I started writing this blog for a lot of reasons. I wanted to chronicle the real life of a woman in a male-dominated industry. I wanted to vent when I needed to vent, without annoying my far-too-patient friends and family. Most of all, though, I wanted to inspire young women and girls to follow their dreams even if what they wanted to do was something they were told wasn’t feminine or was otherwise “for the boys.” It’s a daunting thing, joining a boys club, and it’s nearly impossible without someone telling you it can be done, supporting you, and leading by example. I hope this blog helps me become these things, and recently I was lucky enough to make that a reality.
A friend of mine works at a local middle school and was kind enough to ask me to come speak to her students. My first reaction was to say no. Despite all my goals with this blog, I simply have a very difficult time finding anything about what I do to be “special”. Part of me knows it is, and depending on my experience on any given day I can find it darn near miraculous that I do this for a living, but to go speak to students about it seemed a bit dramatic.
My friend told me I was being dramatic by thinking it would be dramatic so I said fine… dramatically.
I didn’t know what the heck to say to these kids. I knew most of them wouldn’t really understand what I do for a living. Hell, half the people in my family think I run websites while the other half think I’m the receptionist for a place that runs websites, and they’re adults. So that was out the window. It was then I realized how important it was that I do this talk. Despite my feeling that being a woman in a traditionally male industry was somehow unique, I hadn’t given much thought as to why it was important; why anyone should care.
So that’s what I sought to talk about: why working as a woman in a male-dominated field matters.
The first thing I thought was a bit too simple. Because it’s awesome… that’s why. Sure it sucks some days. Sure there’s the old boy’s club mentality and there’s the assumption that I got my job to fill a quota. Sure there’s the assumption that I don’t know what I’m talking about and that even if I did know what I was talking about I wouldn’t be around long because I’d find a man and have a gaggle of babies and not work anymore. Sure, if I was having a bad time dealing with the idiotic, demeaning, and sexist comments swirling around me at any given time the men would assume I was having my period. But still… it’s awesome.
There’s something to be said for being in a fast-paced, competitive, cut-throat industry. There’s something to be said for early mornings and late nights trying to solve a problem. There’s something to be said for… well… most of the great stuff about what I do doesn’t have anything to do with being a woman, but being an IT specialist and being damn good at it.
That all sounds good… but it’s half the story, and the kids weren’t going to care about how much I like being an IT specialist.
So, what about being a woman in this field? What makes that worth talking about? I had to think about my own experience. In my life, it wasn’t necessarily that I was surrounded by feminists. I wasn’t. I was surrounded by people who were most concerned with instilling in me the things that made me successful no matter what field I was in.
The message wasn’t that hard work is uniquely masculine or feminine… it was that hard work transcends gender. When my mother and father worked hard into the night to provide for us, they weren’t thinking about how they were maintaining or dismantling the patriarchy. They were just working hard because it was the right thing to do.
That was my message when I spoke to those girls about females in STEM. I told them to expect (but never accept) sexist ideology in the workplace if they were to get into a male-dominated field. It’s an unfortunate reality, but it is the reality. The more important thing, though, was that they needed to be objectively as good or better than their male counterparts. The worst thing they could do was not to get into / decide against STEM fields, but to get in and make the STEM world less acceptable to women by proving anyone who thought we didn’t belong there right.
We have work to do ladies. Time to get to it.