On International Womens’ Day, I think about my journey how I got here today. Other women may have similar experiences. Unlike Jenni Murray, I believe that you can be trans, proud and a real woman. Just saying.
Over the years, I have had challenges as a female IT consultant. Here are a few choice examples taken from my 20 years working in IT:
– a business contact once rubbed his hand up my leg when he thought I was asleep on a plane next to him. I jumped out of my skin. I realise now that he was trying to figure out if I wore tights or suspenders, and he was looking for the ‘line’. The skinny; I wear black 40 denier tights because I have varicose veins on my legs like a roadmap. They are comfortable and I like them. Oh, and don’t wake me up when I’m sleeping… although I know that he didn’t mean to…..
– Whilst at a conference, some business contacts trying to keep a golf score card and challenging other colleagues to try to get me into bed, using the golf score card to keep track of points when someone spoke to me or double points if I accepted a drink (for example). I found the golf score card with the names and scores on it when one of them dropped it on the floor. I was extremely humiliated, and realised why folks had been so friendly and welcoming to me. They grabbed the card back, but I wish I still had it – to remind me.
– I’ve had my work actively sabotaged by someone who told my boss that he could not fathom the idea of senior female tech lead and genuinely believed I got the role for being female and to tick boxes;
– I’ve been told to my face that I am ‘not close enough to the kitchen sink’. Unfortunately for them, I was made their technical lead one month later on merit, and they had to put my presence in their pipe and smoke it. I was gracious about it since I needed them to deliver well for me since the results would prove my worth. They delivered well, and I delivered the whole project on time, on budget,and to spec.
– I’ve had my email mailbox deleted on one site because I was the only female out of 200 plus men, and I ‘destroyed the all male equilibrium’ of the IT department. That was escalated to C-level, and nobody spoke to me after that because I’d complained. You can’t win, can you? I needed to deliver the project, and needed email. I did deliver, on time, on budget, to spec with a kindly Project Manager forwarding me emails to another account so I had everything I needed, and ensured I wasn’t cut off email trails.
– I am usually the victim of someone discrediting me as being too ’emotional’ and/or ‘not technical’.
– I’ve had men refuse to share an office with me in case I am ‘unclean’
– Discussions of female sanitary items; do I prefer ‘wings’ or not?
It’s the small things; for example, not responding to your email on a thread, but to the second-last email on a thread so that your contribution is cut out. Yes, I see you… but so does everyone else. Not clever and easily provable.
Sometimes it is not overt; it can simply be that I’m mansplained, or interrupted constantly. It’s a case of people simply never having the capability of believing that women can do anything technical and they will glibly reconcile it as other ways e.g. I am a ‘statistical oddity’. I like that, actually.
This doesn’t include the hugs where the hands just goes a little too low, or the colleague who leans towards me a little too close, or who looks at a part of you for a little too long. You don’t have to be attractive or pretty to experience that.
Here are some takeaway actions for you:
Shout louder to get your voice heard. Your voice is a good one. If people are tone deaf at the start, you haven’t lost anything anyway!
Throw your light out farther, and help others do the same. All of the setbacks have made me simply want to throw my light out farther. So, this blog post here was the result of a meeting that day, where I was being discredited subtly
Be helpful; you’ll be nicer to work beside, you’ll get more projects and more ‘wins’ in the long term. In the situations above, there was usually someone good enough to help. Be that person.
Be communicative; be the person who forwards email trails to anyone who has been actively cut out of it (male or female!)
Be considerate: the person who considers promoting the quiet female on the team. She’s probably good, you know.
Anywhere can be Trump’s Locker Room. Trump’s talk of pussy-grabbing and locker room? He was wrong to say that, and wrong to say it was ‘locker room’. It can be anywhere. Offices, work parties, conferences, anywhere.Be the person who steps in and takes away the ‘golf score card’ when it’s being used to keep a track to see who can get her into bed. Tell them to ‘grow up’. That’s not just locker room talk; that’s everywhere. Be the person who helps to stop it before it starts.
If someone is being victim-blamed as ’emotional’ – the accusation is usually treated the same as a real scandal and people don’t question it. If someone is emotional, is that because they are being bullied, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? Watch out also for people pressing other people’s buttons, and getting others to do the footwork for them by isolating them. Take a look at these guidelines here and if you are unlucky, you’ll come across someone who does a lot of these behaviours; if so, stay away from them but try to limit their impact on others, too.
On the plus side, the people who let me play in their box are usually wonderful people; they accept me and value me for who I am, and what I bring to the table. I think that this is why my projects are successful; many people discriminate right at the start and I don’t get beyond the starting block so they get partialled out. So it’s only the nice people who see past the five feet two frame and look at how I can help them out.
For the people who do give me a chance, they bless me in all sorts of ways. These people are men and women, cis gendered and transgendered. I’d like to thank all of my customers for being genuine and wonderful.
To summarise, I have less of a ‘range’ to play in, and I have to fight more and longer to get heard, and I have to be ten times as good to get to the same place.
Be brilliant – try your best. Own what you do and love. Then, you’ll be brilliant all by yourself.