A few years ago, I was running to be president of my high school’s Physics Club. After the other candidates for office and I had given our election speeches, everyone was milling around as the results were tallied. It seems like forever ago, but I’ll always remember the words a male classmate spoke to me:
“You should have worn a dress to win the election.”
He’s probably since forgotten the incident, but his words have stuck with me to this day. It was no surprise that I was one of few girls in a group of boys, but the last thing on my mind that day was what I was wearing.
I ended up winning and serving as President for both my junior and senior years.
Being a woman in tech has its ups and downs. The stark gender imbalance can be frustrating, but I am forever grateful for the supportive communities I have found through diversity organizations, events, and networks.
Interestingly, I never realized the severity of the issue prior to coming to Stanford. I simply ignored a lot of the remarks and didn’t let the fact that I was often the only girl in the room phase me.
But suddenly being thrown into the heart of Silicon Valley and immersed in the vibrant tech industry makes everything that much more real.
For the past year, I’ve done some of my own research. Most recently, I conducted a survey on the influence of diversity organization participation on impostor syndrome. Though ultimately inconclusive with regards to a legitimate cause-effect relationship between the factors, it revealed the eye-opening stories of 120 female students studying computer science and other technical fields.
Here are the questions I asked and some of the most powerful and impactful responses I got in return.
Have you ever been in a tech-related environment where you felt that you were judged negatively due to your gender?
- “I’ve been interrupted, ignored and actually had a computer taken out of my hands so a self-professed ‘IT guy’ could fix a problem that I knew perfectly well how to solve.”
- “People in lab patting me on the head, asking me to serve food, saying that I talk too much in meetings.”
- “I left that environment because I would come home almost in tears and incredibly discouraged.”
Have you ever felt like you have suddenly started underperforming compared to your peers? If yes, when did that occur? Was there a particular incident that contributed to that feeling?
- “I’m not doing enough and falling behind even though I’m just as good.”
- “In class I was partnered with an older boy and instantly felt like my ideas weren’t as valid.”
- “I mess up, then beat myself up over it, creating more pressure which makes me do worse.”
In your own opinion, what stereotypes do you think society has about WOMEN in tech?
- “Are there any? Because society doesn’t seem to think they exist”
- “Women in tech are less competent than men… women will have to work harder to prove themselves.”
- “They don’t know what they’re doing, shouldn’t be taken seriously.”
In your own opinion, what stereotypes do you think society has about MEN in tech?
- “Backend backend backend!”
- “They are trustworthy and smart. They know what they are doing.”
- “They’re all homogeneous 20- or 30-somethings wearing tech t-shirts living in SF and driving up rent rates.”
Have you heard of IMPOSTOR SYNDROME? Define it in your own words.
- “Feeling out of place when really, you aren’t.”
- “‘I haven’t actually earned anything that I’ve gotten. It’s been luck, I’ve had a lot of help, or <insert reason here>. Eventually, someone’s going to find out that I don’t deserve to be here.’”
- “Impostor syndrome is the feeling I have when someone says I’m perfect and it makes me want to cry because I spend all of my time thinking about how much I suck at everything.”
Have you heard of IMPLICIT BIAS? Define it in your own words.
- “Unconscious prejudice — people can think they’re open-minded and still carry wrong judgments and stereotypes.”
- “Implicit bias is the subconscious bias that we all carry as a result of seemingly innocuous societal conditioning. It is present in the woman in the ‘pink aisle’ at my local superstore who frowns and politely suggests ‘Wouldn’t you rather have an Avengers superhero?’ when my son points excitedly to the easy bake oven. It is present in the high school counselor who never thinks of the female honors student when asked to provide a list of possible students interested in a special invite-only two-week space camp at the nearby space center.”
This study has made me even more determined to do all that I can to reverse the detrimental stereotypes and biases ingrained in society. To the people who say “it’s just a movement,” it’s more than that. It’s the future of an industry, the self-confidence of millions of incredibly deserving women and aspiring girls worldwide. But the conversations can’t last forever. Until we achieve gender parity in these critical fields, this is a reminder to my fellow women in tech to never forget your value and worth, never let fear or others’ opinions dictate who you are, and never stop doing what you love.
To view full survey results: https://docs.google.com/document/d/139IQ5wHouQgBVycfBXDeeV5BIQJNstPnrfwVIbPDEqw/edit?usp=sharing