Rising Up or Stepping Down: A Woman’s Professional Dilemma
I had a pretty interesting experience at work today. Now, for the sake of privacy, I try to stay away from discussing work-related matters online, and this is sort of borderline between work and personal life. Today, I was part of a roundtable discussion between all the women in my company with regards to the issues that we feel we experience working in the engineering/technology field; in other words, a very male-dominated world.
There was a variety of women–pretty much every woman from every department was invited, although not all showed up. The ones who did show up represented about 25 or so women who comes from all walks of life and all had intelligent and thought-provoking comments. It was perhaps the first time in my life where I’ve been in a room full of women who were all so smart and had such unique perspectives, the discussion was led by two female engineers–one fairly well into her career (she’s been an engineer going on 7 years), the other about 3 years. It was kind of a way for all of us women to come together and talk about stuff in a confidential manner but also allow us a voice to be honest.
I thought it was really neat and ironically, coincides with the book I’m reading called Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang. Now, I don’t normally talk about a book before I’m done reading it, but I figured since I’m about ¾ of the way done, I feel competent enough to talk about it.
The book is about the challenges that women face working in Silicon Valley, in particular with start-ups and major players like Google and Uber. It chronicles an infamous case of Susan Fowler, the engineer who blew her former employer out the door with her story of sexual assault and harassment. Many examples were told in the book of women who went through similar experiences as Susan did. And they all come from different walks of life, but one thing that the author Emily Chang did discuss quite a bit was the minority aspect in conjunction with being a woman working in technology.
What’s really alarming is that there are clear differences in the players and their ultimate success, depending on whether or not they were a man or a woman. Intelligence and credentials aside, women often sell themselves short. We don’t feel as confident as men entering a room, trying to convince potential investors to give us money. We don’t feel as confident as men asking for a raise or negotiating a salary. We don’t feel as confident as men applying for certain jobs because we think we have to be 100% qualified in order to do so. We don’t feel confident going to our direct superiors about an issue, especially when the perpetrator is our very own boss (such as the case of Susan Fowler). We don’t feel supported by other women because there is a huge lack of female leadership in the upper levels of management (therefore, less mentors)–which was something that one female engineer mentioned in my roundtable discussion today, and something that I can definitely relate to.
When I first graduated from college, I worked for a small company that administers health benefits. My direct boss was a mid-level career woman who worked two days from home and three days in the office. She was truly a wonderful boss who connected me with other managers and more opportunities, amongst a small handful of female bosses that I’ve ever had in my life. In fact, it wasn’t until today that I realized that yes, I’ve only had a few female bosses, less than what I can count on my hand, despite having had plenty of bosses in my life, less than five of them were female. The ones who were my bosses were wonderful women who excelled in their jobs, and it makes me wonder–where are the women leaders? Why is it that the majority of my supervisors have been men?
It’s not to say that men don’t make great bosses; it’s simply that men make more bosses. And that’s something that needs to change. We need more women in upper levels of management, or at the very least, acting as a team leader. And if we’re going to have the same level of expectations of leaders, whether they’re male or female, then we shouldn’t make women feel bad for wanting to balance their professional with their personal lives.
Although it’s changing, I think work-life balance is still a major issue in America. As a country, we are driven to work, to make money, to prosper, and while that has its merits, it comes at the expense of others, or by sacrificing our own happiness. We have ways to go, but I think it’s great that we are starting to talk about it.