I’m aware of some organizations out there, of course run mostly by women, that try to focus on helping women get more jobs in certain types of industries. Organizations like this, this, and this. Now, there have been recent reports that women make about 33% less than men do. And some probably do. But what this claim doesn’t talk about is what the “typical” woman does vs. the “typical” man. I’m certainly not going to vouch for every company in every industry in every country. So I’m going to talk about what I know – the IT industry and what it means for me, as a women, growing up in the field.
As usual, I have to start off my saying that the opinions expressed here are my own and not of my employer’s or that of any of the companies I own. With that said, I am very fortunate to have grown up within a company that is very diverse, especially in recognizing that in some industries, women do indeed have a disadvantage. I’m certainly not debating that, but I also don’t agree with the notion that “we” need extra help or patronizing from organizations acting like the struggle is more real than it actually is.
I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t experience at least some sort of gender-related judgement or discrimination both on the job and in school over the years – I definitely did. At school, the knowledge I gained from my work experience surprisingly surpassed that of some of my professors and/or coursework, which was generally unappreciated to say the least. In fact, I had an abrasive relationship with some of the IT teachers who seemed to be annoyed at the fact that one of their students may be better equipped to educate others on the subject matters in which they were being paid to teach. One of the Linux professors even told me, “I know this wasn’t your favorite class but if you want to be in IT, you’re going to have to work harder than everyone else. Because you’re a female“.
I kind of thought he was a dick for saying that, but he wasn’t entirely wrong.
I’ve found that the gender bias in this industry actually works for you and against you. On one angle, as a chick, many accomplishments are seen as being more valuable and significant than they actually are. I could be just as knowledgeable about a topic as my male counterparts, but be seen as “smarter” simply because I know what I know and I’m a woman. It’s a harsh truth that my colleagues often rebut, but it’s sort of like when you see an fat guy doing somersaults during a ballet recital and can’t help but be like “wow, this guy is so talented” even though everyone else on stage is doing the same thing. It doesn’t mean they aren’t talented, but the person with the perceived disadvantage is going to stand out. On the other angle, women often have to demonstrate their abilities to a much higher level to get the respect and acknowledgement that seems to come naturally with men in this field.
I’ve encountered a number of women both at IMH and other companies and there’s a huge distinction between the ones that make a career for themselves and the ones that don’t. The ones that don’t seem to not try as hard and then somehow justify their lack of motivation by talking about how difficult it is to be a girl in the IT world, how we should all just take it easy on her, etc, etc. I’m the last person that’s going to show any sympathy for that. Just as a man can easily be called an asshole for being too hard on a woman simply due to gender, I find it just as insulting being patronized or treated like standards and expectations should be lowered just because I have a vagina.
Going back to the claim that women make less than men do, I suspect a lot of the time it’s because when you’re talking about something that is historically recognized to be a “man’s” field, women simply don’t try as hard. What I see is women taking stereotypical clerical or customer service positions at IT companies and being complacent with where they are. I’ve even heard some of the girls I work with tell me they actually don’t try harder because they just “aren’t good it it”. Even at this point in my career, I am constantly trying to learn new things. I still attend conferences, seminars, training classes, and take certification exams. The world of IT is constantly evolving. As a woman in IT, you do have to work harder simply for the recognition and for the respect, regardless of how quickly you learn. If you fly by doing the least you can do, your career will not move very far, and that’s no one’s fault but your own.
At said conferences and seminars it’s not uncommon for someone to ask me why I’m there. The one I perhaps get the most is “Are you, like, someone’s date or something? Just hanging out? Are you with the caterer?”. I then get to explain what I do and usually be greeted with a blank or disbelieving stare. More often than I see with men, I’m asked how I got into the IT field and the recipient almost always comments on my gender or speaks to me less intelligently when discussing IT topics, as if they are concerned that I won’t understand what they are talking about (and usually I’ll act confused just to play along, because it’s hilarious). One time at the cPanel conference in 2011, Brent Oxley (the former owner of Hostgator) actually responded with, “I didn’t know they made system admins with boobs.” I laughed. He then proceeded to have his IT director (or whatever he was) come over and quiz me because he thought I was lying. I found that part slightly annoying, but hey – they offered me a job. Of course I declined – you couldn’t pay me enough to work for someone like Brent.
This brings me in to one of my last points – misogyny. As a woman in IT, you’re going to deal with it at some point in time, whether in a serious or joking fashion. I personally love gender jokes but then again, I have a sense of humor and I don’t speak for all women, nor would I want to imply that women should take all gender comments lightly. However, there are some women that will find any excuse to inflate an issue to make it all about gender just to get attention or further their own agendas. In this field you have to have a sense of humor and know how to play well with others. Women like Adria Richards give women in IT a bad name because all they do is focus on the gender issue and act like every comment or dirty joke is a personal attack toward women, and use it to get attention. I very rarely see men in this field point out the fact that they are men when used to justify or gain recognition for something, so I don’t understand why in this day and age some women feel the need to the same.
Being a minority in this field is a gift, so use it as an opportunity to impress someone and help bridge the gender bias.