Despite being a feminist and advocating for more equality for women in tech, I quite often go through my tech stuff with little rage. I love technology and how men and women come together to build something out of ideas. I feel like there’s such a sense of accomplishment and power from being able to singlehandedly create something from nothing. I don’t spend my days hating men and lamenting on the fact that men have made this tech world inhabitable by woman, an idea that I don’t actually believe in. But then I encounter something that takes me back to the fact that we still have a long way to go.
I talked to a woman who has been working in tech for 10+ years. I won’t list her name or what she does, but if she sees this somehow, I hope it’s okay that I mention it. She told me that if she could, she would have told herself not to get into tech. Now I’m about to embark on my journey into a career as a programmer so naturally I was curious as to why she feels this way.
She told me that she is constantly harassed at her job, to the point where she feels threatened physically and emotionally. HR is aware of the problem, but haven’t actually done anything to prevent it. She feels like she’s stuck at her job because she gets some good benefits that she feels that she can’t get elsewhere and is locked in with a mortgage.
The more I tried to feebly give her advice, mostly telling her that there are better opportunities out in the Bay Area and that not all tech companies are bad, the more she shirked away. In my attempt to help her, I made her feel incredibly uncomfortable and probably reinforcing how stuck and hopeless she was. She’s become so jaded about the tech world with 10 years of experience to back it up. There wasn’t anything I could say to convince her that not all tech consists of guys trying to hit on you and then being scarily persistent when you politely decline.
Eventually, she signed off and I felt like a huge asshole. She was well aware of her situation and I tried to problem solve it away with superficial suggestions. I could not pretend to comprehend what she’s going through. This conversation has been weighing heavily on my mind and I want to apologize to her for being so insensitive.
It also made me realize that I still look through the tech world with rose colored glasses. I’ve been harassed before but my interactions with colleagues have been more positive than negative and I’ve always associated the negative encounters to be a rare thing. I’ve never felt physically threatened or afraid for my safety. Having heard this story, I feel naive for thinking it doesn’t happen to people.
I’m not really sure if there is even a good solution for her right now. I just hope that one day we can get to the point where women feel safe and respected. That’s all that’s really important. I hope that in 10 years, I won’t be wishing that I had gone into a different career.