Being the only woman on a team (or at a company) – especially when belonging to additional marginalized groups – is harmful to one’s career, mental wellbeing, and physical safety (McKinsey & Co, 2019).
Lately, I’ve noticed these statistics aren’t “clicking” for my clients: well-meaning mostly white, mostly male leaders. And, since the swell of interest this Summer, I’ve noticed diversity efforts and gender inclusion initiatives stalling out a bit.
To help reinvigorate the work of inclusion in tech, I surveyed and then hosted two open sessions on “Surviving Tech” for those who are often “the first” or “the only” or “somehow different” in terms of any under-represented identities.
My collaborator and I asked these 120 multi-racial, multi-gendered techies, “what’s hard about being “the first” / “the only” in tech?”
Their answers were crushing, unsurprising, and motivating. Their reflections spoke to six main ways tech is failing women and non-binary people, techies of Color, queer/trans folks, and especially those of us who belong to more than one marginalized community:
Hostility and culture issues
- “All day it’s offensive humor in earshot; and I get called out for eavesdropping or being “over-sensitive” when I say anything”
- “Even nice people are just not aware about what’s not cool anymore. Words that just shouldn’t fly today and racist emojis from white people.”
- “When I was hired, the guys played “tricks” on me, denying me access from systems I needed to use for my job.”
- “I didn’t have a title for 1.7 years and so they made me do all this grunt work…and then they told me I wasn’t ready for the raise or new title.”
- “You’d be amazed at the level of straight up sexual harassment in tech even after #metoo”
- “Bullying and rudeness”
- “Interruptions all the time’
- “Everything’s just supposedly a “joke” to the engineers but it’s frankly racist and unkind to the gay community”
- “Working in startups without HR depts to curb unfair behavior”
- “Being given projects that don’t challenge me”
- “Getting obviously underpaid”
- “Being left out of the important meetings”
- “Not being taken seriously on my team”
- “I’m so demoralized by seeing Cis white men with inflated titles compared to their skills get promoted above me: a seasoned person”
- “Promotion / climb up ladder / job searching – as Black and female”
- “Being given the ‘girly’ tasks – like keeping the team organized (I’m an engineer).
- “Getting told I’m not ready for promotion, but then getting asked to train someone (a rescind college grad white male) much more junior for the role – ‘because he had promise’.”
- “I wonder if there’s something wrong with me: in my last job I was in a much higher role. Here, they said “you’re not there yet” but when I asked what it would take: silence.”
“Being under-estimated is really taking a toll on me.”
- “Major self-doubt and self criticism from seeing no one like me.”
- “I take three times as long as my colleagues to make sure it’s perfect on the first try (I’m getting burned out).”
- “Being an “only” – especially in leadership is rough.”
- “I feel called to allyship for everyone who’s not a CIS straight white man.”
- “I do lots of second-guessing myself.”
- “I’m very impacted by the thoughts and words of people I don’t respect who keep bringing me down.”
- “I guess I’m giving up: I don’t market my skills and accomplishments as well as I should.“
“It’s lonely as hell.”
- “I get talked over, ignored, repeated, or disrespected in ways I’m certain my colleagues don’t even understand.”
- “I crave finding like-minded folks excited about new tech but from a similar class and background.”
- “I’m the first non-binary tech cofounder in my company and in my social group.”
- “I’m the first woman on the engineering side – they’re always making a thing out of my gender; it’s a lot of pressure.”
- “I feel like I’m the crazy one.”
- “I’m so damn lonely.“
It’s hard to “be myself”.
- “It’s hard to figure out “authenticity” and “vulnerability” in a super-homogenous tech (bro) culture, so I just shut myself down.”
- “Not sure how cool it is to be “out” as a progressive – in my leadership role.”
- “Everyone seems cool, but I’m not 100% ready to “come out” there; it’s weird because I’m “out” everywhere else.”
- “There’s shame in being new to tech”
- “I’m tired of working in spaces where I can not be in my wholeness.”
- “I don’t even feel like myself anymore in this culture.”
I’m not sure how to make change (without repercussions)
- “Advocating for inclusion without being “that person”.”
- “Knowing when to stand up for myself (and when to let it lie).”
- “I want to learn how to care for, and create space for people who have been marginalized and ensure that as many people as I can, are embraced and exposed to their full potential in a respectful and comfortable way.”
- “The battle and balance of hiring more diverse candidates.”
- “When to stay quiet and survive and when to push back.”
- “I want to help breakdown stereotypes and bring more Diversity & Inclusion within tech.”
Being marginalized in tech – especially as an “only” – can cause slowed career growth, loneliness, burnout, role confusion, self-doubt, lack of critical thought partnership, and a feeling of being torn about “speaking up” to make it better.
My hope in sharing these quotations is that the words of these individuals will re-awaken all of us to the need for real change in companies.