By: Megan Himan
Truth be told, I wasn’t too keen on talking about issues of women in technology. It just wasn’t something I thought much about.
First, I don’t think of myself as a technologist. Despite getting an A+ in my one and only computer science class in college, I think of myself more of an organizational change consultant who uses technology as her vehicle.
Then, I didn’t see my issues as particularly female-related. Most of my colleagues were females, as were my clients. We struggle with user adoption, change management, and beautiful database architecture, but not with being female.
Then I got mad. At a conversation I had. And then I remembered other conversations. And, like any good discomfort, it caused me to rise from my inaction.
Below are four key sticking points that I have struggled with as a woman in technology, and their expectations that need to be checked against. By the way – these expectations don’t just apply to men! Often we, as women, apply these same biases and need to check ourselves just as frequently.
- The woman in the room isn’t as technical as the man, or doesn’t have the “right” solution. Some of the most unnerving and emotionally challenging encounters I have ever had are with super technical men who are convinced that they have the one and only right technical solution. This is typically intensified in a peer environment where there is no clear owner or decision-making hierarchy, and I’ve had to argue to get my ideas across. In fact – that was the only time I’ve cried in my public work-space – after completing a call on yet another exhausting debate-fest.
Expectation Check: Are the women at your table given a space to express their ideas (and are the others listening with openness?), especially in a peer environment?
- The woman with the job (or applying for the job) will quit when she has babies. I once had a board member ask me how soon I was planning to have children when I was being considered for an executive director position. I thought – is this legal? Another friend at a law firm is struggling after returning from maternity leave when some of her key clients were reassigned since they “didn’t think she was coming back.” That never happens when someone takes paternity leave – she argued to me.
Expectation Check: Are the colleagues at your organization given the same space to engage with their work, or are unconscious or conscious decisions being made for them about how they want to work?
- The woman isn’t as serious about the effort as a man in a similar position. I had a peer, whom I really like and respect, mention that he thought the firm my business partner and I were launching might be a lifestyle business. It was an aside comment, and I don’t think it was meant to be insulting. But it made me furious. Because it was clear to me that if two men had started a consulting firm no one would ever think (consciously or not) that this was a “lifestyle” versus a serious business endeavor.
Expectation Check: Are you downplaying the legitimacy of the businesses or projects owned by women in your field? Can you check those expectations against your feelings if a man were to be starting/running that same endeavor?
- The woman shouldn’t negotiate hard (i.e. be “nice”). I used to be afraid of negotiating. I also had lots of failed negotiation attempts. I’ve gotten better over the years – in part by reading the book Women Don’t Ask, and with more practice, and finally just getting clearer on what I really need and want in any given situation. But I still struggle with people-pleasing and the overwhelming feeling of an expectation to be “nice” and likable. I read a blog recently about the difference between being nice and kind. Everyone should be kind – I don’t want to play or work with a jerk, and I shouldn’t be one to other people. Life is just better when we’re kind to each other. But there’s a difference between being nice and kind. I’ve found in negotiations that often the other party gets a bit bristly (perhaps even subconsciously) when I’ve asked for things and am not playing as passively nice role as expected. And the hard reality I’ve come to is that I often need to be more “kind” than average in a negotiation – explaining my reasoning or needs more than perhaps a man in a similar conversation might.
Expectation check: Are you expecting the women at the negotiating table to be “nice” and not counter against the issues being discussed? Are you labeling women as “mean” when they assert themselves, in a way that wouldn’t be judged as so coming from a male?
Megan Himan has been working with nonprofits for 20+ years and on the Salesforce platform for 15. She is co-founder of BrightStep Partners, a consulting firm for nonprofits that brings a strategic voice to every project. She is a former national team rugby player who loves traveling with her husband, camping with her two boys, and who tries really hard to be kind when playing old-girls soccer on Saturdays.