Being a transgendered web developer in a male-dominated profession
When I’ve done interviews for different companies from time to time I’ve received questions about my experience being a woman in a male dominated industry. Such as “If my experience has lived up to my expectations”.
My being transgendered (“transsexual” if you want to be picky) is not really a secret (otherwise writing articles on Medium would be an interesting way of “coming out”). Although for quite obvious reasons its also not something I usually present in my first encounter with new people. So, I believe I’m generally perceived as female and hence that is the experience I’m asked about.
So, have my experience lived up to my expectations?
What defines us?
The origin of this question, as I understand it, comes from a willingness to make the culture of a company more female-friendly — whatever that means.
Truth be told, I’ve always felt outside the norm, so when I’m asked of my experience, its really hard to give the response I suspect the questioner is looking for.
I don’t feel part of the norm anywhere. This doesn’t change if I’m in a room with cis-women as compared to a room of cis-males. Actually, it doesn’t really change if I’m in a room with transgendered people either. Because I’m not only defined by my gender identity. I have a neuropsychiatric disability, ADD, which has a great impact on a lot of things in daily life. Like an impaired short term memory and strong emotions (positive and negative). This means that I have a lot more in common in some situations with someone who shares this struggle. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I work better with such a person. It also doesn’t mean that my impairments and strengths are representative of everyone who has the same diagnosis. Because, we’re individuals.
Where I come from
I’m also not from a big city. I grew up playing in the woods, I was in the scouts learning how to light a fire and build a shelter. Most of my colleagues are from Stockholm, the biggest city in Sweden (it’s not very big by international standards with about a million inhabitants, but in a country like Sweden with just about 10 million people in total, this is quite large). This means that I learned how to commute via subway (only Stockholm is big enough to have a subway) just in the last few years and I have very little geographical knowledge of the city I work in. If you start dropping names of places, I’m lost.
I also grew up in a church-going family. More than that, we were pentecostal! Sweden, as you might or might not be aware, is a very unreligious and secular country. People in general have very little familiarity with church (other than perhaps the occasional visit at certain holidays or a church going grandma) and even less so with Scripture. So in this regard, I have more in common with a jewish colleague, even though we’re from totally different backgrounds overall. We both know certain biblical stories from the old testament, even though our religious holidays are very different.
Most of my family are working as teachers and in welfare related professions (social workers, working with elderly and similar stuff) not the upper end of middle class. If you’re parents were doctors and lawyers, you most likely have a different view on what “normal life” is like than I do.
And my girlfriend (yea, I’m also bisexual by the way) comes from a working class family, so her idea of normal life is even more different to mine.
Feeling at home
By know you probably realise what I mean (and hopefully agree) when I say you can’t simply reduce people to their gender or color of their skin to get a “representation” of different kind of people.
However, I do feel a lot more “at home” when I’m around people with a shared interest in technology and building tools to solve problems. I’m also feeling more at home around smart and educated people who share that need to learn and discuss and be enthusiastic about solving problems.
This is more the result of a mindset and a particular interest than a trait of my gender identity, my upbringing, my religion (or lack thereof) or the color of my skin.
I’m not arguing that the eagerness to accommodate women in a male-dominated environment is inherently bad. I’m just saying, that there are a lot of minorities out there, and the smallest minority is always the individual. That is who we should focus on!
My main concern with the idea of “representation”- that if you fill quotas of people from different well defined and prioritised minorities you magically achieve the perfect mix of variation to create that innovation every company lusters for to get the edge over its competitors - is that is reduces people to less than we are.
It is simplifying people and reducing us to visually perceived differences, leaving behind things that in my experience matter a lot more to define who we are as individuals. Everything you can’t spot from the outside. Our beliefs, values and experiences and more inherent traits such as curiosity, reluctancy, things we are afraid of, things that makes us feel safe or outside our zone of comfortability.
These traits can vary greatly and it really isn’t enough just to look at someone superficially and then pat yourself on the back for checking off another box. Building a successful culture isn’t like playing Pokémon. You can’t “catch them all”, because the variations are infinite.
People are complex, so instead of looking at “representation” I suggest we look at character traits. How can we make more people from different backgrounds feel at home in our work environment? A first good step is to not fool ourselves to believe that anyone is representing anything other than themselves.
A next step is to look at what people’s fundamental needs and drives are. What makes you do what you do? What are the perceived obstacles that hinders you from realising your potential even more?
I don’t have the answers, but I think these are important questions. More important actually, than to sort each other into oversimplified categories that doesn’t really help us much in the end.