One of my latest posts about my choice to wear skirts at business meetings has triggered a lot of animated discussions among fellow IT female workers, from all over the world.
I have shared with my friends something that has happened to me just recently. I was having a work call, and at some point the guy talking to me felt the urge to explain every petty technical detail of our cooperation in such a humiliating way, like I knew nothing of the topic we were dealing with. Even though he knew perfectly that I have been working on such issues for years now, and that was the whole reason why we started our conversation in the first place. If you are not familiar with the concept of ‘mansplaining‘, please check out what the Prime Minister of Norway had to say at Davos about the way she had been ‘mansplained‘ in her career.
It came out that also the girls that read my post had similar stories to mine, and felt hurt by their co-workers and colleagues. I felt I needed to give these girls a space to express themselves, to tell their story. For two main reasons: to show everybody how the subtle or not that subtle prejudices fill the lives of working women every day. But most importantly, to tell these girls that they are not the only ones facing such injustices!
Here is a collection of stories of women in IT from different countries in the world that have agreed on sharing some episodes of their lives with me and with you all:
“It is definitely not a cake-walk for women in IT in India. If we go by sheer numbers, almost 57 percent of women in India take up the STEM courses in college. This is higher than most of the developed nations, US has only 4 percent. Almost 80 percent of these women in India leave the employment pipeline in junior to mid-level.
I was lucky to have a very supportive family and to have been offered a position in India’s tech giant. I thought I would have it different as people would be more open to women in tech and the HR policies regarding the commitment to women at the workplace seemed promising.
Three months into the job and the fog started clearing up slowly. I learned that I was paid almost half the salary than my male counterparts (I was the only woman in the team). This was a bit demotivating, a visit to the HR assured me that this is for now, and it will change when I “grow” in the company.
He also very casually mentioned that companies invest higher in men because women end up leaving jobs after marriage because “our husbands will be the bread-earners and women’s salary should be enough just as ‘pocket-money’“.
The hope of growing in the company remained a hope, even after 2 years on the job. I was passed off in two promotions, as there were always ‘few’ positions at a higher level. […] Also, my boss always found it ‘easier’ to travel with males to conferences, as ‘women are so much hassle’. I was also not sent for hackathons with other companies because in their 30s, a married man made a better impression of the company instead of an un-married woman.
How did I deal with this, especially after giving so much to the company? Post increasing their revenues by 40 percent in 3 years? Working even on the weekends as my male-counterparts had everything right in their profile but the skills?
A few sobs later, I applied to a different job. A different job on a different continent.”
“I think the main struggle for me has been to stay myself, to be taken seriously while being female, feminine, wearing make up, dresses and a lot of colour.
At first I envied my female colleagues at my previous company who were kind of manly – they seemed to blend in better and were taken as “buddies” in the men’s club. It felt I had to fight a lot harder to make myself heard and be taken in as equal. For about 6 months I wore only jeans and t-shirts and then gave up. If I was ever going to succeed being taken seriously, I was going to do it while being me. I think it was then when I finally got enough confidence and realised I do know what I’m talking about and I know when I’m right when things started to change and I was not seen as a “woman in IT” but a “respected colleague”.
Over time I have also realised that being underestimated at first can be a good thing.
I think a lot of girls/women don’t understand how to be in IT or don’t see enough female role models who show how to be a woman in IT without wearing suits or being a bitch. This is what I experienced. I almost left many times because I couldn’t figure it out until I did.
A few years ago I saw Tammy Hughes speak at a conference and I read her book she wrote with some other people, “Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business“. I think it’s a very good read for anyone who needs to work with the opposite gender and not only in IT. This book has helped me a lot.”
Isn’t it crazy to find out how people’s minds switch to the worst version of themselves once they know your gender? I have always wondered why we let ourselves be closed to a part of the world, and we deliberately avoid the chance of knowing more, feeling more, avoid the interaction with a group of human beings, just because! IT people will find this article extremely shocking, about GitHub codes and prejudices based on gender.
Nevertheless, I want to close this post with a glimpse of hope. I have one more story from a woman in IT, and it tells us that, somewhere, we are going in the right direction!
“My experience as a woman working in the IT world is a positive one. I have a background in engineering – which I tend to casually mention in the beginning of my business meetings. Although it is not an IT background, information about being an engineer builds a trust so that we can speak freely using technical terms – even if this is not entirely true… My knowledge of the system – the one that company I work with has created – is not unlimited, nevertheless I try to educate myself to be able to answers all the questions that arise during the meetings. Another thing that helps me in successful dealings with our partners is a naturally deep timbre of voice and a strong handshake at the beginning. With such a starting point, no dress, long hair or smile can spoil the professional conversation anymore. If a technical question arises, one I am not sure about, I simply write it down and promise to get back with the answer. And that is usually enough.”
I believe these are pretty strong stories, and written all together they create a tremendous impact on the reader. At least this is how I felt when I first read them one after the other.
What is your experience with IT and women? Thinking back to your life, do you feel you are bearing the same guilt somewhere along the road?
Instead, have you ever been judged for reasons beyond your expertise, merely because of gender? I am curious to read about your stories, feel free to share with us 🙂 Keep in mind that they have a great power: they will be able to help other people feeling less lonely in their life journey.