Gender should not be an issue. We know that. In a perfect world, we shouldn’t have to even think about our gender and how it relates to our work. Gender has nothing to do with our ability to do our jobs. But society doesn’t agree with me, and the tech field is no exception. The idea that tech jobs are exclusively nerdy, white guys is still in many people’s heads. Considering that women hold only 20% of tech jobs, it’s still mostly the reality.
I was faced with that reality at my first job out of college, about 12 years ago. You should’ve seen the looks on people’s faces when they walked into IT to see a 22-year-old girl sitting among the guys. Some people were fine with it, but many were, let’s say, skeptical.
She couldn’t possibly be able to help me!
I won’t lie, it pissed me off. At first I thought it was just because I was young, which was annoying but understandable. After all, there was a lot I did not know. As I listened to the rumors (and even some comments said right in front of me), however, I realized my age wasn’t the main factor. It was the fact that I was a woman that mattered to most people. Not only did this infuriate me, I didn’t really understand why. I was raised by parents who always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. They never said there was anything I couldn’t do just because I was a girl. So the fact that people didn’t think I could do my job just because of my gender, didn’t make sense to me.
Despite people’s opinion of me, I knew I could do the job and learn what I didn’t know quickly. So I swallowed my irritation and learned to ignore the sexist comments and behavior. I realized that the best way to help change people’s way of thinking was to prove they were wrong. And the only way to do that was to do a phenomenal job. So that’s what I did: I worked my ass off. It didn’t take long before many minds were changed and I had a waitlist of people wanting my time on projects.
This experience, and the many more encounters with discrimination that followed, taught me many things about overcoming adversity.
1. Let Your Emotions Motivate You
I learned to use my anger over the situation to motivate me instead of hinder me. When life gets hard, it’s easy to want to give up. But if I had done that, I would have missed out on so many opportunities and experiences. Instead, I let that challenge motivate me. I don’t know about you, but I just LOVE proving people wrong about the abilities of women.
2. Use Hard Work to Build Your Skills and Confidence
Working hard meant I learned a lot of new things, and quickly. This started to boost my confidence, but it wasn’t easy to keep it. Each time I made a mistake, I had to keep pushing through my doubts to prove not just to others, but to myself, that I could do this. Putting in the work and time to practice helped to grow my skill set and confidence more than anything. Without those, I couldn’t have accomplished my goals.
3. Find Your Support System
Having a supportive spouse and friends to vent to and ask for advice is crucial. But you also have to make friends at work. Even if you’ve encountered some jerks, not everyone at your work is, I promise. I discovered that you can find allies of any gender where you least expect them. I was lucky enough to find co-workers and even supervisors who had a lot of experience and were willing to help me learn. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, even if it’s from a male supervisor. I’ve learned to keep an open mind and not assume anything about people or their opinions of me, especially not based on their gender.
4. Embrace Your Confidence as a Key for Advancement
After several successful jobs, I realized that all this adversity was actually helping to advance my career. I was motivated to work hard, and the harder I worked, the more I succeeded. The more I succeeded, the more my confidence grew. With higher confidence, it was a lot easier to ask for a raise, look for a new job, or tackle challenges that I never thought possible.
The combination of the above four things has been a great recipe for my own professional success. I’ve only had the opportunity to work with a few other women in my field, but I’ve seen them use a similar combination to succeed.
So in conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a few words of encouragement. Learn to recognize adversity as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Believe in yourself, know that you can do this.
Melanie Rickmann is a Sitecore certified developer with over a dozen years of experience programming in .Net. She has worked at Grey Ghost Studio, Inc., a small web and marketing business located in Beaverton, OR, since 2011. Melanie has also been happily married for over 15 years and is a mother to 2 adorable boys and a retired Greyhound. Connect with her on twitter and LinkedIn.