As someone who’s spent her entire career, executive or otherwise, in male-dominated industries, I’m closely acquainted with the challenges women face in their workplaces. Both the good… and bad.
Unfortunately, those experiences are not unique to me, or isolated to a sole industry – for me, they’ve crisscrossed politics, investments, banking, consulting, and tech. Don’t get me wrong. It’s been an amazing journey with incredible people, but there were times where a choice was needed: let it deter me or draw strength. I chose the latter.
The strength before me
As a woman, I’m forever thankful to those who stood before me and fought for what I now take for granted. My mother has told me stories of when she was early in her career as a teacher, and when female teachers married, they had to resign. That’s so wrong, not to mention such a waste of talent.
Now, we’re in a different era for women. We have choices. We have options. We have a voice.
Although time (and I will not disclose how much), has passed since my mum started her career, many barriers still exist. My negative experiences were centered around harassment, and while they’re a number of years ago, they still bother me and to some degree have shaped me. Since then, I’ve found my voice, learned ways to shut down the behaviors and am determined to push for greater change, as previous generations of women have done.
What women have to overcome
Unfortunately, there are layers of generational stereotyping that women must overcome. The discrimination that exists didn’t start in the workplace. For hundreds of years, it’s been embedded in the messages we’re told at home, throughout school and behaviors we’ve observed as we age. Choices about toys, clothing, subjects studied, and careers pursued, are all influenced by those stereotypes and how as women, we’re expected to conform and behave a certain way.
When we don’t, things start getting more difficult.
If I judged myself on what I’ve been told in the workplace, I’ll always be too much of ‘something’. Too blunt, too divisive, not caring enough, not nurturing enough, or my ideas just aren't great. Once I pitched an idea that got rejected “because I didn’t understand business”. So, I suggested a male executive pitch the exact same idea, using the same deck. You guessed it: it was approved, rolled out, and a major success. But, it’s not just expectations that I’ve had to overcome.
Crossing the line in a workplace
I started my career in politics, which in Australia of late, doesn’t have the best reputation for gender equality. Looking back, one incident stands out for me, but there were many more…
The politician for whom I was working, was running late, so (as instructed) I went ahead and started the meeting without him. (To clarify, my boss was great, but the stakeholder involved was not). At the time I was in my early 20s and the man in question slowly and deliberately, ‘checked me out’ in front of his co-workers as I entered the room. To be clear, this wasn’t a quick eye movement – his head moved up and down – with the express intent of making me feel uncomfortable. I felt gross, disgusted and started questioning what I had done – to make him think that was acceptable. I didn’t know what to do.
While my boss would have backed me, the power dynamics meant I felt I had no right to do anything. I know it would never have occurred if my boss was in the room, and the guy knew what he’d done was wrong and inappropriate. But if I’d complained, not everyone would have supported me, and I would have become the problem.
So, I stayed quiet.
Silence equals complicity
Surrounded by such behavior, women are conditioned to remain silent. We’re taught to internalize it, to think we may have misinterpreted, to not blow things up or make a big deal, and to instead pretend that nothing happened. But that’s not right.
I know I wasn’t the only woman subjected to that man’s behavior or similar men. And yet, I’ve also witnessed it and stayed quiet. I’ve watched women awkwardly laugh and remind men of their daughter’s age (which the women were frighteningly close to), as they’re appallingly hit on at work functions. I said nothing when people joked about never leaving female staffers alone with certain men.
I now regret my silence.
In the current political context, it’s easy enough to write off what happened as just being politics. But it isn’t. A number of my female friends across tech, finance, construction and other male-dominated fields have been subjected to similar behavior. Only one of them hadn’t. And that upsets me.
Pretty much every one of us had a story where someone crossed the line – ranging from the kind of harassment above, to being told to give someone “special favors” to keep their jobs. We had all felt unsafe in the workplace. Turning those men’s words back at myself, I’m ‘too tired’ of hearing it over and over.
Now, in an odd way, my bad experiences have helped me to learn, grow, evolve, and use my voice and make change happen. As a female tech leader in a position of influence, I have greater empathy and bring unique perspectives to my role, because of the struggles I’ve been through. I’m trying to do my small part in making change happen.
My experiences with Tiny
On joining Tiny, I felt at home – that it’s the kind of organization that stands up and takes action. I could tell it was a bunch of people who weren’t going to tolerate poor behavior, bullying, or sexual harassment. And many times, our co-founder and CEO, Andrew Roberts, has made it clear those behaviors aren’t tolerated at Tiny.
Tiny genuinely walks the talk – unlike other places I’ve worked. Their focus is on results, what you can achieve and the value you add. That’s evident when you look at the people who get promoted. It’s not ‘the boys’ or the political players – it’s the best candidate, or the one who did a great job.
That’s a wonderful thing to come into, after being places where it was all about politics, power, domination and knowing who’s who.
Why pick a tech career
So, you’re possibly thinking that it’s easier to just stay clear of male-dominated careers. I mean, why take the hard road? That’s easy to answer – because change doesn’t happen by itself. It needs catalysts, and you should be one of those sparks.
Tech can be a great industry for women. It’s built on rapid change – especially within start-ups and SMEs -– which means there’s massive scope for growth, change, and experimentation.
If you’re considering it, the most important thing is a genuine passion for technology. You’ll be spending a huge portion of your day at work, so enjoy what you’re doing. Secondly, there’s a wide diversity of roles… you don’t have to be an engineer. I’m not! But I love marketing and technology, the fast pace cutting edginess of it gets me out of bed every day (sometimes too early) and the people are great.
Finding female-strong tech
How do you spot a truly female-friendly tech company? (Especially considering the gender imbalance that exists in nearly all tech organizations.)
Here are a few tips:
- Search LinkedIn and see how many women are in the company. Importantly, check what roles they have.
- Ideally, there should be women (and men) across age groups, which indicates support for all stages of life
- Look for women in leadership positions
For some smaller start-ups, this type of search will be a challenge. But in a more mature organization, you should expect to see women in leadership, and a range of roles. Sadly, there are still some bad eggs out there and it’s disheartening that they tolerate that behavior. But I do promise, (based on my experience), there are great tech companies out there who will recognize your strengths, support you, and help you grow.
Tech is a great career option and if it’s something you’re considering, I’d say “what are you waiting for?” There are some truly great ones out there, but sadly some of us (like me) have to kiss a few frogs first.
That’s it from me - but stay tuned for more stories coming up in our Women in Tech series!
If you feel inspired to share this or speak out after reading my story, please tag @joinTiny so we can keep the conversation going.