On Working In A Male-Dominated Industry
Having been in Engineering at the University of Waterloo and holding various jobs in tech, I’ve learned that working in a male-dominated environment is going to be a reality for me. My response to this reality has been similar to my approach towards the poker table (or in other words, the ultimate bro environment) - I know I’ve got what it takes, but the fear of being judged has kept me from proving it. I find it’s sometimes easy to bash the things we’re afraid to approach, but for me, that strategy meant missing out on experiences I wanted to be a part of. So, I took steps to brave the situations dominated by my male peers, but also to pave a different path when I needed to. For me, this meant sometimes doing my own thing, but also learning to play poker and approaching the environment I feared most.
What I Want To Tell Other Women
- Be who you are, not who you think you’re expected to be.
- Lean in to the fear and anxiety with an open mind. You’ll surprise yourself.
I Can Do It!
Three years ago when I decided I wanted to transfer from marketing to design, I didn’t get the most supportive reaction - everyone basically thought I was crazy to enter this sector. But for whatever reason, I did it despite the ups and downs. I guess I refuse to be identified on the basis of anyone else's ideas of who I should be and what I should do. Sure, I do feel lost from time to time but I think my appetite for growth and new challenges keeps me moving forward.
You Can Do It Too!
My advice to others that feel fearful or unsure is to do whatever it takes to regain a sense of power when you feel like you are losing strength. Use any previous sources of support to revive your own courage that lives deep within you.
Be yourself and show yourself. Don’t be afraid to act and make decisions - few people have 100% of available information before they make a decision.
Stand Up For What's Right
I tend to be seen as “one of the boys” - I’ve had almost all male friends and work in a very male-heavy sector within tech (which is male-heavy to begin with). This can sometimes lead to others thinking it’s okay to make derogatory statements about women and/or disrespect other women in professional situations. I’m not a quiet person, so I speak out when I see something like this happen, even if the other person isn’t prepared to hear it. Regardless of how the other person takes it, I never regret my choice to say something because at the end of the day I feel like I am doing the right thing.
What I Want To Tell Other Women
- Stand up for yourself - and stand up for other women. There’s this bias where you gloss over what a woman says. We all do it, but work to know when you’re doing it.
- The first thought/reaction you have is the one you’re conditioned to have, the second is really you. Be patient, take your time to get to the second, thought-out response to any situation. Works professionally, socially, and morally.
It’s smarter to not try to do everything on your own. Look for mentors and advocates that will help you build confidence. Find people to work with who can remind you of who and what you are. That way when moments of insecurity roll around, you can lean on them to remind you of the knowledge and strength you’ve acquired. If you are sure of yourself, you can instead focus your attention on being and doing what you do best. Don’t let asking questions and being curious come at the cost of how you are perceived.
My Keys to Success
- Take the time to practice confidence. Building confidence may be hard, but fighting to earn respect without it is even harder.
- Fake it till you make it. Address imposter syndrome early. It’s a hurdle that will only impede your career progression.
- It’s all about attitude. Not the nasty or undermining kind, but the kind of attitude that people take notice of and respect.
- Be you. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and ideas!
- Maintain integrity in what you do. Be willing to put in the necessary hard work, have the ability to truly listen, and above all, respect and encourage others around you. If you exude this type of attitude, you can accomplish anything.
- Surround yourself with people that inspire you and that you can learn from - not only in tech but in anything you want to know or learn about.
- Don’t ever sell yourself short and always respect yourself.
- Always be helpful and encouraging to other women around you.
- Remember you are your own “brand”.
Silence The Negative
Everyone deals with Imposter Syndrome now and then - even genius people who seem to have it all. Remind yourself that you’re not a fluke and you worked hard to get to where you are. This wasn’t an accident, it was years in the making.
How To Succeed
- Create a positive environment for yourself. Set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself with people that boost you up. Learn how to recognize and tune out toxic people.
- If you can’t find a mentor to physically show you the ropes, take the initiative to create a proxy mentor. Read a lot, watch videos, and follow people that inspire you. Always learn and soak it all in however you can. All of these little things contribute to a better version of you.
- Pay it forward. Don’t forget that someone probably looks up to you as well. Being a mentor for someone else is immensely valuable.
On Becoming A Mother
Change is unavoidable. In the tech industry, things change quickly and often, and keeping on top of current trends, best practices, and keeping your skill set sharp takes work. When I knew I would be taking maternity leave, I immediately began to feel overwhelmed about my ability to keep up when I was away and once I returned. I knew that becoming a mom would fundamentally change my life and I anticipated a great deal of tension trying to balance everything.
The thing is, you CAN have it all (if you want). I’m now a “working Mom” in an industry that is predominantly male. I’ve never (ok, RARELY) heard of a man who is worried about being able to “balance” being a Dad and having a career. It’s not even a question. You don’t often hear the term “working Dad.” So why should I take the term “working Mom” to mean anything pejorative or negative? The main reason I had these doubts before I came back is because there’s still a stigma around career vs. family when it comes to women. But many have been able to manage it before, and many more will after me. I’m still trying my hardest and showing up to work everyday with my “business hat” on - which is exactly what is expected of me.
What Helped Me Get Through It
There are three things that have helped me stay on course (oddly enough they also apply to motherhood):
- Be flexible and open to change. Be the type of person who can accept change and roll with it. Seek ways to help yourself or your company adapt, or look ahead and plan for changes before they hit.
- Accept that you don’t know everything, and that it’s ok that you don’t. Ask questions. Ask for help. Ask if there’s a better or different way of doing things. Don’t resign yourself to tunnel vision or think that reaching out shows any sign of weakness. Being obstinate alienates you - being resourceful makes you indispensable.
- Listening and empathy are skills that will never go out of style. No one experiences things the exact same way and some people may struggle with things you find easy (and vice versa). Listen with the intent to understand. And empathize with those who are having challenges. If you are the type of person that can show these qualities, people will seek you out and look to you for help.
Establishing Clear Boundaries
In the 10+ years I’ve worked in the tech industry, I’ve had to deal with two recurring challenges: boundaries and credibility.
Being ethnic, female, and short, I’ve always played the hard-mode in the video game of life - an education in engineering, a career in software, and hobbies in sports a.k.a. The Boys Club. I’m frequently labeled as a “guy’s kinda gal”, a constant reminder that I always have to be on the lookout for the lines that cannot be crossed while drawing the lines that protect myself.
My job requires me to defend, justify, and persuade on a daily basis, and sometimes I know I need to fake it until I make it, trapping me within Imposter Syndrome. The moments where I break out of that cycle and find my voice again, I am faced with the reality that the credibility I deserve is not within arm's reach. Each time, it’s my belief and my patience that let me be heard.
What I Want To Tell Other Women
- Don't humour the idea that you can be teased easily, enforce the level of respect you deserve.
- Believe strongly in yourself, it shows organically through body language and tone of voice that you are beautiful, intelligent, and worthy.
- Put on a thick skin and develop the patience for the long game, let yourself be heard even if it means repetition with increased volume control.
- Never look down upon the gifts of emotions we have, they are our strength. We cover more grounds in analytical and critical thinking than our male counterparts.
- There is no bitch scale that anyone has the right to measure us on, don’t let anyone let you think otherwise.
Saying Yes To Tech
I don’t think that tech really ever crossed my mind as an industry to get into, because it was that disassociated with women when I was in school. There was a computer science class that I was in for a day in highschool, but it was just all guys so I dropped it pretty quickly. The biggest challenge for me has been entering the industry a little late, and playing catch-up. There’s an incredible amount to learn, but it’s such an interesting and exciting field that I think more women need to learn about.
What I Want To Tell Other Women
- Fake it till you make it. Seriously. People can put you into this category of being this young girl and then change their expectations of you based on the category they put you in.
- You don’t deserve to be treated any differently, so pay attention to any small ways you think you’re being treated differently, or being put down (even if it isn’t intentional).
- Stand up for yourself if you’re uncomfortable, and rock it. Because you’re awesome.
- Get a female mentor, someone who’s confident and inspiring. It really helps when you’re building up your career.
Breaking Into The Industry
My background over the past 10 years has been predominantly within the marketing industry. I recently transitioned into the tech world with very little knowledge or experience. I’ve had to devote a lot of time getting to know and understand the new language, culture, and practices. This will not be a world that I become specialized in overnight, this will take months or even years before I can confidently say I have a comprehensive understanding, and that’s okay.
What I Want To Share With Other Women
- Don’t be scared to move outside of your comfort zone and try new things.
- If you have the passion, drive, and dedication to achieve your goals, then anything is possible.
- Connect with someone you respect that can provide guidance and coaching. My most valuable mentors have been powerful women in a Sr. Leadership capacity. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support, knowledge, and guidance.
On Being The Boss
Being a woman in any workplace is full of catch 22s. It often seems like there is no way to be assertive without someone insinuating (or directly stating) that you’re ‘bossy.’ As a manager, you need to sometimes be more firm to ensure the success of the team, and it’s important to keep that top of mind and let negative the connotations of “being bossy” roll off your shoulders. Keep your eyes on the prize.
What I've Learned
Fear of being labelled a certain way gets in the way of getting s!@# done!