Life of a Woman in Tech
I can't agree more. Like you, I don't have solutions. But I have examples from my life as a woman in tech that show that there is so much room for improvement:
While growing up in India, women studying engineering was very normal. Everyone around me was doing it. I think there was a strong push from middle-class Indian parents for girls to study either medicine or engineering — and if you don't do either of the two, you are considered to be less successful — so it was really the other extreme.
My mother was similar to yours — she brought in more income than my dad, a Doctor, as she held several high profile managerial positions in tech companies and would meet rich, famous and influential people on a daily basis. So I was really used to women being in powerful positions.
Things changed when I moved to New Zealand. When I told people I was studying Software Engineering, they would say, “ooooooooh”. They weren't used to women in tech and were so surprised to hear that I chose engineering. To me, it was normal — almost obvious as I'd been pre-programmed to choose tech. But to New Zealanders, I was the odd one out. There were 5 women in my class of 30 out of which 2 hardly attended class. So there were just 3 of us, completely outnumbered. So we changed — I wore a dark grey hoodie, jeans and sneakers and stopped dressing “pretty” so that I could blend. I started playing FPS games and went to LAN parties. I started reading up on geeky things so that I could be one amongst the guys. And given that I was quite tomboyish as a kid, I fit right in. The sad part is, none of the guys did anything to make sure they fit in with us.
My first job out of school was with New Zealand’s largest healthcare product company. There were 4 women in the entire floor (50~ devs). By then, I was used to being the only woman in meetings. I was the first female engineer and second Indian at my current company — two tech minorities packed into one! I used to play a lot of Table Tennis in my previous company, but I didn’t here as it was always dominated by guys and I wasn’t sure who to ask. No one asked me if I could play. During happy hour, all the male devs would chat with their teams, and since my team was completely remote, I started skipping the happy hours.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was really not looking forward to be the first one to “look pregnant” in a predominantly male office. I had no idea what to expect and thought it would be awkward. I was so relieved to find out that two others were pregnant before me. However, it turned out that everyone in the office was SUPER supportive during my pregnancy and it wasn't awkward at all. If I had seen more women in tech, more pregnant women in offices, and had more women in my team and my meetings, maybe I wouldn't have felt awkward about it — pregnancy is meant to be celebrated!
And yes, I was concerned that taking time off for my “disability due to childbirth” as the state calls it (ugh), would slow my career growth. I would have had no reason to be worried if my male counterparts also took 4 months off as paternity leave. It is sad that childbirth is still not the family’s problem — just the woman’s problem like you said. My husband got two weeks off from work to raise OUR child. We can do so much better.
Regarding unequal pay: I do so much these days. I get 5 and half hours of sleep at night as my baby wakes me up a couple of times to be fed. I wake up at 6. Feed the baby. Clean and pack all the breastpump parts. Lug the heavy pump to the Caltrain station. Take a hour long train to work and work on the train. At work, I have to pump every 3 hours while still meeting all my release deadlines, stay alert in all meetings even if I'm sleep deprived — all the while staying under the caffeine limit for breastfeeding mothers.
Back home, I spend another 3 hours with the baby, bathe, feed, swaddle and put him to bed, and then hop back online at 9pm to continue work till midnight. As another example, I took up a professional course in SF when my baby was just 7 weeks old. I would drive for an hour to the city every weekend for class, pump milk for my baby in the phone booth every time we took a break, and I topped my class in spite of all the things I had to worry about.
Sometimes the logistics are so overwhelming that it’s tempting to plonk on a couch and do nothing. But I show up, I hustle, I kick ass. If anything, new mothers should be paid more because they get shit done in spite of the unfathomable complexities that come with raising a baby.
Being a woman in tech is tough, but they are already making it work and knocking it out of the ballpark. Can you imagine how much more women would achieve if tech-life passed the Bechdel test? Mind blowing.