As a female techie, you experience unforgiving gender roles on a day to day basis.
Here's my story. I'm 17 and I've been obsessed with computers from the moment my family got one. (This was back when the monitors were huge depth-wise, the system ran on classic Windows, and the Internet would have to be plugged in to by ethernet ports and dialed up.)
Back then, even before I started going to school, my childhood was filled with ambition for technology and a desire to explore it. I didn't really understand that gender had so much power in the tech world until I was finally in middle school.
People looked at you funny if you were anything out of the norm. Middle school is when everyone starts splitting up into categories -- the nerds, the jocks, the cool kids. Nobody necessarily called each other that, but in our minds and hearts, we all knew that there was a distinct separation. This was normal.
In the tech world, people looked at you funny if you were not a male. This, too, was normal.
During the summer of my 8th grade year, I went to a tech camp to learn programming in C++ for a week. I didn't think too much about gender roles before going there (because of course, who does at a camp?). The moment I stepped onto the site I noticed one thing: There was absolutely no girls.
At first, I freaked out in my head. "What am I going to do with a bunch of boys everywhere?" Even then, I felt the overwhelming intimidation of the other gender.
But then, it made sense to me. Maybe girls aren't interested in sitting in front of a computer all day and writing code. Or maybe they think they are not smart enough for it and it's a boy thing. That's the problem.
During that entire week, I struggled to see the guys as equals. To me, they always seemed to know so much more, use bigger words, and essentially, be better programmers. I would feel like such a failure when I encountered a problem while they breezed through it, but I stayed strong and kept working to debug. Needless to say, it was a rough week but I didn't let the fact that this industry is impacted with men bring me down. Even if these guys had more experience and knowledge than I did, I was able to spend the same amount of time learning the curriculum and could still successfully create the same programs.
When high school came around, I was utterly ecstatic to hear that our school had an engineering academy. I joined right away. Every day, I would have a class that was dedicated to designing and engineering. Every day, I would be in a room full of boys who believed they were already better than me before seeing my skills. They thought I couldn't do the job right because I was a girl. It's extremely discouraging when you spend your high school career in an environment that does not welcome or trust you.
As the spring of my sophomore year bloomed around, I heard of this amazing opportunity for girls in tech: Girls Who Code. It was a chance for me to be submerged into the programming world without the fear of being intimidated. Girls Who Code definitely was the best experience in my life, not simply because there were no boys around, but because it opened the door to the countless opportunities in this industry. While there, I was able to learn so many different programming languages, meet with professionals, and form networks that will last for a long time. This was a once in a lifetime chance that boys themselves rarely get.
Many companies and organizations are working towards closing the gender gap in the tech world by giving opportunities, scholarships, programs, etc just for women. The great part about being a girl is that you are the minority, so you have a higher chance of standing out, and maybe even getting the job or scholarship because there are already too many boys.
However, the down side is you are the minority. You will be intimidated and judged regardless of where you go and what you're doing. Girls will always feel the need to live up to standards set by men, but assume that it's simply impossible and doubt themselves. Sometimes, girls will even not get the same opportunities because people think they are not as capable as men.
Being a girl is no excuse. It does not mean that if you want to be stronger, you can't be. It does not mean that if you want to be smarter, you can't be. Women have more power than they think. Yet the discouragement of society and lack of confidence dissuades them from going after their dreams and reaching their full potential.
Furthermore, gender creates a double standard that men cannot do things that women do or women cannot do things that men do. The world seems like it will never be equal for men and women because of how society perceives gender roles. Nonetheless, there are people working to change how people look at things, and you can feel the industry really shifting.
Just think about it for a second: on every application you send to companies and organizations related to STEM for jobs, scholarships, or the like, you fill in the "female" bubble. That already has a chance of putting you ahead of the male competitors because it's different. People want to diversify. People want something new.
Along with all of the incredible benefits out there for females in tech, comes the many complications that discourage them to become successful and powerful innovators. Our generation is adapting to fit into a new world of technology and is trying to bring more women into it. Regardless of these efforts, society will continue to set its expectations on each individual and bend the definition of equality.
My advice to fellow girls in tech would be to hold your ground and be confident. Women and men alike are capable of anything that they set their mind to. All it takes is a lot of persistence and effort. Keep thinking outside of the box and being innovative. Ultimately, it boils down to a matter of how hard you work and how determined you are to make it big in such a fast paced industry.
Cindy is a code tinkerer and a junior in high school. Cindy is president of her school's Girls Who Code club. She strives to chase after her passion in coding and hopes to inspire others to get immersed in the amazing adventures of computer science.
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