The Perks and Pitfalls of Being a Woman in Tech
If you’re a woman in the tech industry, chances are you have a good story about how you decided to stick with it. A lot of us share a similar narrative: working in the tech industry is interesting and challenging, but due to unfortunate biases in the field, it can also be a struggle. As female members of the technology industry, we have certainly been through good times and bad trying to make a career out of our passions.
As with any good story, there are thematic ups and downs that help the protagonist become who they were meant to be. The same can be said in the tech industry. It is important to anticipate them, and be ready to learn from them. That being said, here are the perks and pitfalls that you will probably face as a woman in technology.
Perk #1: You will work on interesting problems
“It’s not easy to be a pioneer -- but oh, is it fascinating!” - Elizabeth Blackwell
The tech industry is chock full of problems and problem solvers working on everything from fashion to robotics to transportation to social media to manufacturing. The world is your oyster, and whatever you decide to focus on, you can find and build solutions for what you’re interested in! Take Dremel, for example. As Dremel Makers, we both get to experiment with 3D Modeling and graphics software, come up with programs to automate how we build and work, and then have fun and useful products at the other end of it. At every end of the spectrum, from Dremel designing, building, and producing their machines, all the way to when said machines are in our hands and being used, technologists have touched every part of the process. It’s exciting, it’s ever-changing, and you get to continually learn new things and apply them every day.
Pitfall: There is still a major diversity problem
“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” - Helen Keller
As great as this industry is for women to explore, there are not a lot of women in it. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), in 2017, 26% of the computing workforce were women, and less than 10% were women of color. Unfortunately, since the late 80s, this number has gotten worse over time. And even worse still, the numbers get worse as you look higher in the ranks at companies and at leadership positions. These numbers come from a variety of reasons, including bias in the classroom and the workplace, old practices of men hiring men that they know, and societal rhetoric about how a programmer is “supposed” to look. Both of us have experienced plenty of circumstances and events that made it tempting for us to leave the industry. But, you can’t let the numbers deter you! This work is interesting and necessary for the world to move forward. Find a community of like-minded people, and use them to help and support each other, and they will do the same for you! That being said, our next point...
Perk 2: You get to be a mentor
“When you succeed, don’t forget the responsibility of making somebody else succeed with you.” - Antonia Novello
Because there aren’t many of us, finding a community for women in tech can be difficult. But, we have the internet! Like never before, there are groups like Women Who Code, Tech Ladies, Ladies Storm Hackathons, Black Girls Code, Lesbians Who Tech, Systers, Latinas in Computing, Girls Who Code… the list goes on and on, and these groups are perfect for finding a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a partner, or even a job. As you get deeper into this industry, it’s important to lift as you climb. Help other women be successful, and your community will have your back when you need them. The result is beautiful friendships, stronger products, and a better looking future for everyone.
Pitfall: You have to be good
“What we find is that if you have a goal that is very, very far out, and you approach it in little steps, you start to get there faster. Your mind opens up to the possibilities.” - Mae Jemison
In a technical team, company, or group, there’s a strong chance that you’ll be one of very few non-men on your team. Depending on the culture of the company, this will either not affect you at all, or it can be pretty lonely. And, also depending on where you work, you’ll either be able to work business as usual, or, more commonly, you’ll have to prove yourself and your skills. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and might not be in the “pitfall” category. Being forced to push yourself can help you better understand topics and build projects. That being said, it can be tiring to have to prove yourself day in and day out to (most often) men who have biases that tell them women aren’t as good. Both of us have experienced this a lot after giving tech talks, teaching classes, and leading meetings. Being questioned can be frustrating, but know that your skills can speak for themselves, and that’s what matters!
Perk 3: It is a worthwhile uphill battle
“These were moments of exhilaration and ecstasy! A glimpse of this wonder can be the reward of a lifetime. Could it be that excitement and ennobling feelings like these have kept us scientists marching forward forever?” - Chien-Shiung Wu
Being able to build something, whether it be making a project, coding a program, or solving a tough problem, is one of the best feelings in the world. Being in this industry is like being a superhero. You can build nearly anything, after learning and understanding the tools at your disposal (and these can be physical tools, like Dremel saws, or mental ones, like logical thinking and language processing). The satisfaction of knowing that you’ve overcome learning and societal hurdles as you create something is one that can’t be beat!
All this being said, maybe being a woman in tech is for you. You being here represents courage and hard work. Most importantly, regardless of a good or bad workday, you are paving the way for future engineers, makers, and innovators!
Now, go create something!