What I'm in for as a Woman in Tech
By Rabiah Damji ~ Consumer Product Marketer at Instagram on 25 Apr 2020Gender Mainstreaming
In this piece I talk about my personal journey, building a meeting room personality, and reflect on the lack of gender and race representation in tech.
When I was younger I loved reading. I would read on average four books a day. My brother would read to me as I fell asleep. My father would tell me stories in the morning and at night. He was a writer, by passion. Words, sentences, novels— they shaped my childhood. Another thing that subconsciously shaped my childhood was my perception of the working world.
My father was an amazing engineer; he loved to write prose but that didn't feed his family. Instead, he began coding at a young age, he moved to the United States from East Africa and began to write in different types of languages: Fortran IV, Pascal, C, C++, Java, and many many more.
My brother was an exam acing, number crunching, genius child. I was..well I was 8 years younger than my brother and was definitely still under the covers reading Harry Potter while he was interviewing for his post-uni jobs.
I didn't know what I wanted to do with my future, but I did see the strongest figures in my life excel in their professional lives. My father and brother were the most successful people in my eyes and they still are till this day. However, what I didn't know when I was younger was that it was going to be very different for me to step into the same high-tech world, and also perform as well in my coveted job. I saw the struggles both my dad and brother faced. But what I would struggle over, what I would have to grapple with, would be a bit different.
Rewind more than a decade, little me was in the 6th grade lining up for our routine P.E sports activity; this week it was baseball. The two team captains for baseball were male; they stood at the front eyeing our class ready to go to war at picking teammates. I was definitely not chosen first, but I eventually got on a team. I had never played baseball in my life, but I was excited to try it. I walked out to the field with my bat and high spirits. I missed the ball three times. But I told myself, “It's okay! Try again next time.” I walked back to the benches and heard one of the boys snicker,
"That's what happens when you give a girl a baseball bat."
I told my P.E teacher that I felt sick and didn't play again. Then I thought maybe it is just a guy sport. Now, I think, that kid can kiss my ass.
I was a little girl then, thrust into a new environment, one in which I was ready to take on. I didn’t have thick skin then; I was 10 years old still building my confidence. I was thrust into an environment that didn't believe in me -- much like the tech space that has yet to accept and believe in the success of a woman compared to a man.
In the summer of 2017, I interned at Twitter in Product Marketing. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Aside from learning how to launch products, I learned work etiquette. I learned how to speak to executives, how to interact with teammates’; I observed, introspected, and then regurgitated. I built strong relationships with women in high positions and I spoke to them about their journeys.
Someone close to me told me that in order to be respected she had to harden her persona in business meetings. It took her a while to create a strong authoritative personality because she was a bubbly, kind, and loving person. She would often go home and second guess whether or not she was too mean or too nice. I realized as I move forward in my career, I too will have to figure out this fine line of when to soften, when to harden, and understand how I will be perceived in both scenarios. I don't want to become a harsh, unemotional woman. Many people think this is what you need to be in order to succeed, in some cases that is the sad truth because of the environments we are thrusted into. Honestly, if I pursued baseball, I'd be one hell of a bitch.
Women have come forward to speak of the hostile work environments across the tech space. These stories have now become unsurprising yet still sickening. Google the word, “CEO” and see what comes up.
Not only do you have to scroll down about 10 times before you find a picture of a woman (who is literally a barbie doll) but I lost count of the number of times I had to scroll to find a non white person.
These images are driven by algorithms, and many CEOs are men. But it's an indication of how underrepresented women and women of color are at the top of the corporate ladder. If more women were working in high-tech there would be fewer situations where we felt like the minority. But that’s a lot easier said than done, we are not set up for success or believed in the same way men are. On top of that, why would we voluntarily throw ourselves in hostile work environments? Unfortunately, we need to take the risk and push those boundaries. We are natural born leaders so let’s lead our way to the top-together as a team.
I wrote much of this piece when I was still in university. I was ending my career as a student and beginning to find my way in the professional world. My internship gave me a look into what real work would be like, real demographics I would be surrounded by, real conversations I would be thrown in, and real emotions that would overwhelm me for years to come.
I am now a couple years into working in tech- I moved companies from Twitter to Instagram and much of these issues have not gone away nor been fully addressed. The gender and racial gap are extremely prevalent and the fight for equality when it comes to representation is on-going. When I was 20 I wrote this statement:
I know what I’m in for as I grow up to be the woman I have envisioned for my life. I know I will have roadblocks my male peers won’t necessarily face. I will get emotional, I will second guess my decisions, but I won’t give up. Women hold half the jobs within the U.S. However, they only hold 25% of STEM positions, and women of color even fewer than that. Things need to change, I’m building my tough skin, my board room personality, and alongside many women in all industries, I hope we not only crack the glass ceiling but shatter it.”
Five years later I still stand by those words. Though the knowledge regarding the lack of representation is more widely known, the results I and many want to see have yet to rise.
By Rabiah Damji ~ Consumer Product Marketer at Instagram