Women in tech and the dubious pursuit of perfection Melanie Baker May 14, 2015 Columns, Ecosystem, Featured, M-Theory I know some women for whom Lean In is basically a biblical text. And I know other women who dislike it passionately for the perceived notion of encouraging women to chase the myth of “having it all.” Not only do we have all of these things to do: career, family, life – we’re supposed to give it our all every day. While not only staying amazing, but improving. And being role models and mentors, etc. Uhh, yeah. Some days I feel pretty accomplished putting on something other than sweatpants, and I work from my living room and don’t even have kids. This article (hat tip Tony) has a terrible headline, but good points. For men in tech, there’s the mythical and sought-after 10X engineer. Is it typically explicitly said to be a man? No, but it’s implied. Women in tech don’t have that mythical figure. Why? Because we’re all supposed to be her. And if we’re not, we’re letting the team down. Or, to the point that she does exist, she’s not just a 10X engineer; she’s a 10X everything. She’s founding startups and leading enterprise and managing teams and mentoring young women and teaching and a mom and a wife/partner and a fashionista and … I dunno, rescuing kittens from burning buildings while running marathons and building schools in Mozambique. For the women with that kind of ambition and drive: awesome. You go. For the rest of us: stop staring into the sun. You’re not her, and that’s just fine. It’s an amazing thing to watch, but it’s often unrelatable and can be dangerous. It’s not that helpful to want to be like someone who at the same time makes you feel horribly inferior. Or who makes others think that you’re horribly inferior. Or who appears to have what you want… but you only want like 62 per cent of it. And as we know (or would if we asked), the ones who appear to have it all are generally as exhausted and scattered and insecure and feeling like failures as everyone else. Men and women can make it equally hard to be a woman in tech trying to do her best. Women are pros at admiring and hating in equal quantity. We learn it before high school. We’re great at feeling like impostors when we’re actually doing pretty well, and of giving up before the fight even starts (if there’s a fight to be had). This isn’t necessarily the case 24/7, but even once can plant that seed. Women can be as guilty as men of dismissing or dissing other women who are in tech, like us, but who like dresses or cake decorating or are really nice… or dress androgynously and play FPS games in their spare time and aren’t social at all. You can’t be a girly girl, but you can’t appear to be trying too hard to be a dude or a geek, either. (Of course, just having a vagina puts your geek cred at risk in some spheres, but that horse has been well flogged by many others.) And let’s face it; even if you are pretty awesome at your job, everyone has off days. Everyone has days when they dial it in, or screw up. Everyone has skills they learn more quickly or excel in more thoroughly. When someone has that off day, screws up, or is working beyond their area of expertise, this does not reflect the entirety of any gender in their chosen profession or industry. There’s also this. Don’t do that. The idea that you can’t be a good developer/engineer/architect/tester/whatever because you don’t fit some ever-shifting and arbitrary mental construct isn’t fair, and it’s corrosive. And yes, sadly, sometimes, just being female seems to be a threat. Because there are still people who’ve never bothered to become regular humans and learn how to live and work with half of the population. Or even the notably smaller female tech population. (For the #notallmen contingent: yeah, yeah, we know.) I think this point in the aforementioned article hits it on the head: picture a man in tech. You can do it, right? Good chance there’s a spectrum, fairly geeky, and for better or worse, based on people you likely know. Now picture a woman in tech. Umm… which woman? It’s that superwoman we talked about before, or someone you specifically know, or someone you follow or whose story you’ve become familiar with for (often awful) reasons. But is there a composite “woman in tech?” I don’t have one. I did a Google image search for “woman in tech” and the first pictures that came up were of Rosie the Riveter. The rhetoric is a bit unsubtle, perhaps, but still telling. Rosie’s an icon. She’s a marketing campaign that’s lasted decades. We first got Rosie in 1942. And I bet even the women who were the template for Rosie weren’t Rosie. But it could well be argued that “her” great-granddaughters are still fighting many of those same battles, often with ourselves. (Not just after 1945 when they were expected to go home and stay there.) As the “terrible engineers” article states, you can’t fight misogyny with perfection, because perfection doesn’t exist. And we deserve equal treatment – when we rock or tank – because we’re people, not because we’re women, or Women In Tech. Most of us already want that, but for any who prefer special treatment for being female: time to put on the big girl pants. (Or skirt, whatever.) Because seriously, Rosie’s long overdue for retirement. Photo: Daytona Beach branch of the Volusia county vocational school by Howard R. Hollem is licensed under CC BY 2.0. M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech.