Let’s celebrate women in tech. This means accepting females for who they are, their unique attributes, and their differences. This does not mean treating and expecting females to be like males. Equality means both females and males are equal and celebrated.
I believe that gender biases exist that disadvantage females in tech today–that these gender biases are bad for humanity, startup culture, and for business. To that aim, I want to point out a few themes that have existed in my personal observations that we could improve upon to bring about cultures that embrace females. Please take this article as my evolving opinions that I continue to reflect upon and attempt to improve:
Respect: The gist of gender equality is respect and understanding. For example, if you exchange business cards with someone who is culturally Japanese, then you will see the other person hold their card with two hands and give it to you. If you want to be respectful of their culture, you will accept their business card with both hands and reciprocate by giving them yours with both hands too. This is about showing respect for another way of exchanging contact information. It is also important to note that you would do the same thing if the Japanese individual was visiting you at your office in the USA or if you were visiting them in their office in Japan. It would be disrespectful to ask the individual to change their culture based on their current location or your way of operating.
When women come to work, we should also not ask them to change their culture because of their current location or your preferences, either. Accepting someone’s culture is about accepting small things and changing small ways of interacting out of respect and understanding.
Awareness: Being conscious of our own biases can be difficult since we rarely have to confront them in the dominant cultural practices of the workplace. As an example, I was at work sitting around a table waiting for a meeting to start. There were about five to six people in the room, and I was the only male. Everyone was talking about something female-centric (whatever that may be). Frankly, I don’t remember the exact topic, but the conversation was irrelevant and not of interest to me. I am embarrassed to say, but my first thought was how I wish the team would save topics like that for home or the bar. Then, it occurred to me that this was only a matter of perspective since I was the only male in the room. Normally the room would be filled with 5 males and 1 female. The guys would be talking about male-centric stuff (whatever that is) and the females might feel disinterested, or worse, excluded. Now, I am not saying that guys and girls don’t relate. What I am saying is that the majority of the people in the room (likely males for now) should be conscious and inclusive of the minorities in the room (likely females for now). Further, we should be aware of our own biases inherent in our perception.
Let’s talk: How we communicate with each other shows so much about how we feel about each other. The challenge is that sometimes how we communicate with each other is perceived in ways other than was intended. The goal should always be to communicate in a way that ensures the person listening hears what you have to say. How to do this changes from culture to culture. To explain this better, I will tell you a bit more about myself:
- When I think about what someone is saying, I look out the window or away from the person talking. This is my natural inclination to allow myself to focus and one of the reasons why I love to go on walks with someone if there is a deep topic to dive into.
- When I am in a passionate discussion about a topic, I am totally fine with people raising their voices. If someone stands up while talking, I assume they are passionate about their point that they need to move around. I will also push back and, if need be, raise my voice to be heard. After the meeting ends, perhaps later that day, I’ll stop by and say hi. Maybe we will grab lunch. It’s an expected pattern and one that does not leave lingering feelings.
I have also spent about half of my career working for females and one of them had the idea to give me a book called Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business. While reading it, I started to observe my own patterns and those of males and females around me. Once I realized that a lot of people, especially females, perceive looking away while they are talking as meaning that someone is not interested, I started looking at the person talking. It changed the nature of the conversation. This may sound so simple or mundane, but the point is that there are small things you are doing that are being perceived by the other gender in ways you don’t intend. If you realize what those tendencies are and change them, then conversations will drastically improve.
At startups, people tend to be passionate and pour their soul into their work. Naturally, conversations filled with passion arise. After reading Hardball for Women, here is what I realized about my own behavior and about those around me during such times:
- Many females are not very receptive to conversations where people are raising their voices and standing up to make a point. It is simply not the most inclusive environment.
- Further, if females treat males like they are being treated and stand up to raise their voice they are often unfairly labeled as being overly aggressive, hot-tempered, etc.
- People in the office get mad all the time and that is deemed tolerable. Why then is crying in the office treated less tolerable?
These are not absolute statements, but themes I regularly see across the companies I have worked for. Not all females are the same and not all males are the same. Every individual is different. By reflecting on your own inherent biases and observing how your actions may be perceived, you can create cultures that are more supportive of both genders. If you respect the other gender, become more aware, and improve the conversation to be more inclusive you are taking steps to create equality in the workplace.
This article could be a book and it was inspired by one. Check out: Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business. It was written for females and I recommend it for all.
For now, Happy Women’s Day! Let’s celebrate females in tech!