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How is it being a female in a male-dominated career?

I am majoring in Computer Science and it is clear to me that there is a huge gender-gap. I am a bit worried about being over-looked because I will be a female in a male-dominated career. Any tips on how to stand-out and how to not let the gender-gap affect you?

Thank you so much for your guidance.

#expertise #career #stem #women #technology

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Christa’s Answer

Hey Alexandra!

This is a valid concern considering women in the workforce haven’t always had equal treatment. We have made great strides. I am privileged to work for a leading technology company that goes out of their way to ensure women are treated just as equally as men. My tips for you:

Start doing your research now on potential employers. How to they stack up in equal pay treatment and benefits? (As an example, do they have benefits for working mothers?)  Do they have a good representation of women in leadership? These are great indicators that your business doesn’t see worth based on gender, so much as skillsets.

Another piece of advice would be to focus on your skillsets and being proactive with strengthening them. Find some mentors in the field and interview them on what their career path was and what skillsets they are strong in to get where they are currently.  


Going in, focus less on your gender and more about showing them what you bring to the table.

You’ve got this! :)

Christa recommends the following next steps:

Do your research now on potential employers
Seek career mentors.
Thank you comment icon Hi Christa: I like your advice to Alexandra; something I would tell my young nieces that are still in high school. Sheila Jordan
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Rita’s Answer

I would say be yourself, and do not let anyone make you feel incompetent. Know your worth! Alot of times women feel they have to be humble and downplay their knowledge....don't be that way! Also, if you have mentors in your industry that you can leverage to have your back...that helps.

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Rachel’s Answer

Something I've found as a woman who's worked in male-dominated spaces is that:

1: Sometimes it really sucks. Sometimes you will be in situations where you are discriminated against because of who you are. Just know that you don't want to work in an environment where differences are perceived as weaknesses. That is a stagnant, rotting environment.
2: It can be challenging at times to not conform to the culture around you. Humans are told, both implicitly and explicitly, that traditionally "female" traits (collaboration, humility, empathy, etc.) are a liability in the corporate world. In my career, I've found that it's these traits (in addition to others in my personality) that have actually helped me professionally. What it boils down to is be yourself. If you're aggressive, go ahead and be appropriately aggressive. If you're inquisitive, ask questions without fear of being perceived as "stupid." Not only will it make you happier in your job, but your unique perspective may also result in faster problem solving, increased creativity, boosts in team morale, or a new way to think about leadership.
3. Protect yourself as much as you can against bias (unconscious or otherwise) by tracking your own performance. You are responsible for your own growth, make sure you can defend a request for a promotion or other ask by being able to give your manager hard numbers, positive feedback from your colleagues, and anecdotal evidence of your outstanding performance.
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Rosalind’s Answer

Sad to say Computer Science is a male dominated field, but as someone who has worked in the field for the last 32 years I can say that if it's what you love doing it is worth it. One good thing was the recent creation of the Hidden Figures movie. It along with a number of activities reminding people that computer science actually started as a field for women, helping remind the entire industry that there is nothing about the industry that means it should be male dominated.

First and foremost be yourself, don't try to be like other people as it will make it much harder to enjoy what you are doing. Secondly, stand up for yourself, simple things like sitting at the table for a team meeting, not sitting to the side. Speak up when you have something to contribute. Don't be the one to take notes just because you are the female, let that be a rotation and/or ask if they are asking you just because you are the only women.

Don't underestimate your skills, generally speaking men apply for jobs or take assignments if they know just one of the required capabilities, women don't unless they have all of them. I am not saying exaggerate your skills but understand what you know and clearly articulate it. Just because you don't have all of the required skills do you have related skills? Can you use them to do what is required, make it clear but don't not apply because you are not 100% covering all the skills listed.

Be open to continuous learning, stay current with your skills. Get involved with activities that provide support, such WITI and SWE. Find mentors, both men and women to help you go through your career.

Don't assume someone else is taking care of your career, pay attention ask for what you want. Make it clear what your goals are to your manager, they can't guess.

Don't be pushed into project management or management if that is not what you want to do. If you want to stay a developer do it. One reason we have fewer female developers is they many times also make good managers and project managers so they get pushed that way. If you want to stay technical do it.

And last but not least, pay attention to the reputation of the company you are joining. There are some companies that are better than others, look for a good fit for what you want to do and your personality.

Software development is a great career, I have enjoyed my time so far, though at times there are challenges, at times I am pushing back, listing to others take credit for what I have done, or the idea I had, but over the long term, continually doing a good job, doing the right thing, and making it clear what you want can give you a long and successful career.
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Denitsa’s Answer

Hi!

You can go through this article:

You rarely see another soul in the ladies room. On too many occasions, you’ve been mistaken for someone’s assistant. Sound familiar? For many young, successful women, “making it” professionally means learning to master male-dominated workplaces where boys’ clubs still somehow pervade.

In college, I lived with seven girls. And so, perhaps it was no surprise that I found the transition to investment banking—where I was the only female analyst in my group’s class—to be rather challenging. But from finance, I jumped into sports, and I have yet to look back.

And along the way, I picked up some practical tips for thriving in the office—even when the gender ratio isn’t in your favor.

1. The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

Chances are, your male colleagues are constantly vocalizing which opportunities and projects they want—and you might be sitting there, working hard, and waiting to get what is rightfully yours.

Sadly, most bosses are too busy to figure out what the most equitable project allocation is, and it often comes down to who yapped last to them about that hot media deal or the new partnership your company is launching. If you aren’t good at grabbing your boss in the hall or during your morning coffee break and bringing up the projects that excite you, then schedule formal time to check in at least once a month and let your boss know what you’d like to work on.

2. Beer is for Bonding

The best career opportunities often come out of interactions outside the office—often over a beer. The guys I’ve worked with would grab beers all the time—and I quickly learned to join them, whether or not I felt like drinking that particular night. And if you’re not invited (yes, this happened to me), create your own happy hour invitation—who can turn down a cold brewski?

3. Avoid Being Too Easily Offended

Guys have this thing at work called the Circle of Trust. You gain entry when they know they can be themselves around you, without being reported to HR. In the banking analyst bullpen, I heard every disgusting story there is to tell—but I stayed cool. And as a result, I eventually became part of the group and was included in the nights of ordering dinner in or going out for beers.

Note: There is a line, and “staying cool” doesn’t mean letting the guys cross it—sexual harassment is never OK.

4. Don’t Be Anyone’s Coffee or Lunch Getter

How many successful men in the workplace do you see picking up their boss’s lunch or coffee? If you’re not someone’s assistant, do not get in the habit of acting like one. Sure, maybe there are special exceptions when your boss is in fire drill mode or decides to treat a group for getting his coffee—but don’t make it a regular thing. And if your male peers aren’t chipping in—then you shouldn’t be doing it, either.

5. Don’t Be the “Yes” Woman

In the industries I’ve worked in, there’s tremendous pressure to work hard and keep an overflowing plate. Lunch and coffee runs aside, it’s all too easy to say yes to every project as you strive to “be a good employee”—but if you never say no, you’ll ultimately just hurt both yourself and your company. It’s important to stand up for the projects you really want to work on (see #1), and then push back at other times when you don’t have capacity. You can bet many of the guys say no—and you should, too.

6. Play to Your Strengths (Even When They’re Stereotypes)

The first week of my banking internship, my managing director asked me how the interns were doing and feeling. I’m willing to bet he asked me partly because I was the only woman there, and he assumed I was therefore most likely to know about people’s “feelings.” But you know what? I did. And thus started our mutually beneficial relationship: I gave him a live read of the pulse of the group he was managing, and he gave me the opportunity for senior exposure. Whether it’s listening, emotional aptitude, empathy, socializing or just being the den mother—if you have these strengths, play to them. They’re good qualities to demonstrate as a rising future leader, and, particularly in a workplace where those skills are in short supply, they’re also not a bad way to get noticed.

7. Get a Sponsor

A sponsor is a mentor who will promote you within your organization, who has your back, and who will tell the rest of organization—including the senior leaders—how great you are and how much you deserve recognition (and promotions). And like it or not, it can be nearly impossible to advance as a woman in a male-dominated workplace without a sponsor. Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett has written quite a bit about sponsorship, including its importance for women. What does it all mean for you? Start building relationships with your boss and other senior leaders from the beginning, and pay particular attention to cultivate those relationships with the individuals who believe in you and publicly support you—they are going to be your best advocates.


Source: https://www.themuse.com/advice/7-ways-to-excel-in-a-maledominated-workplace

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Wendy’s Answer

Hello Alexandra,

I work in a technology industry where the majority of the senior leaders are male. Within my organization I have been lucky enough to be part of a program that helps develop female leaders and have received some amazing feedback that I would like to pass on. First, remember that you have a voice and a voice that should be heard. Men will speak up even when they only have a percentage of the answer/information and women tend wait until they are at 100% . If you have value to add add it! Second, no one is given a seat at the table you have earn it and take it. Be your own advocate. Make sure others know your value and worth. This is not being “braggy” or conceited this is being strong and taking the seat that belongs to you. Lastly, (I have heard this in many answers) be true to yourself. As a woman you bring a perspective and skill set that is unique and as you you bring so much more. Own that.


Good luck!



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Harshita’s Answer

Hi Alexandra!
This is a valid concern. I feel really priviliged to work in a company that values women and men as an equal.
Here are My tips for you:

1. Let your voice be heard- Recognize the value of your opinion and believe that what you have to share is worth listening to.
2.Take on a leadership role.
3.Don't be afraid to ask for a raise or promotion.
4.Become a person of value- No one will appreciate your contributions until you appreciate them yourself. Work to become known as someone who can be counted on.


Focus less on your gender and more about showing them what you can offer.

Harshita recommends the following next steps:

Be confident.
Worry less about gender
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Allison’s Answer

I worked in hotel management for 10 years, which is a very male dominated field. I found that I gained the most respect by treating the men I worked besides and under with the same force, confidence and social grace that I bring to my relationships with the women in my life. It can be intimidating and sometimes I wanted to "play the role" of woman in the office, That only gave others the chance to treat me differently. If you own who you are and the experience you bring then it shouldn't matter who you're working with. Let your skills and performance speak for itself :)

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Sonya’s Answer

Alexandra...First of all congrats in choosing a great field to pursue in your career. Second, think about why you made that choice and the steps you need to take to get your degree and land a job with the right company. Third, think about all the women who were the "first" in their field. They went for it regardless of who was there before since they knew they were passionate about what they wanted to do and determined to make a success of it regardless of their gender. With effort and determination you will be successful.

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Adam’s Answer

I would tell you that if you are working somewhere that it would even be a factor then it isn’t the place for you. I have 7 General Managers who work for me and proudly 5 are female. They are amazing employees and gifted leaders. Your effort and engagement is what is important not your gender!

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Swati’s Answer

As long as you are expert in your field, you will have no problem in the field.
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Maureen’s Answer

Hi there! I'm a software engineer, and I look around my workplace, and see statistics that remind me of this almost every day. Good news is, more women are working in tech than ever before and there are great organizations that will help you connect with your peers. One organization is ChickTech https://chicktech.org/, which has chapters across the US and hosts local and annual conferences. When I've attended ChickTech events, and other women in tech events, I've found it easy to find people who look like me, have similar backgrounds to me, and were struggling with similar problems. It felt good to have people to talk to! And it's taught me the importance of helping others in their careers too. We are so strong when we work together!

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Shikha’s Answer

I work in a networking domain and the ratio is less as compare to men but if you know your job well no one will question you no matter what.

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Dhairya’s Answer

Hi Alexandra,

Great question, and I think it is important to think about institutional challenges women and minorities face in stem. I'm not a woman, but I've had the privilege to work with many amazing women in the engineering and computer science space and hear their stories. I hope this response provides some general value.


I think Ken offers some good advice here, but I want to rebut his claim about finding the right fit through external validation (i.e. aptitude and personality tests, etc). This is precisely the bad advice leads to women and minorities dropping out of STEM or thinking they're not qualified to pursue it. The other advice he gives though is good. Definitely apply for internships, talk to women computer scientist and software engineers in field, and find mentors.


So to Ken's first and second point, don't do this. Aptitude tests are poor signals for your potential success in a given field and often test your ability to take tests and not actually the core concepts. The way you demonstrate you're a good software engineer is to write good good, which comes with practice and experience. Personality traits are a terrible proxy for "fit". The underlying research for personality traits in the workplace is very hokey, institutionally biased, and often serves to disadvantage women and minorities by selecting for traditionally white male traits (see refs below) . Additionally, it's not reflective of the diverse work environments out there. When you're on the job market, you'll learn to find which environments and teams you'll be most successful in. It may be trial and error. For me it was several poor environment fits, until I learned where I could be successful. It's ok when you struggle. You'll learn about yourself in the process.


The best test is learning by doing. Find a technical project (build an app, a website, whatever) you're excited about and do it. Ask for help if you need it, research on your own, and see how far you get. If you fail, totally cool. Are you motivated to pick it up again, or perhaps try a different project. If so, you're in the right space. It is very much about trial and error and finding the problem space that you find interesting (whether its a particular domain vertical, or perhaps a technical stack - front end vs backend or both). But you'll know what you find compelling and interesting by experimenting.


In my experiences working with amazing women in engineering and computer science, I've heard many stories where they felt they didn't belong and or felt couldn't make it. This was due peers, guidance counselors, and conversations with biased professionals in the field telling the them they weren't a good fit or they couldn't hack it. It's unfortunate, but the academic system and traditional IT shops (large companies with male dominated departments) often provide terrible signals as to your capacity for success. They can only measure how well you do at accomplishing tasks and instructions in rigidly defined and artificial circumstances. 


This is a bit of personal thing for me as well. I ended up majoring in English because I thought I wouldn't be able to be successful in CS. CS programs have pedagogically changed since I was in college and are taught much more effectively today. Theory is paired with practice, and foundational knowledge is explicitly taught. And if the program is lacking, there is many online resources to bridge the gap.


And as a heads up, I do machine learning and artificial intelligence research today. I was able teach myself the advanced math, statistics, and programming to be successful. So even if you end up not sticking with CS, if it a field you that you feel is a calling, you'll find a way back in.


It's often a terrible cycle of negative reinforcement, where searching for external signals may end up making you feel even more insecure. You'll unfairly compare yourself to others and get bad signals that aren't a true reflection of your potential. The only signal you should trust is your internal motivation and curiousity.


Here's some advice, which I hope maybe helpful:

  1. Surround yourself with the right people who are positive, ambitious and supportive. This could be other female STEM students, honest friends you trust, it could be professors, professional mentors and family. But try to build a support system where you can and engage them in the good time and bad times.
  2. Experiment a lot and don't wait to code. Computer Science is one of the few fields where there are no real repercussions to live experiments. You're not going to fry your computer writing bad code (unless you're cpu hacking, in which case be careful!). So explore different tools, frameworks, problem spaces and see where they take you. Some things will be interesting and some things will be boring. But they are all useful signals in your development as computer scientist. You'll learn where you struggle and will need to work harder and where you naturally excel. Reflect on which of those problem spaces were most exciting, motivating and fulfilling to you and look for professional opportunities there ( internships, coops, jobs, etc).
  3. Learn to trust yourself by making mistake often. This one is really hard, because we are often hardest on ourselves when we stumble and falter and mistakes can be costly. But the more mistakes you make, the more you learn about yourself. The biggest takeaway here is you can't alway control external circumstances but you can control the decisions you make. If you learn to trust yourself and are confident in the choices future you will make, you'll be able to weather adversity as it comes.
  4. Take risks and apply for moonshots. I too often see my women friends not apply for jobs and internships because they feel like they don't check all the boxes. At the end of the day, many of these opportunities are crapshoots. The worst case scenario is you get rejected, which is no different from the status quo where you didn't apply. But there's always a chance and the upside is alway worth that risk. And as an aside, if you get selected for that moonshot you think you're unqualified form, you are not unqualified. You were selected because they saw potential in you and believe that you will do what it takes to be successful.


Good luck!


References:


Aptitude Tests are Bad

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/04/19/34-problems-with-standardized-tests/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.84dee1eecbc9


Limitations of Personality Tests:

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/06/25/483108905/personality-tests-are-popular-but-do-they-capture-the-real-you


https://www.humanguide.org/images/Documents/pdf/Personality_Testing_Gladwell_eng.pdf


https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/dangers-personality-tests-screen-workers/


https://www.law.upenn.edu/journals/jbl/articles/volume4/issue2/Stabile4U.Pa.J.Lab.&Emp.L.279(2002).pdf

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Sarah’s Answer

I am coming at this from a different direction to most, but am in a lucky position that I speak with women in technology almost every day as candidates looking to join our organisation. In fact, I am proud to say the majority of my senior stakeholders are actually women, and I work for one of the biggest technology companies in the world.
My advice would be that if you are working in the right company, you don't need to prove yourself any harder 'because you are a woman', but you should want to prove yourself because you love what you do and it's the right attitude to have as a technologist.
You may encounter prejudices or other negative issues, so try to be resilient, and frankly, call out poor behaviours as there is no excuse for it.
- Be visible in your organisation.
- Don't be afraid to make mistakes, but always learn from them.
- Always be learning and growing - stay ahead.
Good luck!

Sarah recommends the following next steps:

Feel free to reach out directly for a more detailed conversation if you like
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Christina’s Answer

Hi Alexandra,


There are definitely challenges but I still find working in tech to be a rewarding career. My advice to you would be to not let imposter syndrome get the best of you.  Be prepared to deal with things like being talked over or having your ideas ignored by practicing how to combat those kind of situations and build relationships to help amplify your voice and successes. Research companies which are working to hire a diverse workforce. Look at their board of directors and senior management to see if how the diversity looks in leadership.  Network at local events and talk to people who work at the companies you’re interested in and ask questions about the culture and office environment. Networking can also help you get your foot in the door for an interview. ALWAYS negotiate your compensation. It’s very difficult to make up for a low starting salary without changing jobs to a new company. Research salaries and opportunities at least once a year. It’s always nice to see what else is out there and if you’re getting paid what you’re worth even if you think you’re happy where you are. Set and track measurable goals so you can provide quantitative data when it comes time to request a promotion or a raise.

Christina recommends the following next steps:

research companies
build skills
network
always negotiate compensation
smash the patriarchy
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