Rivers of Milk and Honey


DISCLAIMER: My experiences are entirely my own and don't necessarily reflect the experiences of others, including other women at my company.

It's no secret that there's an incredible shortage of women in the tech industry, and even less of a secret that women are treated differently than men, particularly in tech. This discrimination manifests itself in a lot of ways, but for the most part it comes down to a single fact: we think it's ok to disrespect women. Often times this is completely subconscious, which doesn't absolve us of responsibility but does point out how deeply ingrained in us sexism is. I, too, am guilty of assuming my friend's pronoun-less colleague is a "he", and assuming Bob knows what he's talking about but Alice doesn't¹. So when I recently took a job at my company, I unconsciously expected some of this bias to color my daily interactions. I didn't even think about it; of course it was something I would have to deal with. I was a lady programmer at the bottom of the corporate totem pole. Why should men with 20+ years of experience in the field listen to me?

Against all of my unconscious and grim expectations my co-workers at my company treat me as a qualified peer. They ask for my input and thoughts on important decisions. They pause and listen when I speak, considering what I say with as much weight as they would anyone else on the team. They don't laugh when I ask a question or shame me for not knowing a fact, instead pointing out that it's great that I'm asking questions and should continue to do so if I don't know something. They explain things with patience and clarity and not an ounce of condescension, and have taken entire man-days to help get me up to speed on specific projects and technologies. Working for my company, and specifically with this team, has given me a greater understanding of how to be respectful as well as be respected. I realized all of the little things that my peers at university said and did -- that I also said and did -- that indicated a lack of respect and awareness, and am slowly learning to not do those things. It's entirely a work in progress, and I still say or do things that I'm not proud of. But I'm much more aware of when I slip up, why, and am able to apologize and move on more quickly.

What's most amazing is that all of this is done without any fanfare. It was taken for granted that I was an intelligent, worthy team member who has as much to contribute as anyone else on the team. My ideas were always measured equally, and without the obvious effort or uneasiness of those learning to respect women. My company has created a place where I feel welcome, comfortable, and safe.

So why am I telling you this? Because 6 months ago I thought I would always have to live with an undercurrent of misogyny. I thought I would always be shamed for not knowing some fact, or not getting the video game reference. And I want you to know that you can expect more. I read so many heartbreaking articles and stories about what women go through at work, and know first hand how hard it is to be a minority in the tech industry. And I want to emphasize that my experience does not diminish or invalidate the experiences of others. The way women are treated in my industry is not OK. But I want you to know that it isn't always like that, that it doesn't have to be that way. My company isn't perfect. Heck, of our 130 engineers only ~10% identify as female. 10%. They just increased maternity leave from two weeks to six weeks. But I am valued and appreciated, implicitly and explicitly. And for that, I am incredibly privileged and thankful.

Thank you for reading! If you are interested in learning more about being an ally to minorities, I highly recommend the article Being an Effective Ally. It has been a guiding light to me

[1] Being aware of that bias has helped me stop doing those things, but it takes time and concious effort to do so.