Being a woman in the technology industry
8 March 2022
As part of International Women’s Day 2022, we wanted to give you some personal insight from colleagues at BigChange into what it’s like being a woman working in technology. These experiences are about their overall careers, having only recently joined our business, but they give a useful and powerful example of the issues faced by women in this sector.
Hi, we’re Angella & Sarah, two web developers that work for BigChange in the CRMasters POD (Cross-functional team) and as the name suggests we are focused on winning new jobs and CRM. We’ve both recently joined BigChange and for International Women’s Day, we’d like to give you an insight into what it’s like being a woman in tech and how we’ve made it to this point in life. We’ve both written a small piece about our personal experience.
As a woman, choosing IT is not only a career path but also a lifestyle that I had to embrace. It requires a lot of strength to go against all the adversities and frequently handle discouragement, especially during the first few years. Although there are brilliant parts to programming, I used to wake up every day having to decide if my dream was actually worth it. Even after a decade of working in this area, there are still some almost unbearable situations to accept.
When I was 12, I wanted to help my family with their small business by creating a website, as they could not afford it. However, I didn’t have any knowledge back then, so I read a book about Pascal. Later on, I realised other technologies and programming languages that would be more beneficial for creating a simple website. Still, it was so fascinating to discover this new world of programming. I found out we can genuinely fall in love with a subject, and from this day onwards, I could not stop coding.
Unfortunately, this positivity was short-lived when I joined a Computer Science course a few years later, I was shocked to see that there were only 3 women in a class of 48 people. As the days passed, I was able to see that we were treated in a totally different way to men. We had to endure so many rude comments, and they were constantly telling us that we were not good enough. If someone tells you every day that you cannot do something, you must have a really strong and healthy mind not to believe in it. All my future IT education was the same, a class in Computer Networks, where the number of women was unsurprisingly low: 5 in a class of 40. Another course, System Information, had only 6 women out of 50 people. The scenario was exactly the same, being frequently discouraged in something you love can be heartbreaking.
During all the time that I was studying, I was also working. There was still a massive difference between the number of men and women, but working was even more challenging and demotivating. In classes, people are not afraid of diminishing you but is far more subtle in a work environment. We had to handle condescending behaviour during meetings, microaggressions, having our knowledge questioned even in our area of expertise, and realising that the gender pay gap is a reality. Those issues make you feel uncertain about yourself, even after years of dedication and putting all your efforts into the career that you love.
Despite the struggle, I am glad I decided to continue programming. It brings me a lot of joy. I also became a better person because of it. I am more confident because I learned to stand up for myself, be brave enough to face all the discouragement, and improve my resilience for coming back every time I was down. There are still problems women still have to deal with, but there have been many improvements in gender equality. It is encouraging to see companies implementing policies to prevent discrimination against women and helping them feel not only safe in the workplace but also comfortable exercising their profession. It is also great to see men in our teams treating us like equals, which helps to reduce the feeling that we do not belong. I hope we can get to a point where all the gender obstacles are extinguished, which would make all the progress a lot more fun!
Wanting to blend in with your environment is human nature. As a woman in tech, you can sometimes feel like a zebra in a zoo. People throw insensitive remarks and questions in your face. Often they ask why you decided to study something technical as if it was the most bizarre thing in the world. As a result, you’re made to feel different, even though initially you might not. These kinds of remarks don’t just come from men but also other women.
I was brought up in a primarily conservative household where women have to play a particular role. Even as a child, I knew what my parents were doing was wrong, so I would rebel against it. I was expected to do more household chores than my brothers and be more obedient. Being confident and loud was punished. As a result, I struggle to be assertive now.
Because I was unhappy with family life, I’d spend a lot of time in front of a computer playing video games online. I stumbled upon programming by setting up my own gaming server with custom quests that I had to code. I also started learning about web design as I wanted a fancy website for my server. Needless to say, the website looked terrible, but I had a lot of fun with this little project.
While my interests certainly helped me choose a technical subject to study, I don’t believe anyone should be made to feel like they don’t belong in the field just because they preferred doing something else in their youth. If you were born in the 90s, you were still pushed into gender stereotypes as a child. For example, I was regularly told off for playing video games just because I was a girl. I felt like a failure of a woman. I even hated being one for a time as I started to see women as inferior. We need to break this harmful cycle and stop pushing gender stereotypes on our children. A woman can be a brilliant engineer like a man can be a brilliant carer.
Later on, I decided to study mechanical engineering as I liked the idea of designing and optimising mechanical parts. There were maybe 10 women in total in the first term, and by the last term, there were even fewer. It was also rare to see a woman professor. This, of course, was discouraging as you started to question if you belonged there in the first place, but it wasn’t enough of a reason for me to change my subject. I enjoyed my time at university.
Every engineer nowadays also has to have basic knowledge of computer science. After finishing university, this helped me get a temporary job in software development. After a few months, the company offered me a permanent position as a software engineer. I enjoyed coding so much that I decided to stay in IT. The idea of creating something useful with mere lines of code was fascinating to me.
Writing your first lines of code can be challenging, but it’s like that with anything else that’s new. It’s nothing to be scared of, and there’s absolutely nothing manly about sitting in front of a computer and typing code with your fingertips. I hope more women will explore technology as it’s a fascinating and rewarding career path. People need to get used to us!
It was wonderful to share experiences and realise that we have been through very similar situations in our education and work environments. It brought us closer and made us feel like we were not alone in this journey.
We want to thank BigChange for allowing us to speak out on International Women’s Day. It is very gratifying to be part of an incredible team that respects and values us, which helps us feel that we belong. A special thank you to Jonathan, our product owner, for bringing up the initiative and supporting us. He goes above and beyond to create a healthy environment for our POD.
BigChange has spoken to colleagues across the business to look further into into what it’s like being a woman working in technology:
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