The Other Woman in Tech
I’ve always wanted to be one of those women in tech. A great job with an obvious path to success and more money. Building something that everyone is proud of. That could have been me if I were a little younger. I could have been a woman in tech.
This is a common thought I’ve had for years. Every time I saw a new program or article for women in technology—I’d feel proud but envious. Then I’d have to smack myself and think, “Wait a minute, what am I saying? I’ve worked in startups for 8 years! I am a woman in tech!”
Why can’t I be proud of this and not find myself feeling like the “the other woman”?
Years ago I stumbled into a community and education role at a well-known startup. The gender divide between the tech and non-tech roles mirrored every other startup I’ve seen since. The community, support, marketing teams and like most tech companies these teams were comprised of 90% women. We started calling ourselves the “Liberal Arts” part of the company and tiptoed around the engineers (all men to start, with one woman joining in a year later), the mad scientists.
“Technical positions are more likely to lead to senior roles at tech companies.” — NYTimes
Through my years at tech companies, I see old sexists office dynamics being played out, where only women answer the communal phone or sign for a delivery. Being asked, “Do we have scissors?” became an inside joke at one position. Ladies, have you ever been asked this by a male coworker? You should have a complete inventory of the office supplies at all time, no?
Most support and content teams were (and still are) women. We’ve studied, supported, educated, and grown communities from a few hundred to a few million. Like other women in these roles, I’ve worked all hours and rarely had a day off from crafting content, holding meetups, answering emails and forum threads. And yes, admittedly, I usually know where the scissors were.
For most of my career, however, I never felt as important as the lowest level engineer.
Where did this inferiority complex come from? We know they (the mostly male engineers) were “in higher demand” and were paid more. That doesn’t help. Add to this the perfect storm of our undefined roles, harder to measure accomplishments, decades of women playing supporting characters in the workforce—my self-esteem has taken a beating in the past eight years.
“If you wanted to list the things that make it difficult for women in tech you could do a lot worse than starting with the infamous Zuckerbergian hoodie.” —What a woman’s worth…
I was once standing in line for our catered lunch (rough life) and a male engineer cut the line and stood right in front of me. When I asked what the hell he thought he was doing, he told me he was “working on something important”.
Male engineers usually project a confidence in their position that haven’t felt until the last few years in my career. I was always trying to prove I was worthy, they never seem to have this concern.
I’ve met so many powerful women behind the scenes–the backbones of community, operations, branding, marketing for successful tech companies. This inferior feeling is prevalent, and not often talked about openly. Most all have uttered, “I wish I was an engineer.” The only way to be respected in this world seemed to be, become an engineer (a real woman in tech).
There are so many great men and women leaders in tech (engineers and otherwise) that support the non-tech teams around them, but we need more. Things have changed dramatically for the better at that first company and my last position supported and compensated me, and all those in non-tech roles in the company fairly, I’m thankful for that. This really should be the norm, but I continue to see that it isn’t.
So to the female community leaders, brand managers, Customer Care Leaders out there — you are a woman in tech, know your worth and be proud of the path you've taken. We need your grit, your skills, and your experiences to allow tech companies to have strong brands, communities and happy customers. Don’t let anyone cut you in the lunch line, demand more equity and a higher salary, let’s stop being the other woman.