Today is Ada Lovelace Day; organised by Suw Charman-Anderson, the day was inspired by her female friends in technology who felt they were “disenfranchised and invisible”. The idea of recognising the women in our lives who inspire, support and surround us is a good, noble one. I hope it can make a difference and change the lives of younger women who are deciding what career to aim for when they grow up.
But… I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled with the event. It leaves me feeling uncomfortable and on edge, like I’m politely standing still for a picture but my nose is itching hopelessly. It’s the sentiment that the motivation behind this day is that women feel they are being cheated out of the technology roles they strive for.
First, some background on why I feel this way. I’ve been working in and alongside the tech world for some ten years now; first in computer science publishing, where authors were generally male, but the editorial team often overwhelmingly female. Moving to my next role in web marketing, I was mostly surrounded by developers, designers and occasionally another marketing person. Mostly guys.
The ultimate realisation was in the next move to the mobile industry. I wish I had an areal photo of the first large-scale mobile event I attended: Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. I was standing in the open outdoors square wearing a fuschia pink cardigan, surrounded by a sea of men in grey and black suits. Not another woman in sight. At that point, it really hit me that I’d landed in one of the most male-dominated industries. And somehow, rather than worry me, it made me smile.
Over these years in tech, I have met some strong, determined women who are very much respected in their field. I’ve also met shrinking violets who felt they should get more recognition for one reason or another. Yet, at no point have I met anyone who was able to truly tell me that the reason they didn’t get where they wanted was purely due to being a woman. At no point either have *I* felt that being a girl made any difference to how my career has progressed.
There are a million reasons not to be where you want to be; lack of drive and passion, poor understanding or knowledge of an industry, chronic shyness or fear of putting one foot in front of the other and walking into a room full of men. But using sex-based discrimination as the sole reason not to be where you want to be today is bullshit.
The topic of gender imbalance at tech conferences often crops up in conversation. Yes, it’s true there are less women speaking at tech events. Yes, it’s true there are less women in tech generally. But it’s changing and fast; mainly due to strong girls choosing to walk into that classroom of blokes. Of these girls, I am truly proud. Of those who spend more time complaining about the lack of recognition rather than DO something worthy of recognition, I’m a lot less proud.
So girls, grab every opportunity that comes your way to learn, gain experience, and don’t be afraid to screw up along the way. The men didn’t always get it right the first time either. Just be bold, gutsy and you’ll be respected for your smarts and wits, rather than for your boobs.
And to those who have done it and continue to prove that girls rock, thank you all for being an inspiration!