Growing up I never thought it was unusual to be a “woman in tech.” Sure, I was a girl who taught myself how to code by second grade, but I wrote that code on a computer that was largely used by my mother. I guess there weren’t many women in my computer classes, but I never remember feeling that I was thought less of or treated differently because of my gender. Besides, for a long time I didn’t think that computers would be my career. I didn’t link my ability to write code with my identity at all. I was a woman who codes just like I was a woman who eats and walks and sleeps and reads.
I did go into a technology career, but even after starting my first job as a computer programmer I didn’t think anything of my special role as a “woman in tech.” Yes, among my coworkers women were the minority, but our department had fewer than 20 people with three women other than myself. We were outnumbered, but I didn’t feel alone or strange for being a woman.
Until my first corporate Christmas party.
I remember being excited about that Christmas party. This wasn’t a potluck in the conference room event. This was a party at the Vice President’s Country Club. It was a fancy dress up thing. Going to this party I felt very grown up. Very professional.
When my date and I arrived, I pointed out the Vice President greeting people at the top of the stairs. I had only met him once before. My boss’s boss’s boss. We got to the top of the stairs, and I was ready to shake the Vice President’s hand and be thanked for all my hard work like I had seen done with colleagues in front of me, but that’s when it happened: my welcome to “women in tech” moment.
The Vice President did not shake my hand. He did not thank me for my hard work. Instead, he shook my date’s hand and thanked him for all of his hard work. Clearly, my actor/waiter boyfriend who was totally uncomfortable going to a corporate event looked more like an IT employee than I did simply because he was a man.
I don’t remember what I said or did at that moment. I don’t remember if I corrected the Vice President or just awkwardly moved on to the food and drinks. I do know that at that moment I realized that women in tech were still, even in the ’90s, not the expected norm.
I recently spoke at an all girls’ high school. I was not there talking about “women in tech.” I with a team doing short presentations on information security. There is a reason though that I volunteer to do that sort of outreach whenever the opportunity arises and my schedule allows it. It is important to me that young women see me (and my female colleagues) and receive the unspoken message that women in tech exist. Yes, we are still often the minority, but a young woman does not need to be a pioneer or a radical feminist to go into a tech career, as many of the “we need more women in tech” propaganda implies.
Yes, women in tech still have to deal with a lot of bullshit such as pay inequities and harassment. But, I hope, we have gotten to a point where when we walk to top of a staircase and are greeted by a Vice President who isn’t sure which person in a couple is his employee that he at least thinks to ask.
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