I could say that I’m a woman in tech, but I choose not to. I rather say that I’m just a person in tech. I was born in a generation where computer science was still considered a men’s thing by some. Still, against the odds, I pursued a computer science degree, started a career as a software engineer, and am currently a proud team lead who’s very happy with everything that comes with it.
However, we still need to improve how we highlight opportunities out there, how we say that it’s not just a men’s thing, and how we talk about what the tech world has yet to discover, innovate and create, no matter what your gender is!
Why Am I Writing This Article?
This subject has always been a trigger for me. I have memories of my ninth-grade teacher (a woman) saying that computer science wouldn’t be a good fit for me and my older family members saying that computer science was only for men. This distinction is what makes me want to take a deep breath when someone asks me, “How do you feel about being a woman in tech?”
The problem is that my experience still seems to be very much the norm, and the latest PISA report is proof of it. PISA is the Programme for International Student Assessment of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It measures 15-year-olds’ ability to use their skills to meet real-life challenges.
According to the latest report, published in 2018, only one percent of 15-year-old girls in OECD countries said they had an interest in the subject of information technology. While the latest neuroscience research refutes cognitive differences between genders — especially when it comes to learning math and science — the report also showed that schools often still perpetuate social and emotional stereotypes around which disciplines are “better suited” for students depending on their gender.
By sharing my thoughts and experience around this subject, I hope to make others reflect and positively impact this current topic.
But Why Do We Need or Want to Bring More Diversity to Tech?
We need to break the idea that tech is solely a men’s thing. We don’t want to change people’s interests and have them pursue a tech career just to raise the gender equality numbers!
What we want is to ensure opportunities are equal for everybody. As I spoke with more teammates, I realized that depending on the country or company, the opportunities to pass that job interview or even be promoted might be constrained due to gender issues. Bias gets in the way.
Okay, this can make you wonder: isn’t that what feminist movements are trying to fix already? Yes, and thankfully! No one is born saying they want to pursue a tech career; we are all influenced in our lifetime by family, friends, TV shows, teachers, books, etc., that somehow build and grow interests inside us. So it’s good that these movements keep sharing all these stories and increasing visibility and representation.
But there is one situation in which I think these movements may fail as they try to raise awareness of the fact that tech is not solely a men’s thing and remove bias — women-only events. Why?
- By excluding men from these movements, we lose the chance to raise awareness of their own bias and allow them to celebrate women as peers and professionals.
- I sometimes feel these events have great motivations behind them but express them poorly. There is always some statement about the need to bring women to tech, but we fail to explain why. If I were younger and making decisions for my future, I wouldn’t choose a tech career to increase the number of women in tech. Generally, there is a lack of human resources in tech, so I would choose it for the challenges it would bring me.
- We shouldn’t just be stating the need to bring more women to tech — we need to explain that representation increases involvement. We need to provide diverse role models while engaging the whole community and sharing how much we can all benefit from it. Studies also show that involving people in diverse settings and engaging managers to solve the problem works better than simply arguing for more inclusion. Social scientists have found that people often rebel against rules just to assert their autonomy. Tell them that you need more diversity in tech and they will do the opposite just to prove they’re not sheep in a flock. We win this by letting everybody in, by opening doors that were once closed.
How Can We Remove Bias and Make Opportunities Accessible for All?
Needless to say, I feel slightly uncomfortable about events where women share their experiences or being asked to give nominations to recognize women’s achievements. These events tend to be exclusively for women, which I believe can impact the tech community (and all people in it) by causing the exact opposite effect they originally intended.
When I see these events, tons of questions flood my mind: why am I not recognized next to the men? Am I being recognized just because I’m a woman? Did I get the chance to participate in this talk just because they wanted a diverse panel? Did I get this ticket just because they didn’t have enough women in the audience?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the drive behind these actions always has a positive intent — I get it. We are literally bringing more women to the tech world, and such initiatives will have a direct output to that end. And it’s good, no one can deny that.
But what is the real outcome we are looking for? Is this making the difference we aim to make?
My expected outcome is removing the bias that might exist in some minds, so it doesn’t get in the way during job interviews or when considering potential career promotions.
But if that’s the case, shouldn’t we promote talks where people share their experiences on the same stage? Shouldn’t we encourage side-by-side collaboration?
Aren’t we taking the risk of creating a large community of women in tech that’s isolated? One that will look less skilled because it’s part of a “special” group?
At OutSystems, I never felt any disadvantage. But I also know that this might not happen in other places. When I was asked to become a team captain, I was thrilled and scared all at the same time. I was 26 years old, and it was the first time I was presented with the challenge of managing people. But it felt good that OutSystems saw my potential and took the chance of giving me that opportunity to grow.
I remember that when the announcement was shared with the R&D Team, the Director of Engineering asked me if I was okay with the message. The moment I read “first female Team Captain at R&D,” I immediately asked him to remove it. I knew that I didn’t want to be seen as the Woman Team Captain. It seems that we keep highlighting a difference that we all want to avoid. I know that was not the intention — we wanted to share that equal opportunities exist in our company, but that’s not the only message we’re conveying.
Let’s keep sharing. It’s by sharing our concerns, fears, and hopes that we evolve and grow as a community. By learning from others and engaging with them, we’re giving everybody — and I mean everybody, men, women, transgender, e-ve-ry-bo-dy — a voice. We’re developing empathy, we’re gaining valuable perspective and experience. Keep in mind that this is not just about talking, it’s especially about listening.
Let’s keep collaborating together. We all share the same love for engineering. Let’s explore it and build bridges instead of walls. Let’s realize how much we’re missing when we could be moving forward.
The change starts in all of us, not others. We can’t change others, but we can change ourselves. Why wait for change when we can be that change every day? Be the best teammate you can be. Be a good role model.
And don’t forget to tell children they can grow up to be whatever they want to be.