Compensating for Prejudice

Something that is little talked about in the tech industry is the concept of “compensating for prejudice”; actions that we have to take to offset negative perceptions due to being a member of the minority within our industry.

I was talking with a new friend recently who is about to start giving workshops at InfoSec conferences, and when he asked me about what he could do to try to market to North Americans we both realized that we both thought of it the same way; “How can he compensate for not being white? Will that matter to potential students? Will they assume he has an accent? How can he minimize any conscious or unconscious bias potential participants might have? How can he compensate?”.

I had never spoken to someone (who wasn’t a woman) about all the things that I do to compensate for being a woman working in a male-dominated field. Never.

Trying to prove myself before I’m asked to prove myself. Giving examples of my technical work, over and over again, to dispel the “Women aren’t technical” myth. Dropping mentions of my amount time working in tech (21+ years!), my accomplishments (my resume is extensive and impressive), and tech stacks that I have experience with. Part of the reason that I wanted to do the DevSlop show, where I perform technical tasks live, was to ensure that anyone following me was well-aware of my technical skills; I do not want anyone to have any doubt of my competence.

Attempting to prove myself is something I do because I have been challenged, over and over, throughout my entire career. Starting a new job and being asked to recite my resume by the other senior techs. Being told “I don’t see you as technical” by my superior, as he tries to force me into a management role. Not being invited to key meetings, not be assigned to important projects, not receiving the same opportunities, promotions or pay. Being underestimated, time and time again.

I’ve fought this bias, usually successfully, by being overqualified and working my ass off. Keeping up with all the new tech and security, teaching and mentoring others, public speaking, writing, community work, research, my open source project DevSlop, spreading WIST internationally, my OWASP chapter, marketing myself and my content and so much more that the public never sees. As you can imagine it takes its toll. I shouldn’t have to do that for equal recognition, opportunity and/or pay. It’s also a very difficult strategy and therefore not a realistic plan for most.

What about the women and other minorities in tech who are average? Who want the same pay and opportunities for the same work? There needs to be a place for everyone, especially the average person, because most of us are average (that’s how math works!).

I’ve seen women go to various lengths in order to fit in over the years; going with colleagues to strip clubs, smiling and grinning when sexist jokes are told, not complaining when they are obviously being treated unfairly, avoiding confrontation to avoid looking “pushy” or “bossy”. I’ve never been willing to go along with such things, and it has alienated me in many workplaces as a result; I wear the adjective “bossy” proudly, and I am no longer willing to wear jeans or otherwise “dress down” because it would make everyone else more comfortable. Although I’m generally friendly to all, I am not willing to conform anymore.

I suggested that my friend makes videos of himself giving training, so that potential students can see that his English is clear and that he is relatable. I suggested he do interviews on podcasts or write blog posts, so that potential students can get to know him. This is likely good advice for anyone trying to market training, but if I can I’d love to give him advice that could help him further dispel any imaginary ‘truths’ people might have after seeing his name or photo and thinking “He’s not like me.”.

What do you do to compensate? I’d love to know. Please share in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Note, if you like this article you should read an article by Helen Ofosu next, Covering at Work.