November 24, 2017
I posed this question to the audience of women and non-binary technologists at Write Speak Code conference in Portland, Oregon this past Saturday.
Answers bubbled up from the crowd:
Not your friends and family.
Not other people who look like you.
Definitely not your pet cat.
Of numerous and seemingly endless stories emerging about inequality, bias and sexism in the tech industry, Ellen Pao’s story is one that deeply resonates with me.
Ellen Pao is a former VC at one of the top firms in Silicon Valley. In 2012, she sued her employer for gender discrimination. Instead of staying small, she took up the fight. Instead of staying quiet, she spoke up. She didn’t win, but she retained the right to tell her story.
Here’s her experience of how entrenched sexism benefitted her employer:
“…the answer crystallized in my mind: If you had the opportunity to have workers who were overeducated, underpaid, and highly experienced, whom you could dump all the menial tasks you didn’t want to do on, whom you could get to clean up all the problems, and whom you could create a second class out of, wouldn’t you want them to stay?
All too real. All too familiar.
Here’s my truth – I left the tech field, because I couldn’t bear the pressure to fold myself into a pretzel to please an all-male management team and to pretend like sexism doesn’t exist. Like 41% of women in tech who leave within 10 years of working in the field, I couldn’t see myself advancing and thriving if I stayed.
My story is, of course, unique to me and one of privilege, as I am an able-bodied, naturalized U.S. citizen who speaks English. And I don’t have the answers to fixing the tech industry’s sexism problem. My choice was to leave, but it doesn’t have to be yours. You don’t have to do anything that I’ve done in my career to cope, to grow and to change. I’ve benefitted from the experience of others, and my intention is to share what I’ve experienced to be of value.
So here are few things that helped me:
Let’s go big or go home.