NTC Storytellers: Common Bonds as "Women in Tech"

Submitted by Roger Burks on Fri, 03/18/2011 - 1:25pm

[As part of the 2011 NTC, a group of attendees are documenting their experiences at the conference on the NTEN Blog.]

By Wendy Marinaccio (@wendymarinaccio)

Dozens of women joined affinity group organizer Angela on Wednesday for a meeting of "Women In Tech." We shared our stories of what it means to be a "woman in tech" (consensus: we have no idea) and bonded over funny/sad experiences in our careers. From "geek-to-human translators" and women who "used punch cards in the '70s" to accidental techies and those who begrudgingly stepped over the line into techiedom, we bonded over common concerns.

We're dealing with a common situation: the majority of people who work at our organizations are women; the majority of people in our IT departments are men.

Acknowledging the effects of being a women in a specialization dominated by men, attendees spoke up about how important it has been to not feel isolated and to recognize that we are capable of succeeding in technology. Kara shared a poignant story about her response when asked by her boss how to best handle an issue. She said, "A professional would take this approach..." to which her boss responded, "Kara, you ARE a professional." She has since learned to be confident and not be afraid to speak her mind. Many women echoed the intimidation they felt at becoming a techie and timidity once there.

On the other hand, many of us described an assertiveness in our personalities that can often be difficult when communicating--especially with other women. Lenna described a "commanding way of speaking" that women often find a problem with and the process she has undertaken to tone down her communication style. Maggie joked about her difficulty in forcing herself to add the words, "And what do YOU think?" to the end of her emails to appear more conciliatory.

One woman said, "The tech crew is all men, and it's a skill in and of itself communicating with them." Learning how to communicate authentically is key. Sadie recommended, "You have to find your own unique style to speak up--but DO speak up." Natty said, "It's about being yourself and finding what works for you."

Others shared that they have found female community in groups like Miz_Tech on Facebook and DC Web Women. Many of us have been blessed by strong female mentors. Michelle described how her family owned their own computer business and her mother was instrumental in her decision to go into tech. One women said, "There is an onus on us as women owners of companies to make sure our CTOs are mentoring."

Erica spoke up to suggest that she--and likely many women--did not realize the long history of women in technology and suggested the documentary "Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II," about the women "computers" who created ENIAC in 1946. A knowledge of this history can feed confidence and help direct young women into the field. Sadie shared that she makes a point of ensuring that her daughter is involved in and comfortable with math and science.

We also touched on the complications, issues and joys of motherhood...a topic deserving of another (or a hundred more) blog posts entirely. Many thanks to Angela for getting us all in a room together so we could talk and share our stories! I appreciated the opportunity to meet the remarkable women surrounding me at NTEN.

How have you honed your approach and communication style in response to the special requirements of being a so-called “woman in tech?” Do you see a problem with the gender imbalance in our industry?

Men: how about you?

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