When Women are the Problem for Women in Tech

This past week, I read Meg Nordmann‘s post Why ALL Women in Tech are Women-In-Tech. She writes, “A fellow female (who is a very talented software engineer) told me to my face today that I am “NOT a woman in tech.” … Her reasoning: I was a marketer.” If you haven’t yet read her post, it’s definitely worth the read.

It is discouraging to know women are still facing this kind of blatant bias, but what I find reprehensible is when it is another woman who is the problem. I do not understand women who don’t help lift up other women, and I really don’t understand women who actively work to keep other women down. This kind of pettiness is demoralizing and cannot be tolerated.

Madeline Albright once said that there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.

Perhaps.

But that seems like a very long time to wait to fix the problem.

If you would rather not wait that long to address bias you may be facing, here are five methods to address the problem that you can try right now.

Lead by Example

If you don’t like how it feels to be on the receiving end of another woman’s bias about your right to call yourself a Woman in Tech, lead by example what you’d like to see in others. Treat other women with the dignity, respect, and kindness you’d like to receive. When you realize a woman may be struggling with feelings of inadequacy, boost her courage. Invite her to a tech gathering and introduce her to your peers. In doing so, you will help her build a broader network of support that can give her the courage to push forward and embrace her career in tech. Become a portal for others to enter by being a woman who makes room for other women to feel welcome within the tech industry.

Educate with Facts

When a woman’s concern over maintaining the integrity of her field of study leads to bias towards others in fields she may consider beneath her own, appealing to her emotions will rarely result in the desired outcome. Instead, try using facts to dispel her misconceptions. Share articles or reports that detail the variety of jobs that now require technical training and skills. Provide examples of your own required technical training or skills. Or point out historical, cultural or global biases which would have prevented her own entry into her chosen field. Use facts to convince her that maintaining the integrity of her own field of study is not the same as adhering to a narrow set of biases which result in the unnecessary exclusion of others.

Draw Clear Boundaries

We’ve likely all encountered the woman who believes that everyone else has a right to her opinion – and attempts to politely disengage or change the subject are useless. If she cannot or will not respond to your cues of discomfort, you may need to be straightforward. Draw clear boundaries about what is not acceptable. If she is choosing to violate your boundaries and is unaware or unapologetic for the hurtful nature of her words, responding with the same type of direct communication will clarify the boundaries that must be respected if she wants to talk with you.

Refuse to Engage

If our difficulties are the result of someone else thriving on the drama of controversy, we may find it impossible to resolve the issue. If this is the case for you, sometimes your only option is refusing to participate in her drama. By choosing to avoid interactions when possible, you limit her negative effect on you. And while the advice to not participate in the controversy is easy to give, it isn’t easy to do. When we are aware that someone else is saying things that are untrue and demeaning, our first reaction is to defend our reputation. But when we choose to engage, it rarely results in a better reputation. Refusing to engage won’t always help you avoid the pain of the situation, but it will allow you to rise above the controversy and maintain your integrity. And, with any luck, without your fuel to feed her fire, she’ll move on to someone new.

Call Her Out

Sometimes bias isn’t loud or direct but a whisper campaign of continual innuendos, digs, insults, backhanded comments. Women who may understand on some level their bias towards you might not be well-received by others may behave outwardly as if she is supportive while continuing to undermine by excluding you from activities or projects, making jokes about your weaknesses, or failing to acknowledge your successes publicly or privately. When bias takes on a subversive nature, it is often quite effective to call her out in front of others. Yes, it makes for some very awkward, uncomfortable moments when you refuse to ignore her digs but instead ask her point-blank about her intent or meaning. The good news is that it usually only takes once or twice to effectively shut down the problem.

Whether a woman participates in tech as an engineer, a developer, a marketer, or in some other capacity, there is room enough for all of us. It is a difficult industry that is rapidly changing, and we have no business making things even more difficult on each other.

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6 New Years Resolutions for Women Entrepreneurs

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As a woman entrepreneur, I’m making a different set of New Year’s Resolutions this year – a set of purposes that I think might also inspire other women in the workplace. I am sharing these resolutions to help challenge the status quo and push myself and other women to hold ourselves accountable and to serve as a guide as we work to help other women find success.

I Won’t Apologize For Having An Opinion
This next year, I resolve to never again share my opinion after using a disarming phrase like, “I’m sorry but” or “I don’t know, but maybe” – even if I am the only woman in the meeting. Actually, especially if I am the only woman in the meeting. I won’t apologize for having a differing opinion or for disagreeing with the consensus of those in attendance. I will remember that I have a creative, thinking brain that has just as much to offer, and if I am intimidated into not sharing my ideas, I’ve cheated our company out of having the opportunity to hear all of the ideas that our team has at their disposal. I will advocate for my vision with the same vigor as do my colleagues, and I will be as respectful of their ideas as I expect them to be of mine. But I won’t back down simply to get along; if I believe I have something of value to offer, I will have the courage to speak up with authority and not after apologizing for having an opinion at all.

I Will Be Authentic
In this upcoming year, I purpose to be true to myself, to be authentic. I won’t pretend to be something I’m not in order to fit in with others in the workplace, and I won’t hide my talents for fear of intimidating those around me. I will embrace all aspects of being a woman, from being feminine and liking feminine things to talking about my children at work. I will not hide the fact that I am a mother or that I am incredibly proud of my kids. And when I am feeling exceptionally brave, I will tell people that I am leaving work to take my child to the doctor’s or to volunteer at their school instead of making up some excuse that won’t be judged as harshly by others in the office.

I Will Have the Courage to Call Out Bias
Someone once said that part of leadership is speaking out when convicted even if no one else will and when no one else may agree. I will commit this year to calling out the bias I see that is blatant, that holds women back or fails to put them forward simply because they are women. I will challenge those in the media who fail to provide fair and balanced coverage of women – whether those in the media are my friends or complete strangers, because I understand that if I choose to not rock the boat when I see clear bias, it makes me a hypocrite for letting the lazy, status quo of biased journalism remain unchallenged.

I Will Stop Being So Prickly
And as much as I promise to be courageous enough to challenge biased media, I also purpose this year to keep myself in check. Sure it’s hard pushing through the bias and unequal playing ground, but if I allow myself to become prickly and bristle at every unintended comment or every news story that doesn’t include a woman among those included, I become part of the problem and stop being part of the path forward. I will understand that sometimes bias isn’t bias but just how things worked out that time and will be tolerant, since that is what I am expecting of others towards myself.

I Will Support Other Women
If I have several options of services providers or products – and among those choices are women-owned businesses – I will commit this year to support those women whenever possible. I won’t harm my company or my team by choosing women-led companies with inferior products or poor customer service, but I will make a conscious effort to support more women-owned businesses whenever I can. Why? Because women need other women to have their back, to help them get started, to help them get traction. It is not an equal playing field yet, and if we don’t help each other whenever we can, how can we get our own noses bent out of shape when other women don’t support us?

I Will Protect Other Women
I will protect the reputations of other women whenever I can. When given the perfect opportunity to throw a woman under the bus – even if I truly dislike her – I will refrain. I won’t stoop to gossiping about the failures in her personal life, with her children, in her previous work, or in any other aspect. This does not mean I won’t share information with a colleague or friend when I believe that person to be a liability, but I will even do that with discretion and careful consideration. I will not allow myself to believe that her choice of clothing or hairstyle, her size, her level of beauty or the quality of her smile are ever fair game for mockery. I will weigh a woman on the merits of her actions, her quality of work, her integrity, her work ethic, her honesty, her ability to deliver – the very same merits I would use to judge a man in her position.

As a woman entrepreneur, I have been on the receiving end of women who helped me, who offered a fresh perspective, a new opportunity, and fresh hope with nothing in it for themselves. I have such deep gratitude for these women, because they have lived by a moral code that has allowed others to benefit from the residue of their own successes. It’s a good standard to hold myself to in this coming year, and it’s one I look forward to. If I can help someone else have an opportunity that would have not come their way – that will be the best successful New Year’s Resolution I can imagine.