Building a community of women who work in technology – hosted by Betsy Speare, Jennifer Marsman & Helene Love Snell

We are lucky to return to Anandi  this week as  our guest blogger —  remember her awesome post ”  Your dream schedule in a tech company – it CAN be done! Four steps to find the schedule you want!.” I have to admit that my first reaction to this blog was less than enthusiastic.  The beauty of owning the blog is adding my own editorial and even changing the title (which I did  – Anandi title kicks off the blog article). 

On a bit lighter note,  over the holidays, my family launched a new website in remembrance of my Mom, Chef Char Zyskowski – it’s 1200 of her best recipes and I can tell you they are all soooo good.  The site is all about enjoying food and friends.   Take a minute to check it out www.AppleCharlotteCooking.com.   Next rev will include menus she created as well as another big bunch of recipes…

However, its a conversation that is at the root of this blog even being in existence – a special blog just for women in tech.  I guess the point is, women in tech do not have the leadership or decision making positions at the same rate as most other white collar industries.  You can point to the “math problem” (girls not encouraged to do math) and the “pipe” problem (not enough women with technical degrees) – but it’s hard to not to admit that there is something inherit in the corporate software industry that discourages women from staying in software as well as a culture that doesn’t promote them at the same rate as their male counterparts if they do stay.   So I say – YES!  We should be doing something different so that women will stay.  For example, building community for women in technical companies enables them to connect to conquer the isolation that drives  them away is good.   Identifying sponsor and mentorship programs that teach our male leaders to be aware of stereotyping is powerful and connects women with coaching – it’s is all good.    The examples Anandi gives seem more like recruiting tools  that are  more superficial “rewards” offered to women who participate – as in any scare resource.   I heard from the interns at MS this year that they got a private concert with Dave Mathews – wow – and that’s both men and women.  What’s that saying?  Scarcity breeds “over-the-top?”  We can’t pick on MS for this though – every company, college, business, government in the world relies on this premise.  So, your read it, and let me know what you think!  use the comments!

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Microsoft Windows Server, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer (down 1 chicken due to racoon)!

To follow the Women in Technology Blog – go to https://womentech.wordpress.com/feed/

An-web (2)Blog post by Anandi Raman Creath, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Corp.

Empowering or Separate But Equal or Unfair Advantage?

I originally posted this on my personal blog, House of Peanut, and have revised it based on some of the insight I got from the discussion with friends and coworkers that resulted.  I know “good blog posts” are supposed to have a strong opinion, but I am conflicted on the topic, so  I’m putting this out there as a collection of viewpoints and would love to hear *your* thoughts on the topic.

When I was accepted at Caltech in 1991 (yikes, that was a long time ago), the offer of admission came with an extra surprise. Not only was I invited to attend Prefrosh Weekend, which was a way for prospective students to figure out if the school was a good fit, but Caltech would PAY FOR ME to attend, simply because I was female.

First thought was “OMG, I got in?!”. Next thought was “Hooray, a trip to California!” since it was a cold April in Pittsburgh. But having never thought about it before, I was puzzled by why they’d fly me out for free, since I did not need financial assistance. Of course, I soon understood it was because of their 4 to 1 male: female ratio, and the fact that they wanted to increase their ‘yield’ of admitted female students accepting the offer.

I went to Caltech, I made lots of friends both male and female, and it wasn’t terribly hard for me to adjust to life in a skewed-ratio environment. I didn’t feel like being female was a disadvantage or that anyone was discriminating against me for it, so I never felt the need to seek the services of the Womens’ Center, all-female housing, or other women-only groups, which were all available to me.  I had one professor make an asinine remark about women not being able to visualize 3-D space, but it was, thankfully, an isolated incident.

One of my best recommendations I got for my graduate school applications was from a male professor who was involved in the decision to admit women to Caltech (only in 1974!).  Grad school and my subsequent job at a Big Five consulting firm were pretty much close to a “normal” gender ratio.

And then I came to my current company, a very tech-focused environment which seems to have the same male: female ratio (or worse) than Caltech, at least on the product teams I’ve been on. I’m frequently the only woman in a meeting, and in our last team meeting, I counted maybe 3 women in a room of 40.

This is typical, but doesn’t bother me. I’ve never felt like people were treating me differently for being female.  Except when guys apologize for using bad language in front of me – that drives me up the wall. I know they mean well, and I tell them I am fully capable of swearing like a sailor and then it’s all good.

My company sponsors a Women’s Conference, which is open to all, but typically it’s 98% women who attend, and the topics are mostly focused on women in technology, how to navigate office politics, work-life balance, etc. We have several active womens’ groups at different levels of the company that offer training, host social events, and meet regularly to work on various initiatives, like sponsoring STEM events for girls. I’m guessing men aren’t explicitly excluded from these events, but they don’t attend.

And there’s my dilemma. I’ve taken advantage of the special training sessions and conferences offered by these groups, because they’re really great opportunities that others pay a premium for externally. I like to go to the social women’s’ networking events to see former coworkers and meet new people.

Some of these events have an undercurrent of “us vs. them” and “we women have to stick together” that makes me uncomfortable. I also feel guilty because I don’t feel like I *need* special treatment or training just because I’m female. And I wonder if I’m somehow saying with my actions that we women “need this kind of help”.

And at the other end of the spectrum, to borrow a term from the Caltech Honor Code, sometimes it seems like I’m getting an “unfair advantage” by being offered these things, when most of my coworkers are not.

Some men in technology fields are socially awkward and not savvy about things like office politics and networking. They may be from other countries and don’t “get” the way things work in our American culture. I bet they could benefit from the same training opportunities as well.

When I think back to the Prefrosh Weekend trip to Caltech, I know my parents would have sent me anyway, even if they had to pay for it. There may have been guys who didn’t go because their parents didn’t want to spend the money. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of my attendance being more valuable just because of my gender.

And yes, I’m really, really lucky that I don’t have to deal with overt sexism, and that I haven’t felt that frustration. I know it still exists, even in the land of technology where I’d like to believe it’s all about intellect and efficiency. It’s possible that at my worker bee level of the hierarchy, deals and promotions are not being forged on golf courses or sports bars, but at higher levels they are. But even if that’s the case, it’s theoretical – I personally don’t feel like I’m being limited because of my gender.

Do I continue to take the opportunities offered to me? Do I respectfully decline them because I don’t feel like I’m at an inherent disadvantage and maybe someone else does? Is it like going to church, where some people need that kind of community support more than others? Am I naive and being discriminated against more than I realize?

When I put these questions out to my peers on Facebook and my blog, I got some surprising answers from both men and women.  (I love social networking!)

I had a few people say they were strongly against what sounded like “affirmative action” and “special treatment” based on gender alone.  They were all engineers, two female and one male, different age ranges, so no generalizations to be drawn there.

Several people commented on the studies done re: the inherent advantage men have in the workplace re: pay inequity, perception of male parents vs. female parents, and even getting through an interview process (swapping a male for female name on the same resume, etc.)  So there is a feeling that sexism exists, and it may be very subtle.  It may be worse in different parts of the country (or world) and can be dependent on the average age of the workforce, too.

What I didn’t expect was that nearly *everyone* encouraged me to continue taking the opportunities presented as long as *I* found them useful.  A few men and one female coworker presented it as something companies do to attract and retain underrepresented groups.  Another Caltech alumnus and Amazon engineer (male) pointed to an article about Scott Page, an economist who did quantitative research showing that diverse groups are better for organizations.

Someone made a good point – these programs exist and may give me an advantage, so why wouldn’t I grab the opportunity, for my own career development.  Because most certainly others are doing so, and these are the same people I’m ranked against at performance review time.  Pragmatic, but true.

More than a few said that I could assuage my guilt by sharing the knowledge with others on my teams, both male and female.  I like that idea a lot – building community and spreading out the benefits from these targeted activities to more than the intended group.

I also noticed that the discussion seemed to delve pretty quickly into *why* there’s an underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, and it’s pretty easy to rathole and speculate on why that is (cultural factors vs. biology).  But I think that’s too large a topic to address in this post, so let’s keep that one separate, please.

If you’d like to look at the original discussion and read the comments verbatim, here’s that post.

What’s your take on this?  Do you think we still need programs to encourage and support women in technology?  Do you take part in them, even if you don’t feel you are personally at a disadvantage?  Does the question of “fairness” enter into it for you?

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