I was asked the other day if I ever feel at a disadvantage because I’m a women in tech. If I ever feel like I’m dismissed or challenged because of my gender. My answer: not any more.
When I first started my career, it did feel a bit odd being the girl in a room full of guys. Working in IT, providing technical support for a software company of 300 employees where the average age was 30, I would often get hit on as I worked on a colleague’s computer to fix the network adapter or figure out a mail client problem. I put a picture of my nephews on my desk so that people would think I was married with kids.
Later in my career, working as a consultant and coming in from the outside to help an IT department with a particular project or problem it was not unusual to get challenged. However any outsider needed to prove themselves and didn’t matter if you were male or female. But sometimes I did feel that I got challenged a bit more thoroughly than my male counterparts. Some of the guys didn’t seem quite able to get their heads around this girl coming in knowing more about something then they did. These were usually the guys that would start spewing technical jargon trying to trip you up.
And then there was the time when I was at a technology showcase for HP or Toshiba or Compaq or one of the big hardware manufacturers. I was with the VP of Business Development for the consulting company I worked for. I started asking one of the hardware guys some questions and he turned and answered to the VP. He answered all my questions but he did it as if the VP had asked them! It was very bizarre.
Now I don’t know if times have just changed or if I just work in a more enlightened environment or if a more mature woman doesn’t face the same discrimination that a younger women does in this industry, but I don’t notice the same attitudes today. It also could be that I’ve grown accustomed to the environment. I no longer notice that I’m the only woman in the room until I’m at a conference and there’s no line-up for the woman’s washroom.
One thing I do know is that it’s not such a bad thing to be the one that’s different. People remember your name. They remember your work. You will get recognized.
My advice to anyone who is in an environment where you feel different – embrace it and turn it from a disadvantage to an advantage. If you’re going to be recognizable anyway, make sure that you and your work stand out in a good way.