How to Survive as a Woman in the Tech Industry
“You can be successful even if there is an uneven playing field. If you don’t like something, you don’t have to accept it.” (source)
It seems like rarely a month goes by without a tech company being exposed for sexual harassment and unfair hiring practices. As such, it’s not much of a surprise to see why women and people of colour are leaving the tech industry in droves. Gender bias and cultural issues have created an extremely uneven playing field, and with the cards stacked so firmly against them, many women are left struggling to simply survive in the tech industry — much less actually thriving.
I won’t put the impetus for changing the tech industry’s environment on women, because we’re not the ones at fault. The problem isn’t women failing to put themselves forward, nor is it an empty pipeline.
The problem lies solely in the toxic, sexist, patriarchal culture that makes up the vast majority of the tech industry. Sometimes, “leaning in” simply doesn’t cut it.
However, if you are a woman who’s bending over backwards to make it in tech, I’d like to put forward a few ways to (hopefully) make life a little easier.
Find the Best Environment for Women in Tech
Even if you haven’t heard of “brogrammer” culture, you’ll likely recognize it on first glance. It’s a culture with low female-to-male ratios, where diversity is a joke. It’s an environment where casual and overt sexism flourish, “boys’ clubs” are encouraged, sexual harassment runs rampant — I could go on and on. While some women are able to survive in such places, the odds are piled against them.
To increase your chances of avoiding an environment like this, be vigilant when choosing potential companies to work for. Single out organizations with women in upper management. When interviewing, look for red flags that point to some of the problems I previously mentioned.
Scan the room during your job interview and note the female to male ratio. Tune in to the office chatter and listen for sexist, racist, or homo/transphobic remarks. Talk to the current female employees and ask them how women and other minorities are treated in the office. If everything seems golden, go for it. However, if you see any warning signs of a toxic work environment, look elsewhere.
Look for Allies
Once you have a job — or if you’re already entrenched in tech — it’s time to carefully choose your allies. You can kick this off by openly supporting other women in the tech industry. Mentor those who are just getting started in the field and ask for guidance from those who are veterans. There’s great strength in numbers. Having a support system is always helpful, especially when those people have an inherent knowledge of the issues you face.
Put together an informal group of allies and have get-togethers where you can talk freely about concerns, encourage each other when times get tough, and most importantly, pass along inside information on job openings and other opportunities.
Speak Up for Yourself (and Others)
If recent news has taught us anything, it’s that more and more women are refusing to sit silently while tech companies engage in horrifyingly sexist behaviours. If you see signs of inequality, sound the alarm. Are women in your company being paid less than male counterparts for the same work? Blow that whistle! Though some countries now have mandatory reporting when it comes to the gender pay gap, others (*cough*the U.S.*cough*) have a long way to go. Is casual sexism negatively affecting the well-being of women in tech? Shout it from the rooftops. Has sexual harassment reared its ugly head? Open up that can of worms and don’t close it until every one of those slimy suckers is long gone.
Of course, I can’t just tell you to go out there and start taking names without also pointing out the intrinsic risks associated with doing so. Speaking up can not only cost you your job, it can lead to some pretty serious hate coming from the opposing side. It’s a choice you should weigh carefully.
Ultimately, you should always put your own needs first. No matter how much you may love your job — and the STEM field in general — if it’s having a detrimental effect on both your physical and mental health, it’s time to take a break.
We all want to see a future in the tech industry that is supportive of all genders, races, orientations, nationalities, and abilities, but until it becomes a reality, we have to take care of ourselves. Hang in there, friends.