Recently I have been involved in several women in technology sessions and it has caused me to stop and reflect on how I am performing as a woman in technology. Its funny to me how we put so much emphasis on the fact that we are women and we are in some sort of technology field.
For me this whole process has been a hell of a journey. This year has been a big indicator of how much I still am learning about myself, how I process and how I react differently than those male counterparts to situations in my field. It is teaching me some lessons I am not sure I was entirely ready for. The real question is, okay why?
Leadership is a trait that some are born with, some are really good at doing and learned quickly, some could be natural leaders yet struggle with the jump from subordinate to leader. I know that there are millions of books, seminars and classes that all talk about leadership challenges and how to become an influential leader. I have taken quite a few in my time. Yet why do I still feel unprepared?
In our classes we learn how to theoretically handle conflict management. We learn how to give direction and set goals for our staff. We learn the fundamentals of leadership. They don’t teach you how to deal with self-doubt, uncertainty, and how to deal with shame and guilt.
Shame and guilt.. lets touch on that for a moment. You see one thing that stood out to me at all of the WIT or Women in STEM sessions is that we still see ourselves as flawed. We as women use emotional intelligence in situations to figure out how to deal with them. We can be decisive and stern, yet in the back of our minds we are always wondering if maybe just maybe that was the right thing to do. Perhaps its only me, but I do find that giving criticism or correcting a problem can cause me to reflect on whether or not I did the right thing. I feel shameful and guilty that maybe I was out of line or too harsh, or perhaps I wasn’t harsh enough and that my leadership ability will be called into question.
We as women technologists have dealt with situations that are beyond our control from time to time. Situations that make us uncomfortable as the only woman in the room and dealing with the notion that someone may dismiss your actions or advice not because it isn’t good advice, but that it rather came from an emotional viewpoint. I often wonder how the men I work with view my actions. Am I rational? Am I emotional? Am I just being ‘a girl’? I struggle with these questions whenever a situation comes up where I am asked to voice my opinion. To be honest I have no idea if men feel like that, other women feel like that or I am alone.
As for the ability to give direction. I took on the responsibility of leading a group of volunteers for a new credential. Last year we worked on the materials and getting our ducks in a row, this year is the year of growth, yet I worry that I’m not stepping up and giving clear guidance on the activities, that perhaps I am letting the responsibilities slip, therefore contributing to a failure of the adoption of the credential. Sounds pretty dramatic doesn’t it? In my mind it is. I know I am not a one woman show. I have some really great members around me, but we all have day jobs. So how is it that I should be the only one feeling like I am failing by not being readily available. For not being the one beating the pavement talking about the credential and all of its greatness. For not being able to garner more membership, more partners, more investors. Why do I feel so guilty?
Speaking of day jobs.. In my day job I find that I am contending with a new found management position in where I don’t have to put my hands on keyboard to fix a problem. I don’t have to log in everyday into the mobility system to work on an issue. I am struggling with this transition from doer to leader. There just seems to be no great article, resource or class that teaches the transition part. There is no manual. I find that I still get passionate about my teams issues and where I could just ask someone else to take the stand for me, now I am the one that has to calm down and take the stand for the team. I find that I still get hot headed over issues, and yet when I talk to my manager he is not as fired up as I am. He seems to have found the even keel as it were. I wonder if I will be able to get that even temperament, or am I doomed to be a hot head emotional woman?
I recently saw an article where a female Democratic Senator used expletives in how she explained her view on some particular issues. Her passion for the subject was lost when all the focus was on the fact she used the ‘F’ word. I saw myself in her shoes. I too get passionate and the expletives fly. Is my message getting lost because of the language? That is the question I have been asking myself. Is the message lost because I, woman, swears like the former sailor I am. I am not sure.
Perhaps the most striking lesson I have learned is to trust that your manager has your back, when making leadership decisions. Trust is a hard thing to have in the tech world as a woman. You are not sure who really is on your side, versus just being nice to your face. Believe me I have had quite a few of them. Trust for me is a hard thing to contend with, but once its there the security of your job, your momentum and your path are suddenly attainable. This has caused me to ponder even more.. Yes I over think EVERYTHING.. Duh.. Woman…
What about getting older as a technology professional? The fact is that we are getting older. While most people look at me and question the notion that I have 3 grown children and 2 grand children, I am getting older. Instead of worrying about my technical ability, I worry about health problems and how they are perceived in the work place. I watch as some of my friends are having health crisis’s and wonder what I would do in their shoes.
I have a acquaintance I met about 2 years ago. She is a strong inspirational woman who is dealing with Cancer. I watch as she struggles to manage family, professional and personal issues. I wonder how she is working to be such an advocate for Cancer treatments and care yet starting a new job and dealing with young children at home and a husband who travels for work. I wonder how I would do it. Would I throw myself back into my job or any job to avoid the pain or stop the thoughts of what comes next? I’m not sure. I just pray that I don’t have to deal with it, yet there is always a part of us that look at it with the question, ‘Yeah, but what if it does happen?’
I honestly commend her for being so strong. While I hope to never have to go through it, I can certainly hope that I can handle that type of situation with the same grace that she seems to be able to muster. I have had a couple of female peers in my time that have taught me grace under personal fire.
The last parting bit I have is that there is a misnomer about how women band together in technology. Men this is for you, we don’t. We have a few friends we have met along the way that we cling to. When you find a true female in technology or STEM, we may get along we may not. We also will not tolerate those that pretend to be in the field. An IT project manager is not a WIT. They didn’t get the question about their mindset, their skill set or get ridiculed for the fact that they won’t wear a skirt to conform to office policy when crawling under a desk hooking up a computer or replacing a keyboard. They haven’t been questioned or talked down to by a vendor about their technical expertise. They for the most part haven’t paid their dues to be called a true WIT.
I will say this we are still women. We can be catty, mean and are our own worst enemies. Just take a look at any social media page. We try to be above that sort of behavior, yet it is hard wired. We may not say it, but we certainly think about it.
The last parting thoughts on your personal support structure.. I guess in the end one thing that really got me this week with WIT was a question about personal growth and how do we do it with all the obligations we have. The panelist replied, marry well. This statement garnered a lot of laughter in the room as you can imagine, but the panelist then stated her point. Marry a partner, someone who is willing to sacrifice as you do for a career. Someone who will support you from home or the office or where ever. We ladies, take on burdens that may or may not actually be ours, yet we carry them. We carry the kids, the home, the bills, the chores, the shopping, the planning, the list goes on and on. We cannot do it alone. We have to have a partner who helps us with our burdens and shows us that they have got it and that we can let go and do what we need to do to further our personal growth. That being said, I still find myself bowing out of staff happy hour or IT after hour activities, because I feel guilty for going and not being home to help out, to make a dinner decision, you name it. I don’t know if those sorts of thoughts plague my male counterparts, because it always seems that they have no problem dropping what they are doing and going out with the team. It does however cross my mind and always has.
Thanks for reading