This past week, I read Meg Nordmann's post Why ALL Women in Tech are Women-In-Tech. She writes, "A fellow female (who is a very talented software engineer) told me to my face today that I am 'NOT a woman in tech.' Her reasoning: I was a marketer." If you haven't yet read her post, it's definitely worth the read.
It is discouraging to know women are still facing this kind of blatant bias, but what I find reprehensible is when it is another woman who is the problem. I do not understand women who don't help lift up other women, and I really don't understand women who actively work to keep other women down. This kind of pettiness is demoralizing and cannot be tolerated.
Madeline Albright once said that there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.
But that seems like a very long time to wait to fix the problem.
If you would rather not wait that long to address bias you may be facing, here are five methods to address the problem that you can try right now.
Lead by Example
If you don't like how it feels to be on the receiving end of another woman's bias about your right to call yourself a woman in tech, lead by example what you'd like to see in others. Treat other women with the dignity, respect, and kindness you'd like to receive. When you realize a woman may be struggling with feelings of inadequacy, boost her courage. Invite her to a tech gathering and introduce her to your peers. In doing so, you will help her build a broader network of support that can give her the courage to push forward and embrace her career in tech. Become a portal for others to enter by being a woman who makes room for other women to feel welcome within the tech industry.
Educate with Facts
When a woman's concern over maintaining the integrity of her field of study leads to bias towards others in fields she may consider beneath her own, appealing to her emotions will rarely result in the desired outcome. Instead, try using facts to dispel her misconceptions. Share articles or reports that detail the variety of jobs that now require technical training and skills. Provide examples of your own required technical training or skills. Or point out historical, cultural or global biases which would have prevented her own entry into her chosen field. Use facts to convince her that maintaining the integrity of her own field of study is not the same as adhering to a narrow set of biases which result in the unnecessary exclusion of others.
Draw Clear Boundaries
We've likely all encountered the woman who believes that everyone else has a right to her opinion -- and attempts to politely disengage or change the subject are useless. If she cannot or will not respond to your cues of discomfort, you may need to be straightforward. Draw clear boundaries about what is not acceptable. If she is choosing to violate your boundaries and is unaware or unapologetic for the hurtful nature of her words, responding with the same type of direct communication will clarify the boundaries that must be respected if she wants to talk with you.
Refuse to Engage
If our difficulties are the result of someone else thriving on the drama of controversy, we may find it impossible to resolve the issue. If this is the case for you, sometimes your only option is refusing to participate in her drama. By choosing to avoid interactions when possible, you limit her negative effect on you. And while the advice to not participate in the controversy is easy to give, it isn't easy to do. When we are aware that someone else is saying things that are untrue and demeaning, our first reaction is to defend our reputation. But when we choose to engage, it rarely results in a better reputation. Refusing to engage won't always help you avoid the pain of the situation, but it will allow you to rise above the controversy and maintain your integrity. And, with any luck, without your fuel to feed her fire, she'll move on to someone new.
Call Her Out
Sometimes bias isn't loud or direct but a whisper campaign of continual innuendos, digs, insults, backhanded comments. Women who may understand on some level their bias towards you might not be well-received by others may behave outwardly as if she is supportive while continuing to undermine by excluding you from activities or projects, making jokes about your weaknesses, or failing to acknowledge your successes publicly or privately. When bias takes on a subversive nature, it is often quite effective to call her out in front of others. Yes, it makes for some very awkward, uncomfortable moments when you refuse to ignore her digs but instead ask her point blank about her intent or meaning. The good news is that it usually only takes once or twice to effectively shut down the problem.
Whether a woman participates in tech as an engineer, a developer, a marketer, or in some other capacity, there is room enough for all of us. It is a difficult industry that is rapidly changing, and we have no business making things even more difficult on each other.