How to Support a Woman in Tech

A few practical tips for encouraging women at your tech job

Marlena Compton
Sep 11, 2013 · 3 min read

This post is, at once, a thank you and an “I hear you,” to every guy out there who tries his best to invite me into the tech conversation. There are many of you and I want you to know how much I appreciate the effort you make even if you don’t get it 100% right all the time or it makes you feel uncomfortable.

“Women in Tech” is a big and complicated issue with many facets and is only a sub-set of the larger issue of women and diversity in the workforce. It can be scary to think about, let alone try tackle in an everyday professional environment when you want to improve what you’re doing, but you also don’t want to feel weird about it.

For this reason, here is a short list of tips that will hopefully help you engage more with women you work with or women you see at meet ups and conferences:

In meetings, ask me what I think about a particular issue. Culturally, at least in the U.S., women are not encouraged to interrupt others and can easily be “elbowed-out” of a conversation involving a group of guys. Even if we decide to match that and do our own interrupting, we can be seen as bossy or too-aggressive. I’m not saying that’s right, but it happens and if it happens to a woman at one job, guess what baggage she takes to her next job?

If you are presenting at a conference or meet up, and I raise my hand to ask a question, call on me. It will likely diversify your discussion.

When I’m making a point in a meeting, let me finish as you would a guy. Sometimes, a man will interrupt a woman before she’s finished making her point, but let a man finish what he’s saying. (I have a friend who complains about this all the time.)

If you’re going out for lunch or a drink with a group of guys from work, invite me. Girls want to blow off steam with teammates just as much as guys do, and it can be awkward to invite oneself.

Think about the t-shirts you wear and the message they send. If you act nice, but you’re wearing a t-shirt with naked body parts or a joke you think is funny but that others could mis-construe, you could be sending a much stronger negative statement than you think you are.

When you attend conferences and meet ups, sit next to me and introduce yourself. We’re not at a bar, so I won’t assume you’re trying to pick me up. Ask me how the conference is going and what my favorite session/part of the presentation has been so far.

Finally, learn about what women face.
Watch the film, Miss Representation. It’s available on Netflix and is an eye-opening look at the barrage of media messages we parse everyday.

Read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. It’s available on Kindle and does a great job of explaining just how tricky it is for women to succeed in the workforce (I’ve heard that quote about Ginger Rogers dancing backward in heels and think it’s a gross oversimplification.)

Follow The Ada Initiative (@adainitiative). They tweet cool things about supporting women and girls in tech

There’s a larger conversation about diversity in tech and women are definitely a part of that. I hope that these suggestions will give you the foothold you need to be supportive. There’s certainly more that can be done, but sometimes, it’s important to start small.

    Marlena Compton

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    Postings here are my own and don’t represent my employer.