In recognition of International Women’s Day the team at Mile Marker had a conversation about the term “women in tech” – what does it mean to us, and how does it impact our experience in a tech space? We were inspired by the team at Intercom and used their podcast as a foundation for our discussion – you can listen to the episode here. In our discussion were Daniel Litvak (Founder & CTO), Raven Sanders (Project/Product Manager), and Carla Rose (Engineering Intern).
Beginning with the phrase itself, particularly the word “tech”, it is an incredibly vague net to cast. Drawing lines between who you’d consider to be “in tech” and “not in tech” is blurry in terms of industry, employer, job requirements, and educational and experiential background. Would an HR representative at Google be “in tech”? Would a degreed engineer working as a project manager be “not in tech”? Daniel reached out to our client Amber Thompson, a Change Leader and the Founder of new tech startup de-bias, and was surprised to learn that she didn’t self-identify as being “in tech” despite her current venture. The “tech” identity is largely self-determined and based on personal experience and viewpoint of the term.
The full phrase “women in tech” only slightly removes some of the ambiguity. What is it really? A group of people? A concept? A movement? In line with what the team at Intercom presented in their podcast, our team agreed that the intent behind the phrase greatly impacts its strength and favorability.
When referring to a group of people the term lacks intersectionality and fails to recognize the different experiences of women from different races, sexualities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and more. It also feels like an unnecessary callout to a feature that does not impact technical ability – female engineers don’t wake up in the morning and ask themselves “how will I, a woman, solve problems today?” While gender does impact how society interacts with you and could steer you toward or from a tech career, gender is independent of skill – and women want to be recognized at work for their skills and accomplishments, not their “woman-ness”.
Using the phrase “women in tech” to refer to an idea rather than a label brought it to a positive light. Humans are social creatures, and as a result we seek community with others we share some degree of common traits with. Using the term to identify a place where a self-identified “woman in tech” could find camaraderie and support got two thumbs up from us. Activism was another realm in which we found value for the “women in tech” term. As a tool to bring awareness and encourage girls and even women already partway through their careers to consider pursuing tech, “women in tech” received resounding support both from Intercom and the Mile Marker team.
As Lily from the Intercom team pointed out, “it’s hard to talk about an issue without giving it a name”. While it lacks specificity, it offers a foundation for starting conversations about the experience of women in tech fields – and these are conversations that should be had among ALL members of the “tech” realm. Which brings us to the first of our two major takeaways:
We strongly believe that men should be a part of the conversation when it comes to supporting and growing women in tech. We hope that more men can become comfortable with vulnerability by making an effort to learn about the experiences of their female counterparts through having conversations, attending panels, and exploring articles, books, and podcasts on the subject. A pro tip from the women: it is ok to ask us about our experiences, but please don’t accidentally reduce us to being simply a “woman in tech”. Also remember that every individual’s experience is unique and no two women will have the same story.
And our second major takeaway:
Because the “tech” label is so broad, we recognized the opportunity for “creative statistics” when companies report out for DEI clout. When a tech company celebrates that they have “50/50 gender parity!” feel free to scrutinize that data – if women fill the traditionally “feminine” HR and administrative support roles but there are none to be found on the engineering team, you have found a company that loves to advertise diversity but not actually embrace it.
Moving forward the Mile Marker team will be continuing to have these in-depth conversations on issues that impact our team members, while some moments were uncomfortable the results were ultimately enlightening. How does your company allow your team members to experience vulnerability, and what questions would you pose to foster these sorts of conversations?