We are women, not expensive men

Why the tech industry NEEDS women

Let me start by saying the tech industry is great for women. In fact, the tech industry NEEDS us. We, as women, offer to tech something that we are uniquely positioned to give.

The Tech community is investing a lot in us. The T in STEM is working extra hard to achieve gender balance. Why? If we take the old-fashioned feminist stance that women are just as good as men, then really what we’re saying is women are expensive men. Raising and recruiting women technologists is hard. So what justifies the cost? What’s really going on here?

Well, we must acknowledge that we have a lot of feminists amongst us, whether they identify that way or not. I’ve encountered misogyny in my career, but really, in conversations with other women, I realize that as a technologist, I’m insulated in a little feminist bubble. Tech dudes, by and large, are pretty awesome that way. So there is a good amount of support coming from nice people that simply feel that women should have a greater role in tech. Thanks, guys!

But there is also a deeper reason tech NEEDS women. Here it is:

R&D, Research and development, listening and doing, creative and problem solving… Technology development is both feminine and masculine. An overly masculine tech company writes lots of software that customers don’t like to use. An overly feminine tech company generates wonderful ideas that people love, but there’s no follow-through.

Here are some common complaints in an overly-masculine tech company:

  • We know the stuff we built sucks, but we don’t really know why.
  • Our stuff is ugly, but we don’t have any designers. At least it works.
  • We talk to customers all the time, but none of us are really solution people.
  • It doesn’t matter what we build, customers are never satisfied anyway.
  • Our roadmap is so full of one-off customer requests that we don’t have time to innovate.
  • We have to constantly release new products and features that way Sales has something to talk about.

Many CTOs are aware of these symptoms, and they have observed or read about the qualities of more successful R&D organizations. For the most part, though, they and their books fail to identify the genesis of those positive qualities. They see the end result, they can list the attributes of good company culture, but they don’t know how to get there. Soft talents are grossly under-appreciated in our society and a blindspot in contexts we associate with masculinity, such as STEM.

The attributes I’m talking about are trust, empathy, patience, receptivity, appreciation, teamwork, generosity, good listening, etc. R&D teams require these soft skills to discover, design, and execute solutions that customers actually like. But, as necessary as they are, they are pretty much impossible for someone like a CTO to influence given his masculine toolkit: executive power and budget.

Goal: 30% increase in team morale by end of quarter.
Tactics: monthly team off-site, daily smile quota, demerit system to discourage grumpy behavior

This surface level understanding of the problem and solution has actually created a lot of demand for UX Design. If we had a designer, that person could figure out what customers want and give us a solution to build.

It doesn’t work though.

Most companies cannot hire enough UX Designers. Maybe their top two products gets a designer. Or maybe they stretch their designer too thin to do good work. Or maybe the designer is too masculine: pumping out wireframes takes a lot of analytical thinking which competes for brain cycles with intuitive or empathic thinking.

No matter what the reason, in the end, the impact of the UX Design team is not enough to offset a broad organizational imbalance. Instead of assigning ownership of the feminine side of R&D to a small group of people, companies can cultivate feminine skills and feminine thinking in all members of its organization.

  • Good listeners imagine solutions for customers.
  • Trusting people naturally put ego aside and work toward common goals.
  • Those with patience build more beautiful products.

This is why tech needs us women. It’s not that we are uniquely capable of feminine skills and feminine thinking, but that our presence influences others on a subconscious level.

We can teach little girls the hard skills. Coding might not be easy for everyone, but a person’s natural aptitude for logical thought can be grown through teaching and practice. We, the women technologists, are the little girls that developed our masculine talents into careers. But as women embedded in R&D organizations, we are uniquely positioned to help our colleagues appreciate and grow their feminine skills. And that is really the difference between a woman and an expensive man.

How?

How do you teach a soft skill?

Let’s use patience as an example. Step 1, wait. Step 2, take a deep breath… this is not patience; these are techniques for distracting yourself from impatience! How do you teach someone how to settle into a state of genuine patience?

The best way to “teach” patience is to simply practice it in the presence of others. When you feel patient, those around you slow to your rhythm, at least somewhat, and subconsciously. Your demeanor rubs off on them.

If that answer feels deeply unsatisfying to you, try watching Adyashanti’s talk on Faith. That’ll really frustrate the heck out of you. Ha ha! It’s what I’m talking about though.

Anyway, the CTOs we talked about— they could try implementing soft skill training programs, but it ends up being more effective to simply hire feminine energy. Hiring for “company culture” is the practice of balancing the masculine and feminine energies in an org. I’ve never heard a recruiter or hiring manager speak of it in these hippy-dippy terms, but it does explain STEM’s return on investment.

But let’s get back to what we can do as individuals. As a women, how do we strengthen our own feminine talents? And then, how do we “teach” those talents to our co-workers?

My cycling club, Team Snacks! Photo credit: https://www.instagram.com/teamsnacks/

Hang out with women!

Go to yoga class. Join a women’s sports team. Join a knitting circle. Once a week, immerse yourself in feminine energy. If you have a friend with a small baby, go visit her. She is a cloud of Oxytocin! Remember, feminine skills and feminine thinking aren’t taught; they’re absorbed. Don’t try to learn anything, just put yourself in their presence and appreciate them. That’s enough. And then go back to work and be that feminine energy for others, to whatever degree you are naturally.

My realization

Remember how I said tech dudes are cool? Most of them are feminists whether they know it or not. Most of them have a lot of feminine skill and thinking already. That’s why we don’t feel so dissimilar.

As women in tech, we can fall into the trap of assuming that because we are like our male colleagues, we are like men. That causes us to say stupid things like, “I’m not like other girls.” What we should remind ourselves, though, is our tech dude friends are like us, and therefore, they are like women.

Eric is such a good listener. Any time you speak to him, he relates back what you said. He projects his notes to demonstrate that he cares enough about what you are saying to capture it. Gosh, I wish I were a good listener like Eric. I wonder where he learned that?

Andrew is so humble and appreciative. He influences the people around him by expressing his respect for their time and skill. Man, if only I could be as socially generous as Andrew.

Alex is the pillar of the team. He’s so cheerful. He’s generous with his time, even though he also works very hard. If only I were as charismatic as Alex.

Throughout my career, coworkers like these impressed me so much. I’d think, where did they learn this stuff? How do I become more like them?

I didn’t realize that the thing that set each of them apart was a feminine skill they had developed. I thought Eric, Andrew, and Alex were diamonds in the rough; that they possessed these unusual qualities.

Then I joined yoga teacher training. Holy cow, you can’t get more feminine than that! These precious qualities I observed in Eric, Andrew, and Alex were abundant among the incredible women in my class. Oh!

Women are amazing.

So whether you are a man, a woman, or someone in between, go out and find yourself a source of feminine energy this week, and simply appreciate it.

Sacred Roots yoga teacher training, class of 2016.