Our front-end developer Fran Haines shares what she learned from joining the audience for a BBC News special celebrating the best women in technology…
Over the past few decades women have come a long way in the workplace, and careers that were very male-dominated have become far more popular with women. However, women still make up a very small percentage of the technology sector and this is a common theme from around the world. Series such as the BBC 100 Women try to tackle this by featuring female role models who are breaking boundaries in their sector.
I recently took part in the audience panel for the BBC Click 100 Women Special: an episode which showcases pioneering women in technology. The guests were Nicola Mendelsohn, VP for EMEA for Facebook; Serene Ow, head of data science at Grab (the Uber of South-east Asia); and Erica Joy Baker — director of engineering at GitHub. United by gender and career choice, both the panelists and audience joined from all over the world to ask questions and share industry insights. Despite the geographical and cultural variation, it became clear that many of our experiences in education and work were similar and the insights shared were invaluable. Here’s what I learned…
1. Calling it out
An audience panelist studying a Computer Science degree expressed her concern about the lack of women on her course, which impacted the way she and her other female classmates were treated by peers and staff. Having been one of two women on my undergraduate degree, I felt like I could really relate. The panelist gave an example of a woman on her course getting top marks, which led to false speculation that she’d had an inappropriate relationship with the lecturer. There were even instances where male lecturers had asked out the women on her course too.
The advice from the panel was sound. They said misconduct from both students and lecturers needs to be reported to someone in a leadership position who will listen to the concerns. If you’re in a situation where you can’t approach them, go around them and try to find someone else who will listen.
Talking about these experiences is the first step towards making a positive impact and it is important to place yourself in an environment where you feel empowered to bring this to light.
2. Choosing the right job for you
A recent graduate from Seoul shared a concern about trying to fit in: she felt that there was programmer culture and that she wasn’t welcome in it. Unfortunately, her experience is all too similar to a lot of other young women in the tech sector — she was being interviewed by men who were finding it hard to relate to her. She felt that her friendly personality was too different to theirs and it was hindering her chances at securing a job. This caused her to question whether she should change herself to fit the ‘developer mould’.
The response was that changing herself to fit into an environment is costly. Over time, it can wear you down because you’ll be a completely different person at work. Serene Ow added that she shouldn’t have to feel the pressure to fit a mould just to get a job and that her ability should speak for itself. If they don’t like that, they’re not a good fit for her either. Looking for jobs is a two-way process and you will know when the right one comes along.
I’m proud to say this is not the case at in my current role. Zone is the first company I’ve worked for that has more than just a couple of female developers. The engineering and women in tech communities both provide its developers with incredible support, where we do not feel defined by our gender but empowered by it.
3. Putting yourself first
Do you ever compare yourself to your peers? Absolutely, it’s human nature. But as I’ve learnt, it’s not healthy to listen to that voice inside your head all the time. We’ve all had very different paths and experiences, which is what can make a team great. It’s the differences in people that make up a strong team. I’m a firm believer in trusting your instinct and the path that you are on — everyone progresses at their own pace.
I was reminded of this when a panelist gave a great piece of advice to a student who found it hard not to compare herself to the men on her course, especially when they behaved as if they were better than everyone else. The advice was to concentrate on herself and ignore what the other people around her are doing. If she doesn’t feel supported within her course, find a community that will support her. Erica Joy Baker explained of a time when she was the only black woman in her building. She said that while it felt isolating, she managed to find a community outside of work which was a network of women of many different races and was incredibly supportive.
4. Starting a family
This is a topic I feel is neglected within the industry. In a job with the need to continually learn and pick up new technology, concerns are often expressed about the support available to those who want to have a child. Is there an unconscious bias against women who may want to have children in the future?
When the question was brought up to the panel, Nicola Mendelsohn was the first to speak out, having had four children herself. She explained that a good workplace won’t discriminate towards its employees when starting a family. The more women there are in higher positions, the more maternity support will be normalised in the future and concerns such as these will be rarer.
Hearing about these experiences of other women from all over the world, I realised the majority of us had been treated differently due to our gender. While the recognition and sharing of these experiences might be presumed disheartening, I felt the opposite. United with 99 other women from all over the world, I felt empowered to know that we are not alone. As we continue to share our experiences and thoughts, we continue to help bring about positive change.
You can see the full BBC Click 100 women panel episode here…