Women in tech have faced discrimination that limits experimentation, inhibits a company’s professional growth, and halts technological progress across disciplines. In this final part of our three-part series, we examine how when women rise up in the tech world with particular focuses on leadership and accountability, tech companies make inroads toward bridging gender and diversity gaps. Why? What’s good for business success becomes a top-down commitment to gender inclusiveness. Accountability measures follow as a means to an end that drives change and fosters real results toward egalitarianism.
Study Humor and Use It to Diffuse Difficult Situations and Showcase the Strength of Women in Tech
Humor can be one of the keys to tech success. Women who use humor weaken misogyny in the tech world. Why? They demonstrate maturity and the ability to see overarching goals rather than the daily drudgery. Humor is a complex physiological reaction, and, through incorporating incongruity, surprise, double entendres, or breaking a taboo as commonly-accepted devices of humor, a woman in tech is more likely to find allies.
Well-placed humor should be clever and in tune with a particular tech business context in order to enhance an employee’s career. Having a solid sense of humor helps women in the tech world to look past the objectionable, comprehend the unconventional, swallow the unpleasant, tackle the unexpected, and transcend the unbearable. Humor can be a symbol of hope — the idea that the worst is behind us and better things are coming. That’s an important concept for women in tech to impart. It’s an element of a larger strategy that says, “We’re here to stay. Sure, we can laugh at ourselves and put others at ease or in a good mood. But we also know when the message is serious and when humor is no longer appropriate.”
Erna Schneider Hoover is known for the revolutionary computerized telephone switching method she introduced for Bell Laboratories. Hoover was awarded one of the earliest software patents and became the first female supervisor of any technical department at Bell, formalizing her place as a pioneer in modern communications technology. In addition to her PhD from Yale University in philosophy and foundations of mathematics and her ability to invent a traffic monitoring system, Hoover drew the first of three system sketches, which were based on the complexities of computer programming, while she was in the hospital after giving birth to one of her three daughters. If that isn’t somebody with a sense of humor, who is?
“I designed the executive program for handling situations when there are too many calls, to keep it operating efficiently without hanging up on itself. Basically it was designed to keep the machine from throwing up its hands and going berserk.” — Erna Schneider Hoover
Network, Connect With, and Hire Other Women in Tech
Women must carve out time to network as an integral component of a tech career. Tech conferences offer women the opportunity to meet and confab with tech insiders who hold power and have influence. Self-advocate to be your tech company’s representative at meetings, on boards, and at events — then, when you’re in attendance, seek out other highly qualified women in tech careers. Collaborate on ways to seek out resources for women in order to fight back against misogyny in the tech world. That means putting emphasis on trainings, setting priorities, developing and executing goals, and providing comprehensive analytics, transparency, and gender diversity.
And then, when you work your way up the tech career ladder, purposely hire females in a cycle of empowerment that mitigates patriarchal privilege. The World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report“ concludes that empowering women means a more efficient use of a nation’s human capital endowment and that reducing gender inequality enhances productivity and economic growth. Putting more women in decision making roles is an important step to improving businesses’ ability to adapt to a changing marketplace.
Sheryl Sandburg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and best-selling author of the million copy seller, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. She worked at the World Bank in the Department of Treasury for the Clinton administration. She’s the founder of a group called “Women in Economics and Government.”
“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.” — Sheryl Sandburg
Be a Leader — Regardless of What They Say about You
Leadership takes many forms. In some workplaces, a quiet example becomes a model for performance. In tech, a determined, action-oriented, focused, go-getter is generally considered to be headed for Big Things — that is, unless you’re a woman. Too often, males who harbor implicit biases against strong women leaders create forces that dissuade women in tech from demonstrating leadership skills.
Don’t give into misogyny in the tech world! Instead, lead the way. Start by prioritizing. Be selective in which opportunities you choose to participate. Learn to say “no” diplomatically but emphatically. As you assess internal male competition for leadership roles, stay aligned with your tech company’s mission. Identify where you can best add value, do your research, plan strategically, and lead the way. You’ll be successful because you’ve taken the time beforehand in prep and now can exhibit expertise and the capacity to run a team. Show leadership through prestige by being highly disciplined and levelheaded, with a passion for data and a talent for organizing — someone who can inspire others through a combination of tech expertise and joy.
When Shalanda Baker was Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, she started the first energy justice program at the William Richardson School of Law. As part of her work, she looked at ways to bring in local communities to the discussions about indigenous rights and renewable energy. Now at Northeastern University in Boston and serving as an expert in environmental law, renewable energy law, and sustainable development, Baker sees strength in bringing together seemingly disparate groups to gender equity conversations so multiple voices resound and coalesce.
“One thing I see is all these movements coming together about justice – Black Lives Matter, solidarity movements, environmental justice – movements are being led by women and LGBT folks. I’m excited to see so many women and diversity here at the Verge; so many of these energy events are all men. I hope women keep speaking out and being a part of this conversation.” — Shalanda Baker
Be Resilient No Matter How Early or Frequently You Experience Misogyny in the Tech World
Women who are treated as the Other in the tech world could easily succumb to pervasive misogyny and identify with their male oppressors, as Brazilian social justice educator Paulo Freire once described. “As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor,” the contribution to liberation may be “impossible.”
But such acquiescence by women in the tech world only perpetuates a pattern of women as lesser. Instead, women in tech need to adhere to a strong moral stance about their sum and potential tech contributions, especially when they are offered an equitable work environment. Yes, that means standing tall (literally and figuratively) when confronted with demeaning language. It means believing in oneself against all odds, quickly designing new plans and pathways when obstacles appear, locating female-friendly tech allies, searching out alternative approaches, and drawing upon an artful imagination to envision a day in which misogyny in the tech world is a historical construct.
As a lead operations engineer for NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, Michelle Haupt has been interested in mathematics and airplanes since she was quite young. In middle school, she announced that she wanted to be an aeronautics engineer, and now she shares her fascination with tech through outreach events targeted for tweens and teens. When she’s not sharing the love about tech with kids, Haupt and her primarily female team are in charge of NASA’s support aircraft. They’re involved with design, ensuring structural integrity, and certifying that the aircraft are airworthy.
“One thing I always tell young girls: Never let anybody tell you you can’t do it. Growing up, they’d look at me like, Really? Even when I did my college visit, I had someone tell me most people change their minds after the first year. I never gave up. Even when I was having teachers tell me, just take a break from math, you can take this class next year. I said, ‘No, I’m going to take it now.’ I kept pushing for it.” — Michelle Haupt
Women all over the world are speaking out and rightfully asking for their contributions to be recognized, in the tech world and beyond. In her recent memoir, What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledge the travails of women in tech.
“You can hardly open a newspaper these days without reading another grim story: female engineers reporting blatant harassment in Silicon Valley; women entrepreneurs making pitches to investment firms and being propositioned in response; a new study finding that women are given a harder time than men in job interview; another find that women are penalized when they decline to reveal their salary history, while men end up making more when they do the same.”
But the former Secretary of State and first female to be nominated for President of the US by a major political party also has some advice for women in tech and beyond. It’s simple advice, really, but it’s also really important. “Each of us must try to walk in the shoes of people who don’t see the world the way we do.” She calls this “radical empathy,” and it transcends politics, gender studies, or US policies. It’s a framework of love and hope, and that’s a message that women will bring to and improve the tech industry — and the world.