When I became a developer, it was more than just embarking on a new field. There is the part that I love: the sense of adventure and the opportunity to solve problems. But there is always the burden of feeling the need to "represent" all women.
Four years later, I still struggle with how to "represent" well while still carving out time to practice my craft and excel. Do I want to speak on a panel about being a woman in tech or do I want to stay at home to fiddle with my side projects and gain more experience? How do I go to a meetup and get to participate in the technical discussion while also avoid being cornered and either hit on or grilled about how complex my problems are at work? When is tidying up the kitchen being a courteous coworker and when is it "fulfilling a woman's duty"? Do you see me taking notes at this meeting as a sign of my thoroughness, or do you presume I'm the "team secretary" because my gender stereotypically plays one on TV?
I recently had an informational meeting with a college student who was interested in picking my brain about being an engineer at a startup. I LOL'ed (IRL) when he asked me if it was true that there is a lot of sexism in the industry still. I explained that I have been lucky enough to work with many men who have been instrumental to my growth as an engineer but sexism is systemic in our industry as it does in our culture.
What have I done about it? I steer work conversations away from jumping to conclusions about people based on what their perceived identities are. This always feels like it's not enough or that it goes no where but if I'm not at least doing this small gesture, I've already failed anyone I'm hoping to represent or ally with. I mentor both male and female coders. Some may think that men don't need anymore mentoring but how will men ever learn to work alongside women if women are not open to showing them how? To be honest, I struggle to represent women, myself, because I have never worked with another woman developer before. I know some amazing women in tech but they are a community outside of my day to day. I look forward to the day someone can show me how to work alongside another woman.
Where does this leave me? Only finding two examples is not good enough.
I've had meaningful conversations with several developer friends about how succeeding in tech means so much more than what you commit on your repo. Social and empathy skills really is the thread that holds it all together. In order to create the culture that reduces the pressure for any person to represent an entire segment of a population, we are going to have to do this iteratively and incrementally.
I'm here to listen. Tap my shoulder, and I'll close this laptop for you.
Originally published at Rubynista on March 7, 2017.