I remember how I felt when I first got the opportunity to be recognized as a programmer.The title alone was music to my ears: how unapologetically nerdy and technical it is, how honest and unassuming. (No Software Engineers here. Programmer with a capital P.)
For one role I interviewed for before landing my first dev job I had an interesting experience, that I would like to explore further. (Opinions and commentary welcome.) The recruiter I was working with told me in all frankness that this organization (a sports startup) was trying to diversify their team, but the previous candidate they made an offer to declined – she didn’t want to be the only woman on the team, and turned down the offer.
I had a mixed reaction to this, and at first honestly felt a little frustrated that there are women out there thinking this way. First I thought if all women felt that way we’d never have broken into tech at all. Then I started feeling a little impatient with this other unknown person – this woman knew she was getting into a male dominated field, right? No one goes in blind.
It didn’t take long though for my hypothetical annoyance at this idea to fade. Another part of me who has heard the tales of loneliness women in engineering face at work understands. Indeed, the endemic culture issues surrounding women in tech are well summed up in the image above. I often start google queries that way just to see what they type. The examples are incredibly depressing.
You’ll notice the trend: the most common queries are that we get harassed, are we even any good at programming, and then center on how attractive we are. Broadly to face a culture where female engineers are considered so ‘other’ that these are the questions we are asking, is it unreasonable for a woman to have hesitation about being the only girl in her workplace? Maybe not.
This still leaves a question akin to which came first, the chicken or the egg. How do workplaces get female engineers to join their ranks if women are unwilling to join a company that doesn’t yet have any women? We need people willing to be other. We need people willing to be first. At least in some places. (Although I have come to sympathize with having mixed feeling about being the only girl, like I’ve said – that isn’t anything that would ever stop me from taking a job.)
Whether you are okay being first or not, my advice to all women (and heavily borrowed from Lean In, to give credit) is to be that hand up to other women in your company. Maybe you are the first, but you certainly don’t have to be the last.