds.
Luckily, there are lots of signals that show this is a shifting tide and that my fellow lady geeks are being more readily accepted than they were even a decade ago. Many of the women surveyed believe that encouraging girls who are interested in STEM will be the ultimate antidote to the sexism that’s still clinging to the industry. A respondent that founded and directs the creative department of a respected video game dev company had this to say:
“The future looks good….IF……..young girls are engaged at a young age like boys. High School and adulthood are stop gap measures. To change the culture we need to start in the nursery. And that means getting little girls gaming and exposed to tech as early as possible. Geeks become engineers…..gamers become game devs.”
Because I had my own experience with sexism stalling my entry into the tech field, I felt compelled to do something for the kids. I’ve compiled the advice given to girls from those filling out our questionnaire in order to help strengthen the next generation of programming wizards, badass security superheroes, network whizzes, hip hackers, and dev superstars!
1. Don’t assume you won’t fit in.
Although it’s happening less these days than before, girls are still being subtly coached to prefer things that are stereotypically referred to as feminine, and discouraged from those that are “masculine.” Unfortunately, topics that fall under the STEM umbrella are traditionally considered better suited for boys.
As these things get internalized and puberty sets in, it’s common for us girls to shy away from considering careers that might make us feel like an anomaly. This is worsened if our parents or mentors are also trying to steer our interests in a more “ladylike” direction.
“Never tell your daughter she shouldn’t do something in the STEM field because she’s ‘better at English’ or ‘should do something more creative.’ Be proud of her that she has interests and a focus. Don’t talk her out of something worthwhile because you can’t see a woman succeeding in that career.” – Security Analyst
“Parents, back your girls up. It’s not unfeminine to be a techie. I still polish my nails, I still dress feminine (except when I’m crawling around floors fixing networks) and it’s actually very profitable to be in this industry (especially security) if you plan on making your own way.” – Debbie Mahler, CEO & Owner of Internet Tech Specialists
Do not let this stop you! Believe me, you’ll find your people. I say this as someone who has always been “the weird girl.” I thought I would never fit in anywhere, but when I went to my first hacker convention that idea changed. I realized I’d never felt more like I could be my true, unedited self with complete strangers up til then and still haven’t!
Erin, head of our design team (and proud geek), points out that everyone feels like they’re an outcast at some point in their life. But the key to “fitting in,” is to be your own individual brand of human. Just be sure to “rock it and own it!” Meg, our digital marketing maven, echoed this sentiment: “Everyone doubts themselves and gets anxious about new things.”
Which leads us to…
2. If you love something, go after it.
Those of us ladies who were naturally interested in STEM from a young age might have found that we weren’t as readily mentored or urged to continue our studies like our male classmates. We were often stuck trying to piece together whatever bits of information we had available to us at the time. Does this sound familiar? (I hope not!)
We grow up, figure things out, and finally find ourselves in a promising tech career track… Only to then realize we have to work even harder – again – to gain the same recognition and respect as our male colleagues!
Damn! Is it really worth it?
You will have to work twice as hard to prove that you know what you’re talking about, but don’t be afraid of that. It can be a very rewarding field and you’ll have fun. If you’re not having a little fun every day, find another job! – Security Analyst
It is a great career and once you have the respect of your colleagues and peers they will value you and in some cases hold you in higher regard to your other colleagues. Don’t let people put you off or tell you, you can’t do something based on gender. – Infosec Manager
An app developer pointed out that a lot of interviews in this industry are done at a whiteboard: “Your passion, sparkle in your eyes, and good technical skills PLUS [your] ability to think and frame things uniquely will sell you as the top choice.” I encourage you to invite these tests of your mad skillz with your chest and head up high. Allow your talent to shine through any external representation of gender. Wow them with your mind, girl!
You can also seek out mentors and friends on your own. There’s tons of coding mentor programs out there just for girls! If there are people in the industry that you admire, follow their work and send them a message asking for advice. It might be awkward at first, but I’ll bet that once you step outside your comfort zone you’ll be surprised at just how capable you really are! Ashley, our Director of Production & Creative Development, suggests finding a buddy.
“You know how people get Gym Buddies, a friend to help hold them accountable by going to the gym together? You could have a Goal Achieving Buddy. You help each other step out of your comfort zones to try new things that will help you achieve your goals. Or maybe a Try New Things buddy to explore things you might not have considered. You might end up finding a new passion!”
3. Recognize victories as often as you recognize bugs.
One respondent said that this was the best piece of advice ever given to her over the course of her game development career. This attitude can help you combat cynicism and decrease the number of days you would rather be doing anything else. Ashley explained it the following way:
Too often people, and I find that especially women, create insurmountable or seemingly unreachable goals for ourselves. We say “I want to become a published author” or “I want to lose 100 pounds” or “I want to learn PHP.” Those are all great goals but because they are so BIG they can seem really daunting, and as we start to climb the mountain of our aspirations, we tend to punish ourselves for any missteps. There will be little stumbles and failures along the way, but we can’t let those things discourage us. Celebrate every small step forward.
You know how people always say you should look for the forest through the trees? I say, for the big important goals, you should look for the trees through the forest. A forest is big and scary, full of darkness, creatures, spiderwebs, etc. And you won’t want to enter the forest at all. But if you just look at the first tree — buying “PHP for Dummies”, or signing up for a healthy eating Pinterest board — then it’s not so daunting. And you should pat yourself on the back for that first step. Then look at the next tree. Maybe you join a local programming meetup group. Maybe you sign up for a computer class at school. Take your big goal and break it down into smaller, actionable and reachable goals, and check them off your list to see all of the progress you’re making. Before you know it, you’ll be halfway into that forest and realize it wasn’t so scary after all.
4. Just do it.
Almost every respondent said these exact words or similar. Just do it! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Erin adds, “Dive in. Do scary things. Fake it ’til you make it. It works I promise and when you come out the other side you will be so glad you did.”
While there are still several milestones ahead for us to conquer, several respondents sounded optimistic about the way things are going nowadays in the industry in spite of adversity.
Since I’ve entered this career field, I’ve noticed a lot more women joining. The more women who come in, the more “normal” it will feel for everyone so they won’t have to put up with the stuff I’ve had to. – Security Analyst
I feel like more women are starting to cultivate an interest in this industry and as we gain momentum and” prove” ourselves we will hopefully see a shift. I think it starts with mentoring, and building up our confidence. – Security Analyst
I think the future has become wide open now for women in tech. I haven’t experienced any gender bias in about the last 4 years now. But I’ve also established myself – finally – in the field. – Debbie Mahler, CEO & Owner of Internet Tech Specialists
There seems to be a consensus here that the answer to solving this problem is to get more women interested in a career in tech. So get out there and go for it! Help us shift the paradigm by indulging in your “geeky” side, and show other women that it’s perfectly fine for us to be present, heard, and respected.
I leave you with this quote from Christina, a Quality Engineer:
“To girls: Go for anything you love and let no barrier stand in your path.”
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