While I was at yet another Women in Technology event last night (this one called “Tech Shouldn’t be a Boys’ Club”, a panel discussion aimed at getting women interested in Entrepreneur First), I was struck again by how many women either don’t think they have the chops to be in technology or (like me) are ambivalent about whether they actually work in technical jobs.
At one of my first Girl Geek Dinners events over the summer, I was shy about introducing myself because I didn’t feel like my job was techie enough. But I did introduce myself to a software developer who worked for Mozilla. “I design data reports for internal business reporting,” I said. “It’s kind of like programming. Um. I write a lot of if-statements.”
“That sounds like programming to me,” she said.
This instantly put me more at ease, because it was coming from someone comfortable with her tech status. Suddenly I felt like part of the club. This is in fact why I have kept doggedly going to more women in technology events, even though my job has only become slightly more technical since I had that conversation. The more I go to these, the more I realize that I’m not the only one spending far too much time giving myself all the wrong messages.
I believe it’s important to find role models who are confident in their work, and to find people who, like me, might be a little shy about how technical their jobs are. I get to see what my peers are up to and realize that my job is in good company as far as technical skills go, and I get to see what progress could look like for someone like me. These are some of the valuable things networking can do for you.
But there are other important ways that networks can benefit women, especially in careers where they make a smaller proportion of the workforce. A recent study highlighted that for many women in middle management, their networking activities focused on helping others, providing support, and mentoring, rather than seeking opportunities for their own career-building. In some ways this is encouraging: as an early-career woman, it’s good to know that help is out there. On the other hand, I also want to know that support will still be there when I move up the chain. (Bearing in mind the study had a relatively small sample size of 74, so some networking activities may be underrepresented. Given the sample size I would have preferred to see more qualitative representation of the interview data instead of statistical analysis–but this post has just achieved a whole new level of geekery by talking about research methodologies as well as women in technology, so I’ll stop there.)
The study also proposed two ways women can use networking opportunities more effectively: collaborating on projects instead of just communicating about things that happen outside the network, and not being shy about stating goals. The first provides a practical avenue to demonstrating skills, perhaps learning new ones, and building lasting professional relationships. The second…well, it seems obvious that no one is going to know what you want until you tell them, but lots of people (including myself) are shy about saying what they want. There are lots of reasons for this, but in the end unless you can articulate what you want–at least to yourself–it’s too easy to assume that you’re happy with the status quo, and there’s no incentive to change or grow.
So I for one am going to keep seeking out my peers at events for women in technology, and I encourage others in my position to do so. It’s important to me to explore every avenue for gaining confidence in my career, and that includes finding people who can help me figure out what I need to know–and what I already do just fine.