Embrace the average

Recently I read the survival tips from female software engineer Patricia Ass (https://patricia.no/2018/09/06/survival_tips_for_women_in_tech.html). Her advice is way more radical and defensive then mine (https://medium.com/@anna.fiofilova/survival-guide-for-women-in-it-c7851c541138) were!

I do agree with the majority of her tips. It saddens me that women in IT have to follow them to be recognized and heard. At the beginning of my career I knew I would have to put extra effort and time in my work to achieve something, but I had not expected that I will have to do this all the time.

While I am really happy with my role and my team and lots of employees go above and beyond in their day jobs… I realise that many do not. The majority of women in our IT community are exceptional: they are intelligent, passionate, proactive, involved in so many activities, and very smart technically. In fact, thinking it through, I haven’t met any “average” women software engineer, QAs, or ops in the companies that I worked, but I do know quite a few average men in those roles.

All of the women in these technical roles are way above the average. Which is great. But I sometimes get upset when people compare me to other woman (an Architect) and expect me to be as good as her in certain areas. I silently agree, but really would also like to say “Maybe you too should be as good as our Senior Systems Engineer in operations and understand our architecture as our main Architect does”. But I do not say this out loud, I am grateful for advice and happy to grow. Although sometimes I just want to be an average worker that gets the job done.

Like with any minorities in any community it is easy to dismiss the equality problems by thinking that any representation from that minority means that more will follow. Those people definitely open the doors. We hope we can say that after Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (the first woman in the world elected as head of state in a national election) it will be easier for the next women to run for president. However, it is more likely that the next woman will be expected to be as good as (or better) than Vigdís, rather than simply better than any male head of state (or just their direct opponents).

I see a similar trend happening with women in IT. Just because we are finding more exceptional women to join IT, this doesn’t make it any easier for any woman to enter technology and secure a job — especially if they are merely average. True equality counts when given even input there are even output. I see less women in technical leadership roles, because most of them won’t apply for those roles until they are 100% ready for them, not unlike men who will apply if they just think they have a good shot. Some people say it is because women are less confident, but I don’t believe this. Rather, I believe that they are unconsciously comparing themselves to other women in those roles and not just the average men.

Rather than judging women on their individual merits (as we would men), we judge them relative to the other women in the company. You can’t get in unless you’re exceptional, but once you’re in you’ve essentially validated the hiring principle. “We had high standards and we got awesome people. Now we should get more people who are at least as awesome as that.”

I am really looking forward to the time when we will have average women in IT roles in our company, when the opportunities truly will be equal and women don’t have to go above and beyond just to get a job, same as men.