Why Am I Woman in Tech (when so many women aren’t)

Thanks mom and dad. Thanks for giving my brother and I equal time on our first computer in 1990. Thanks for buying Lego for both of us. Thanks for buying me little circuit boards and engines. Thanks for my education. Thanks for encouraging , nudging, pushing, shoving me to get a tech related degree (my mom is brilliant and could see the future was tech).

I was a 90s child, born in 1983, right on the GenX – Millenial cusp. I started college in 2001, graduated in 2006 with a combined bachelors and masters in computer science and software engineering, two years before the floor of women with CS degrees in 2008.

So why and how?

Instead of shielding me from technology and STEM, my parents encouraged and fostered a love for science and tech in me. From what I’ve read, this makes me somewhat unique as a 90s girl.

Secondly, I went to an all girls high school. How did four years in high school, void of formal interaction with guys, encourage me to enter a male dominated field? I learned that women can do anything and everything. Even if I didn’t feel like the smartest in my class (and I wasn’t) I saw how motivated and accomplished the other women in the school were. There was no gender bias to compete against for class president, no intimidation to take or not take upper level math classes, women ran the school. If you wanted peer tutoring for math, you could ask any of the other women you went to school with instead of relying on guys.

Once I got to college, some of it was luck. A floormate, 4 doors down, took a CS class in high school and planned to double major in math and computer science (just like me!). We quickly became inseparable college besties.
Having a friend to take classes with, discuss assignments with, do group projects with got me through. I could not have done it alone. Find a peer group to help and support you as you get your degree.

I struggled that first semester. I came in with no prior coding experience. Learning to think in code, in methods and functions, in variables and semicolons is hard. My lowest grade throughout college was that first CS100 class. You don’t have to be perfect to become extraordinary. After that rough start, I learned how to learn to code. I learned from my failures. I graduated as the “Outstanding Software Engineering Graduate” for my year. You can learn and you can do it. Don’t doubt yourself even if you feel behind at first.

Did I experience bias in my program from students and faculty – YES. I should be the “secretary” for our group project because I’m the woman joked a tenured professor (but his qualification that men and women have equal abilities made that prior statement “ok”). I didn’t let it stop me. I had friends I could rely on. I didn’t get my degree alone.

Once I started working I found a great company where I fit in, despite being the only woman software engineer on the team. My manager became my champion; encouraging me to speak up in meetings and asking me direct questions to include me in the conversation. For me the hardest part of starting my first job, with minimal experience, as the only woman developer, as a natural quiet introvert, was finding my voice to ask questions or suggest ideas that no one else mentioned. I did think about problems differently and that is extremely valuable, but it was hard to see that as my 23 year old self. Thankfully my workplace culture and managers encouraged me to speak up because they recognized the value it added to the team.

I had moved to a new state for my first job; my friends and family were across the Mississippi River, 1600 miles away. I worked hard to make friends at work and I did. You have to work to become peers and find ways to relate with your coworkers. You don’t need to be best friends with your coworkers, but you need to be able to speak with them as peers. Usually for me it’s talking about hiking, or skiing, or food – stuff I’m passionate about that nearly everyone else in Colorado is. A week after I started my company had their first soccer game in the city adult league; you bet that I said I would play (even if it had been 6 years since I last played). You will feel like you belong and combat imposter syndrome if you work to know your coworkers and work to belong.

If I can do it – so can you, so can your daughter, so can your sister, so can your friend, so can your girlfriend. Other than my persistence (stubbornness some might say) I am not unique, even that probably doesn’t make me that unique. It is an amazing career, especially if you have a family or want to have a family. There are limitless possibilities to what you can do once you learn to code. We need more women as part of the coding conversation to solve new and existing problems; especially those unique to women.

5 thoughts on “Why Am I Woman in Tech (when so many women aren’t)

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  1. Good Day,

    From what I understand in your post, the reason you went into ttech and other women did not is because of the exposure you received from early on? Therefore exposing more women early on in tech will improve amount of women representation in tech? Have I understood correctly?

    1. I believe that is the start. Often young girls aren’t given the same opportunities and exposure to math, science and tech. This is the start of the change; encouraging girls to learn and pursue STEM. The next phase is keeping women in tech fields. Because we are the minority it can be challenging to be heard in meetings and influence the direction of products and projects. This is where I think everyone needs to be more aware of their unconscious bias and also where women have to work extra hard to become friends/peers with their coworkers.

  2. What are your thoughts on research that has found that men and women generally differ in their vocational interests?
    Researchers Su, Rounds and Armstrong conducted the first comprehensive meta-analysis of differences in interests between men and women. The study looked at vocational interests which they defined as “the expression of personality in work, hobbies, recreational activities, and preferences”. They concluded the following: ” The present study, however, revealed substantial sex differences in vocational interests. The largest difference between men and women was found along the Things–People dimension, with men gravitated toward things-oriented careers and women gravitated toward people-oriented careers. (https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/47af/4a7e87267aba681fb6971590ec80effce0c3.pdf)

    Another study found that even amongst mathematically gifted individuals – men and women differed in their vocational interests. The Researchers said “This preference difference between men and women, which is also conspicuous in intellectually precocious samples, undoubtedly contributes to the preponderance of females with profound mathematical gifts who choose to become physicians rather than engineers and physical scientist”. (https://my.vanderbilt.edu/smpy/files/2013/01/DoingPsychScience2006.pdf)

    If men and women differ in interests then we should not expect equal outcomes in STEM right?

    1. I am not sure I agree with the conclusions in those studies. I believe their scientific methods to be the best they could be, but it is hard to decipher between nature or nurture when selecting careers. My belief is men are generally raised to be more things, experimentation, learning from failure oriented whereas women are raised to be more caring (they typically get the baby doll toys for a very basic example). Is it society that creates this difference versus some inherent difference in men and women? Also, the current lack of women in technical fields makes it hard for girls and young women to picture / imagine / see themselves in a technical role. Additionally it is challenging to excel in a career where you are the minority; in fact even women who start in a technical role leave it at a much higher percentage of men (and I don’t blame them, it is exhausting being the only woman in the room) http://anitab.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/retain-women-technologists.pdf

      It’s also important to remember that women were the first programmers and excelled at it. It is a great career for raising a family because of the flexibility it offers.

      Finally, if we agree with the premise of the studies you cited I’d still argue that we need more women in computer science and tech to provide insight into the more “people dimension” when writing software. Additionally more women entrepreneurs / founders in the technical space can innovate to solve new people problems. Women should not be left out as a critical data point in society and when developing/testing software – consider that crash test dummies and air bags where developed by men (and therefore for men) thus killing a disproportionate number of women. https://www.amazon.com/Invisible-Women-Data-World-Designed/dp/1419729071

      1. I think that is the heart of the issue – whether there are intrinsic differences between men and women.
        I will comment on two of your points to keep my response as short as possible.
        1. Social role theory, a view you seem to implicitly hold when you say that the socialization of men and women produces the differences in interests we observe. Social role predict that as society becomes more egalitarian than differences between the sexes will decline and disappear. But research in what is called the gender equality paradox has found the opposite – as societies become more egalitarian the sex differences increase across a number of different domains – personality, preferences, interest in STEM.

        2. If the lack of women in technical fields causes women in general to not see themselves excelling in that field – how do we explain that all fields started with very little women in them. In 1910 women earned 22% of psychology bachelors in the U.S. but within 20 years despite the lack of role models that number doubled and today women outnumber men in psychology bachelors earned. A number of fields which have achieved parity today started with low women in them. So how come they could overcome that but the inorganic STEM fields today cannot despite the fact that the interventions today are much larger.
        Lastly we have studies that show that claims about women needing role models to encourage them to pursue those fields can have unintended consequences.
        An abstract from one such study:
        “Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are labeled unfeminine, a costly social label that may discourage female students from pursuing these fields. Challenges to this stereotype include feminine STEM role models, but their counterstereotypic-yet-feminine success may actually be demotivating, particularly to young girls. Study 1 showed that feminine STEM role models reduced middle school girls’ current math interest, self-rated ability, and success expectations relative to gender-neutral STEM role models and depressed future plans to study math among STEM-disidentified girls.” https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1948550612440735

        So the claim that lack of role models although intuitively appealing in reality has not been demonstrated to be behind the low numbers of females in inorganic STEM fields.

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