Today is my birthday, and I couldn’t find a better way to celebrate than to write a letter. Why, you may ask? Well, simply because this needs to be written and published because, in 2022, women who work in technical sectors continue to face discrimination and hardship, ranging from subtle and indirect microaggressions to overt and direct abuse. Even if things may have improved a little for us, the fact that we still need to have this conversation indicates that they haven’t improved enough.
According to a National Science Foundation survey, only 26% of computer and mathematical scientists were women in 2019. Such a figure is appalling, considering that women account for almost half of the labor force. Higher education has much lower statistics. While women received 57% of bachelor’s degrees in 2019, only 21% of those degrees were in computer and information science, according to the National Center of Women and Information Technology.
Imposter syndrome—a sense of otherness or fraud, regardless of ability—is a familiar sensation for women and other underrepresented groups in computing. I don’t even know whether it exists or was created to oppress us. We are frequently told and shown that we don’t belong, either subliminally or overtly. Stereotypes and preexisting social institutions work together to generate further obstacles to participation in technology-related sectors. Even worse, these incidents frequently begin at a young age, and social media is making it even worse.
I feel guilty saying that my tech journey was difficult (even though it was) because I was fortunate to find mentors who guided me midway. This is a huge privilege that I know a lot of women in tech do not have. Please know that it gets very lonely as you climb the ladder, and I want you to start surrounding yourself with trusted friends, colleagues, and families who will be there to support and guide you along the way.
We have a big problem and to foster diversity, the tech culture itself needs to change. We must all work together to create a sector that supports everyone’s desire to disrupt through diversity. Each time progress is made, unconscious bias, discrimination, sexism, and inequality threaten the progress being made in our society. We must do better!
Do not let anyone tell you what to do, how to speak, or how to act. You are the only one who can select how you want your hair, nails, and body to look. You alone determine your appearance and what to dress. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing—a suit, a dress, leggings, or jeans—and more needs to be done so that we don’t even need to have the conversation. You don’t need to alter your appearance to demonstrate that you are competent in what you are doing and society needs to get with the program once and for all.
Today, I ask you to use your voice, speak up and learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable because until I learned that lesson, my progress was minute compared to what I am able to achieve today. I wrote this article a while ago because I noticed women, especially women of color, are uncomfortable advocating for themselves. I want you all to remember that your work will never be recognized or rewarded if you are invisible, so speak up, share your wins, and be comfortable sharing your achievements as often as possible (tip: I practice in front of the mirror out loud).
Today, I also want to say that I am sorry for the times you get interrupted at meetings; I am sorry for the many times you are asked to take notes; for hiring managers hiring people who look like them, for the tech industry not finding ways to give flexibility to mothers and caregivers, for the gender pay gap, for not having representation or role models that inspire you; for being told you are too emotional (which is a sign of strength), and for all the microaggressions you deal with…It is challenging, and I know it because I’ve lived it.
I know it is unfair because I had to work twice as everyone else around me to receive recognition… I know it, and yet still, I ask you to breathe deeply and stay focused because the only person you are competing against is yourself. I promise that you are more capable than you think, regardless of what has occurred or been said. Regardless of what others may think of you or the imposter feeling you may experience if you believe you might be interested in technology, you are where you belong. It all starts with you believing in yourself, and slowly you will see how others start to believe in you too. I want to thank you for hanging in there, for your strength, for your tenacity, and your resilience. We are all in this together, and now more than ever, we need to support one another.
Take pride in your work, and know I am here to support you; many of us are here to support you, but you don’t know it because you are afraid to ask. Today, on my birthday, I invite you to ask for help if you need it, and while you are at it, ask for that raise because you deserve it, ask for respect and let everyone know that your voice matters and that you are here to stay. You deserve every honor, award, and recognition that you receive.
This letter is a direct request for women in technology to continue to have huge dreams and to fight for them. Here is some encouragement:
- Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer.
- Grace Hopper was an American computer scientist, mathematician, and United States Navy rear admiral.
- Hedy Lamarr was the Inventor of WiFi.
- Annie was a NASA rocket scientist, and a trailblazer for gender and racial diversity in STEM.
- Mary Wilkes was the First Home Computer User.
- Adele Goldberg was instrumental in the development of the programming language Smalltalk-80, which inspired the very first Apple computer.
- Radia Perlman’s invention of the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), was instrumental in making today’s internet possible.
Imagine what is possible for you!