I have worked in technology for many years and the only constant that I have noticed is the lack of women in technical roles. Regardless of the size of the organization, technology is not a field that a lot of women pursue. One organization I worked at had 500 employees in the IT department, and only 30 of those employees were women. This is not because the company wasn't diverse -- there were many women that actually worked there -- there were just not a lot of women that applied for technical jobs. Being a young women at that time, it was pretty intimidating working with all men. There were times when I was made to feel like it should have been my job to get coffee or take notes. I have had people take credit for my work. I had a woman accuse me of sleeping with my boss because he sided with me on an argument. When I talked to him about it, he told me that people talk about me like that because I just do my job and go home and I didn't socialize or go out for drinks after work. He said that because of that, I was just inviting commentary and speculation. I love a happy hour as much as the next girl, but at that time in my life. I had a 4-month-old infant at home. I hated being away from him for 10 hrs a day, 5 days a week as it was, so hanging out with my work friends was not a priority.
That being said, I know that networking is a very crucial part of most jobs, and it is very beneficial to build good relationships. I was very torn about what to do. I ended up taking what this person said to heart, began going out more and making decisions based on what I thought I had to do to make people like me. It was the worst thing that I could have done for myself and my family at that time.
I had a manager who created a team just for the women in the department to basically do the work that he felt the men were bad at. Most of these tasks were a portion of my original job description. His plan was to take the bulk of the work I came there to do away from me, and assign me mostly administrative tasks. To the women that were put in this group it felt like punishment. He also had a way of speaking down to women, suggesting that "using your feminine wiles" was a way that we could get things done. This manager was subsequently demoted because of the women (including myself) who reported him.
My problem has been that without a woman to mentor me, I thought I had to just deal with these kinds of comments. Even when I was working 24 hours in a row to solve a problem, or if I was on call 24/7 just because I was senior in my field, I felt like I was constantly having to prove that I deserved to be there. Not all of the men I worked with were like this. I had a manager that taught me to never undersell myself, and who always valued me. I had a director that taught me about being fair and seeing all sides of the story, and who helped me gain the confidence to stand up for myself. I also have a lot of women outside of work that I get strength from. I am the oldest of five girls, and between my sisters, my mom and some great friends, I know I have a voice and that it's very loud. I just need to use it.
I don't want to make it seem like my experiences have all been negative, and I fully accept my role in the things that happened to me. Part of every conflict is not just the situation, but how you react. I know I could have handled things better, but that's part of growing up. These days, I accept responsibility for my mistakes, but I'm also ready to hold people accountable for theirs. I believe in treating everyone how I would want to be treated, and I don't take any less than that for myself. It's always better to speak up when something feels wrong or inappropriate.
I also am on a campaign to get more women into this field. I have loved technology ever since I learned a little lightbulb in a plastic oven could make cake. I think the evolution of how things work and change so quickly is amazing. I love working under pressure to solve a problem that a business relies on you to handle. Let's face it: technology is the crux of most businesses, we all rely on it everyday form the minute you hit your alarm clock in the morning, to getting your morning coffee, your commute to work, etc. It's everywhere. Why not take an active role in how it's used in the future?
Woman are innovative, we can get creative to solve problems. We're consistently trying to make things better for everyone around us. Pursue a technical career and invent something, or support a business that is inventing something that you believe in. Change the world, be the next Steve Jobs. I can't tell you that you won't experience some of the same things that I went through, but I can offer you some good advice to deal with it. Don't take anything personally. Change only the things you need to change to be a better employee. Take responsibilities for your actions. Don't let anyone make you feel small. Never sell yourself short. And if you can, find me, or someone like me -- a woman that has had some these experiences and has been knocked down, but got back up again. There is nothing better than having a mentor who gets it.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.