How to Jump-start Your Career as a Woman in Tech

The first thing you can do as a woman in tech is Lean In. Lean In has become a phrase for many women in the workforce. The phrase, intended for women, means to take a seat at the table, voice your opinion and get things done.

I picked up Lean In hoping to find a female role model, a woman who would inspire me to reach for the next levels in my career, someone whose wisdom I could pass on to other young women I work with. Instead, I found myself berated for not being an All-Star Go-Getter. Sandberg made me feel like it was my fault that women don’t take leadership positions in our country. Her advice was that I needed to “act like a man,” but if I act like a man people (including other women) will respect me less. Women are expected to be caregivers and humble so they need to play games to negotiate raises and get their team members to do their work.

I wonder, who are these weak, insecure, trembling, scared women that Sandberg uses in her examples? I cannot relate at all. My friends and the women I work with are confident go-getters who tackle challenges. They work through problems with the motto “if at first, I don’t succeed I’ll try again.” They don’t let fear stop them.

Sandberg warns her readers of the perils of “having it all”, yet she expects you to do it all anyway. Work through having children, make sure your partner can take time off work to help with children, take promotions, lean in, and work so much that you end up having to send emails while going to the bathroom. Sandberg thinks it is okay to assume that women don’t jump at the chance for a new challenge are because they want to have children. She even thinks it is okay to ask them, “are you not taking this chance because one day you want to have children?” If someone asked me this I would be mortified. I’m insulted just reading it. After Sandberg tells you to “do it all,” she explains that she chose not to take a promotion after finding out she was pregnant. Apparently, she is the exception to her own rules.

I work in a field predominantly made up of men. I am usually the only woman in the room. While I have trouble with much of Sandberg’s advice, I think the best takeaway from this book is that you can’t let fear or your own insecurities stop you from going after your goals. Even if your goal is scary or challenging you should still go for it. If only the book concentrated more on how readers can overcome different types of insecurities or focused on real career navigation techniques.

Sandberg declares that the only success for women is reaching the very top rung of their careers. However, what about those of us who want to do really well in our careers but whose sense of purpose is to work to live, not live to work? What is the purpose of having a partner or children if you’re not there to enjoy time with them? I think although we want to be great, we don’t all want to spend only an hour over dinner with our families just so we can go straight back to sending emails. I think women of my generation value purpose outside of the job. Careers are important to us but they are not the be-all and end-all all of a successful life.

Although I wholeheartedly agree with the concept Leanin In, I don’t necessarily agree with the way Sandberg describes it. Women should set their fears and doubts aside at the office to take on the roles and responsibilities that give them joy but they shouldn’t have to change who they are in order to do it.

#2 Use vocabulary that will make you sound less feminine so that men will respect you.

just-dont-say-just

It’s common to hear that women need to adjust the language they use to improve their authority in the workplace. One of those words that women should stop saying is “just”. The theory is that the use of this word is “a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous.” Business Insider.

To test out the theory I made a conscious effort to rewrite sentences where I used the word “just”. While I’m not sure the impact my new style of writing has on my readers I feel more confident about the emails I send.

Sometimes I think my emails are too harsh but in the end, I think they have more clarity and direction than without the “J” word.

I looked back at the past 100 emails I sent to see how many times I wrote the word, “just”. Out of those 100 emails, the word “just” was used 25 times.

For comparison, I did a search on the last 100 emails received from one of my male co-workers. He wrote the word “just” 23 times. Perhaps this article has more to do with the word itself than which gender uses it.

Some of the examples of the word “just” I found myself saying quite often were

  • “I just wanted to check in on …”
  • “Just wondering if you’d decided between …”

How many of these sentences convey the same meaning simply by removing the word “just”?

“I just sent out the invitation for Friday…” can be re-written as “I sent out the invitation for Friday a few moment ago.”

or

“I just wanted to double check you got the correct rate” can be re-written as “I wanted to double check that you got the correct rate.”

To me, the sentences with “just” removed do sound more commanding. I also find myself more confident in the emails I send and the way I communicate. However, at work, you don’t always want to take a commanding tone. Sometimes a more sensitive approach is needed when communicating with co-workers or clients.

#3 Be Yourself

With all this said and done it’s important to know that in the end, you have to be yourself. The industry won’t respect you and you won’t help other women in the field if you try to be someone you’re not.

For example, I joined Doghead Simulations (a VR startup) in about its 8th week of infancy. I became the 4th co-founder of the company by significantly contributing to the success of the company. I also took on a significant amount of risk by leaving my comfortable, corporate job to be in the startup. I think these two factors showed my fellow co-founders I was serious and believed in the startup which led to my ideas being treated with co-founder level respect.

My CEO reached out and found me an awesome mentor; a woman who started her own company as well. He did this not because he thought, as one of the only women in the company, I needed a mentor, but because he believes everyone should have someone they can talk to and learn from outside of the company.

Our social media marketer, Tony, tracked down social media hashtags like #womeninvr, #womenintech, and Facebook groups for women in tech for me so that I could be part of a community of fellow women in VR. He didn’t do this just for me or just because I’m a woman. He found meetups and groups for the other co-founders to get involved in the VR community too. Sure, I could have done this myself but it means so much more to have my colleagues reach out for me in this way.

When we pitched at Immerse in Seattle, I was the only woman in the companies selected to pitch that was on stage. I heard interesting feedback on this. I was told that it was good for us that I was the only woman on stage because it made our company stand out more. When I rebutted that it was sad there weren’t more women on stage, I was told that “it’s better this way” because we are easier to remember – and this was told to me by another woman!

Honestly, being one of the only women in the room or on stage has been the norm for me for so long that I don’t really think about it. I just go along with the flow and do my thing. Sometimes I fit in as “one of the guys” and other times I may be one of those “bossy women” but in the end, it’s about the team I am on and the goals we set out to accomplish.

Starting from my first elective in 8th-grade (web design) to programming in high school, through pursuing my MIS major in college, to my career path now, I have been one of the few and often one of the only women in the room.

girl-power2

In college, I assisted with my computer professors’ girls’ robotics summer camp where we challenged a group of girls to build and program Lego robots. These robots would have to beat different challenges we created. We went on field trips to the nearby factories to see how robots were used in real life. Although I was supposed to be there as a role model for the girls, I was fascinated by what the women and men in those plants had to say about robotics and manufacturing.

In college, I was part of SAM-I (Society for the Advancement of Management and International Business) and was elected to a leadership position in the group. We participated in a business case competition against the other college chapters in Washington DC. Our group consisted of four guys, one other girl and me. I don’t think that we felt different, out-numbered, or alone as one of the only women presenting at the national case study conference. We were all one team and went to kick some business butt.

SAMI cropped.png

I think those experiences subconsciously led me to manufacturing execution systems, business technology, and where I am today.

When I was hired for my first implementation I was not quite sure what MES was or what I was getting myself into. After a week of on-boarding, I was sent off to my first assignment, finding myself in a requirements workshop for a brand new manufacturing facility. After a few days, it clicked what we were doing and I fell in love.

I wouldn’t say I’ve faced any unique challenges as a woman in manufacturing. Except that I don’t think any of my male colleagues were called a “southern belle” by line operators. Honestly, I don’t mind that because they knew I was there to make their operator interfaces run smoothly and that I was serious about the system implementation. In my experience, things are just as Cathrine said, “delivering results will trump gender bias every time.”

A great mentor will invest time, candidly give feedback on how to improve, and help navigate career choices.

I’ve had many role models, both male and female, who have inspired me to be the best business analyst, trainer, and team leader that I can be. I would definitely recommend a career in manufacturing or one related to it. You get the opportunity to create the world we live in and that’s not something just anyone can do.

All we can do is keep encouraging diversity in the tech, business, and manufacturing industry. and here I can agree with the post on this point that, “education and visibility are two ways which progression can be made, as the first stepping stones towards greater representation.” We need to be careful not to focus on “diversity for diversity’s sake” but on making a point that this industry is open to all.

One of the ways we can do this is with the message of education and inclusion. We need not just educate in the classrooms but of the industry itself and opportunities within it for people of all curiosities. There is more to tech than straight up programming. You can be a lady in tech without needing to know all the 1s and 0s. In this way, we can put a new spin on a stereotyped industry.

 

Make sure to check out The Woman in Tech’s Guide to the Internet for a full list of resources for women in tech, business, and manufacturing.

One thought on “How to Jump-start Your Career as a Woman in Tech

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s