Women in tech: we need to support each other to be bring our authentic selves to work!

There are enough obstacles in our way, the best way to overcome these is to encourage individuality and to be each other’s support system when we get knocked down.

I’ve always worked in the tech sector, and I quickly came to terms with the fact that this is a male dominated field. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how I would need to change my behaviour in order to have an impact, in order to make my point heard.

The teams that I’ve worked in have generally been made up of less than 20% women and I’m often the only woman speaking on panels. There have been stints in my career where I have been the only woman on the team for over a year. Yet whenever I challenged why this was, I was informed that either it would be biased to hire women based on positive discrimination which in turn would make the men feel uncomfortable and disengaged, and/or that it was typical for the industry and that I needed to get used to it. Essentially that it was too big a problem to solve.

Looking back now, I can see how I adapted to this environment by picking up behavioural traits from my male colleagues in order to hold my ground and to get my point across, which I don’t feel represented how I like to work or represent myself. I’m naturally a people-person, I love running workshops, exploring ideas and building relationships with the people around me. Yet, I became very direct and blunt. I did this because it was how the people around me behaved, and I didn’t want to stand out as different. I wanted to be acknowledged as being good at my job despite being the sole female representative and, because I was portraying myself in this unauthentic manner, I was eager to receive affirmation that I was doing well because it just didn’t feel genuine.

I think one of the reasons that I adopted this approach was because I’ve been placed in situations throughout my career which have made me extremely uncomfortable, from colleagues having highly inappropriate and uncomfortable conversations in the office, to facing sexual harassment and the retaliation that followed my reporting of it, which was difficult to overcome. So rather than stand out as being different, which I associated with such treatment, I altered my behaviour to create my “professional persona”; to present myself as someone who was direct and wouldn’t take any nonsense.

This persona was embedded further into my mindset when I discovered that a female colleague, who I’d been working closely with, had been pitching herself against me to the management team. Her mindset appeared to be that only one woman could come out on top, and she was adamant that it would be her, and who can blame her for that ambition. What shocked me about this was that we missed a real opportunity to team up, to provide a united front representing powerful women in this male-dominated sector. It’s often commented that women can have fractious relationships in the workplace due to this perceived competition, and I genuinely believe that it’s due to us altering our ways of working to fit in and to get ahead. As we’ve done this, we’ve lost sight of the mutual benefits and gains to be had in collaborating as an under-represented part of the team. Moreover, TUC research has found that one in two women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, so we should be providing a support system for each other, rather than setting up even more obstacles, as it’s likely that we’ve experienced similar, inappropriate and potentially traumatic experiences in the workplace.

I’ve been struck recently by this because I changed jobs a few months ago and have been surprised at how you’re encouraged to be your authentic self. A core belief that runs through the company is that you only do your best work when you’re being you — not a version of yourself that you think people expect, but to strip it back and to enjoy working with clients, with colleagues and, most importantly, to enjoy working as yourself and bringing your unique insights and personality to everything that you do.

It’s taken time for me to adjust to this. It’s taken time for me to understand just how much I’ve had to adapt to a male dominated environment that I found myself in in order to succeed and the impact that this has had on me, and I’m excited to shed this protective, professional persona and just be my authentic self. Most of all, I’m hopeful that in such a collaborative environment, women will provide a much-needed support network in the tech industry to raise each other up, and to be each other’s champions because the more representation we have in senior roles, the better it is for all of us.

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