… in any one instance the effects of  stereotypes may be quite small- if you don’t get credit in one meeting, that’s not exactly disastrous, but over time, a little bit here and little bit there, these bias can add up and this can carry men and women into very different directions in their careers.
This statement, made by Shelley Correll, Professor of Sociology at Stanford University, Director of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, as part of a Lean in web education video, resonated with me as I have recognized this often in my own career and noticed how its impacted women who I once perceived far ahead of me on the career path, only to watch fall behind. I’ve only rarely experienced discrimination, but stereotypes have impacted me so often and so obviously that I’ve found myself at odds with them for years. I’ve watched great women DBAs and Developers placed in management positions after lesser skilled male counterparts were and due to this, I’ve rarely taken on lead positions, preferring and feeling more accepted in purely technical ones. I hadn’t experienced most of the bias until I reached the higher levels of the Oracle industry and have often been surprised by it. I’ve searched for ways to work around them and as I watched me pass many of the women around me, became frustrated that I didn’t seem to have the knowledge on how to help them make their mark, too.
I partly blame myself for choosing a career that isn’t exactly “over-flowing” with my gender to help advise me, but find it promising with technology, the internet and the women that are starting to step up, that there may be hope.
Stereotypes and the bias due to stereotype often limits the women in technology in ways that we never think of. Examples of these setbacks due to bias and stereotypes in my world often appear like the following:
- First time project opportunities that the woman is skilled in is offered to a male peer who isn’t as skilled, (“Kellyn, could you send over your documentation on <insert technology here> for <male peer>? He’s going to be heading up a project to lead us into this technical sector and we know you’ve documented your experience with the technology.”)
- Presentations/articles/webinars offered to the female tech is then requested by management to be performed by a male peer instead, as he is deemed a more acceptable representative of the company.
- Male peers time-off requests are accepted, where the female employee is often requested to justify or explain the reason for the time off.
- Leadership opportunities the female tech may already be fulfilling is offered to a male peer even though they may be evenly qualified and both interested.
- Credit for ideas, leads, sources, employment referrals is given to male peers vs. the women that recommended them from her network.
- The female tech is cut-off or has her access limited to professional contacts once she has introduced them to the company.
Now as we saw in the first quote- If this happens once, it may not seem disastrous, but the more it happens, the more it begins to add up and impact a woman’s career path.
I’m one that when opportunities aren’t offered to me professionally from one avenue, I tend to deal with them in a very “out of box” manner. When chatting with someone today about this topic, he stated something that I take as a compliment:
”Fencing Kellyn in doesn’t work- she will find a way to get free and do what she does best…”
So what strategies have I used over the years to continue doing what I know is best for my career when its not what my employer/manager/spouse has wanted?
1. Try to identify what I might be doing that is viewed as outside expectations or why my agenda might not be in line with theirs. I try to come up with a compromise that works for both of us, but if I’m still limited by these choices, then…
2. Identify what organizations or prospects that I can take advantage of outside the situation to fulfill my goals and look for opportunities there so that the one limiting me can continue with their path and I can still satisfy my own.
This path has served me well over the years. Its viewed as brilliant and applauded by some, threatening and dangerous by others. The one thing I learned in life is that it’s not about satisfying everyone, it’s about trying to alienate as few as possible and still get done what you need to in your quest to build your a life you can look back on and be proud of.
Why is this important to continue vs. just “doing my job” as a woman in technology?
As a female ACE Director in the ACE program, I am one of 25 women, out of over 450 ACEs. As Gwen Shapira is fond of saying,
we are the 5%.
If anyone thinks those numbers are great, please think about this:
Per the WIT Education Foundation,
In 2008, women received 57% of all undergraduate degrees but represented only 18% of all Computer and Information Sciences undergraduate degrees. There has been a 79% decline, between 2000 and 2008, in the number of incoming undergraduate women interested in majoring in Computer Science. As a result, only 27% of computer scientists today are female.
Per a recent survey by the Harvey Nash Group, a tech staff firm, women made up only 24% of high-tech jobs in 2012, which is down from 25% just two years before and was 26% in 2001. If you start looking at the challenges as they approach the higher positions in companies, women only made up 9% of CIO positions, down from 12% in 2010.
The same article where the survey data can be found also states that women achieving under-graduate degrees in computer science has declined since 1984, which is inline with the continual decline we are experiencing with women in tech careers that have been noted since the mid-90′s.
Now there is hope- the same article shows that another survey’s position is that women are looking to computer science degrees for their future with much more positive numbers. The one difference is that, when linking to the original article for that survey, they noted that they are doing it later in life, often as part of a career change. As women are entering the tech arena often at an older age than their male counterparts, what does this mean for the bias that we have noted in the earlier part of this post?
When opportunities to shatter the glass/silicon ceiling arises, it’s important that we are able to take it. Companies need to support their high-tech female employees that are willing to put themselves out there and contribute. As the original quote states, the one opportunity missed might not seem disastrous, but over time, this can add up and send women on a very different career path than their male counterparts.
I know as part of that 5% that when an opportunity presents itself, I need to not only do it for me, but for my peers, my sisters and especially for my daughter.