My first job out of university was for the UN, where I worked on projects involving digital inclusion for women in tech and people with disabilities. It was here that I became familiar with the insane stats about the gender gap in the tech industry.
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When I was working in law (another famously male-dominated industry), my mentor had me read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (that’s a U.S. link, you can find it in the UK here), where I learned more about the gender issues plaguing the industry.
However, it wasn’t until I started my PhD in computer science that I encountered this sexism first-hand (and in the first 5 minutes of setting foot in the computer science building at that!). I was filling in some enrollment forms, when a stereotypical computer science guy walked into the room, took one look at me and said “Oh, I think I’m in the wrong place.”
“Computer science PhD enrollment?” I replied.
“Oh,” he said, sheepishly. He proceeded to spend the next several minutes being overly friendly to make up for his blunder.
Later that day, we attended an inaugural lecture which had a drinks reception beforehand. Within 5 minutes of meeting another one of my peers, he had made a comment about my body.
I’m not saying this to scare you off from getting into tech, but rather to arm you with tips and tricks to prevail over some of the awful men who also work in the industry.
Luckily, I was used to being in a sexist industry and had learned a bit about how to survive.
This article contains top tips for succeeding as a woman in tech and for getting ahead in any male-dominated industry.
1. Find a mentor who will advocate for you.
Luckily the firm I worked for had a mentorship program and the partners who mentored me were fantastic. From highlighting my successes to other partners to advocating for me when I was being treated unfairly, they made my life so much easier and helped me advance in my career.
2. Don’t be afraid to be a b*tch.
If you’re in a meeting and someone keeps talking over you, just keep talking. This may be a bit controversial as it’s a bit rude, but if no one is letting you get a word in, they’re being just as rude.
3. Be persistent.
You may need to ask (read: politely demand) things more than once in order to be heard. Keep going and you’ll get what you want.
4. Learn to say no.
In high-pressure jobs, men in positions of power will often try to pile on the work (read: take advantage) for women who they think will just roll over and take it. Learn to tactfully say no (without seeming like you’re trying to get out of work).
5. You will sometimes have to work harder for the same reward as a man and it sucks.
There’s no way to sugar coat it. Men will get way more recognition for the same accomplishments and may get promoted over you. This, quite frankly, sucks. Some say the reward is much sweeter when you have to work for it, but it’s really just not fair.
6. HR may not always be particularly helpful, but it’s often better than nothing.
Men may be creepy, or generally treat you unfairly. An HR complaint is usually not enough to get someone fired, but you may at least be able to avoid working with them as much.
7. Take whatever opportunities you can.
If one of the reasons you get a job is because you’re a woman, so be it. That doesn’t mean you’re not also qualified for the position. Take whatever help you can to get ahead.
8. Support other women however you can.
Whether that’s joining a society for women in your field or just grabbing coffee with a new woman in your office who may be feeling lost, supportive relationships are crucial keeping you going when things get tough.
9. Know your employment rights.
A lot of companies may try to skirt around employment protections, for example, forcing you to work on your holiday (and not giving you time in lieu) or not paying an appropriate amount into your pension. Know how to protect yourself!
10. Don’t be afraid to talk about money with your colleagues.
It’s a myth that it’s rude to talk about money. It’s better to be open and honest with your peers so you can make sure you’re not being underpaid as a woman. In my previous department department, we all spoke about our salaries and, as it turns out, one woman was being paid much less than the rest of us. Armed with the information about our salaries, they gave her a raise.
What has worked for you when dealing with sexist men at work? How have you been an ally to women in tech? Comment down below with your experience.
Also, if you’re just getting into tech and want advice on how to learn and get your first job, check out this article!