As a woman in tech, I get plenty of respect and occasional vitriol. The odd experiences make me chuckle later but they suck up the oxygen in real-time.
Years ago, a client who wasn’t particularly happy with our presence said, ”I knew this wouldn't work the minute I saw you!"
Let’s do that in slow motion - he knew...the moment...he saw me....that we would fail. Great! I asked, "Is that because I am a woman or I am Indian?" In other words, you wanna be a misogynist or a bigot, 'cos I am open to both possibilities.
Another time, a technologist interrupted my presentation to announce to a room full of people, "I don't think you know what you are doing!" That made me swivel to his boss and deliver a visual message - sorry you have to deal with this but this ignorant woman is going to keep doing what she knows will work for you.
Recently, this hit me: “YOU CANNOT COME IN HERE AND TELL ME WHAT TO DO!" - in uppercase to represent the decibel level. Well, dude...I was brought in here to tell you exactly what to do. Instead, I bit my tongue and let the screaming subside because I needed him to play in the sandbox with us. And eventually he did.
Why does this happen? Why do people feel perfectly at ease using words and tone that are outside the bell curve?
I attribute the vitriol to oversized technology-egos and a degree of dismissiveness of women in tech - she can't possibly know more than me is easier to handle?!
These angry men are technically savvy, no doubt. Their bosses bring us consultants in to fill a gap or bridge a chasm. That is hard for some to accept. They crack under pressure and find it permissible to unload on the women around them - who are equally skilled - because, generally speaking, we are conditioned to de-escalate.
If you are a woman in tech, what degree of reaction is appropriate when you encounter friction at work?
For me, eye-for-an-eye is never on the table. As an outsider, I have nothing to gain from conflict. I’ve got to be polite and impactful if I want to make a point, else I have to bite my tongue to move the agenda forward. Most importantly, I have to listen to understand the client's context. Being cognizant of what the situation demands is the key and having a plan before every meeting is the secret sauce.
As an employee you may have more leeway than I have but that doesn't mean you get a pass on planning.
To the women reading this, never forget that you own your confidence and you cannot allow anybody to take that away from you, especially in tech where men continue to outnumber women who have only 20% of the civilian tech jobs*. If you trip, pick yourself up quickly because how you get up always matters more than why you fell.
Trust in what you know, have confidence in what you do, and say “bring it on” because women in tech have a superpower: we know how to keep going!