May 28th, 2015
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
My mom took several computer programming classes in the 1970s. Women earning advanced degrees in computer science peaked in the 1980s. Women focusing on tech, at the undergraduate level, also peaked in the 1980s. At the time, being a computer programmer meant getting a comfortable job at IBM or AT&T or General Motors — some big company that would offer a big salary and decent perks for a relaxed 40 hour work week. There was no brogrammer culture, no insane 90 hour weeks, no starups — tech was not a macho thing. And then everything went downhill.
First out, I would like to point out is that the situation in India is not the same as in US. This has mainly to do with the case of how the field evolved over the years in US . Initially programmers was synonymous with women (I think all the programmers who worked on ENIAC where women). This was before the time when computers are more common (let alone ubiquitous). Slowly, the percentage shifted, and (I think) when STEM was considered a base for programming, it became a bastion of men. All these, I gather from what I read online. I have never worked in the US to really know if this is the situation or it is reporting bias.
These are some considerable differences I noted between our culture and theirs.
Plenty of women choose technology over here as an option in higher education. I bet it is higher than it is in the US.
Women are not told that they will not do well in STEM (which I feel is kinda subtly fed to girls in US, atleast from what I read). No one ever told me so. Nor have I ever got such an impression from any other girl that I know in India that she believes she will do worse in Science or Math than a guy.
I have had very positive and supportive coworkers 99% of the time. The 1%, probably more, I suppose happens in all industries.
With that said, the motivation why women in India choose tech is much different from why women in US choose tech. Here, it is the most assured way to a comfortable job with a good salary and various other perks. Very few other fields can beat that. This is very important, considering that, till the previous generation, what a woman can do was heavily constrained by many social factors. Only few apply for their passion in tech. For them, the job was a goal achieved. Me, ten years ago, would consider that a sacrilege, an opportunity squandered, as some of you might feel. But, the present me, understands that it is ok. A person might choose to educate in tech but not work or contribute and that is just as fine as someone who contributes. If I look up and turn around, I see very slight possibility of convincing anyone in my batch to contribute beyond their job as they are head deep in their responsibilities.
There is also another component to this. I did my undergraduate at one of the better colleges. It was quite common to see a few guys (not all) in each class being involved in programming competitions and tech outside curriculum. The proportion of girls involved were much, much less, verging nil. I think there are two reasons for this. First, as a society, the preference for marks in ingrained in most of us. Any extra work did not count, unless, it impacted the grades. It was rather frowned upon. This effect seemed more pronounced in women. Clubbed with that, we did not have any female geek role models in college for us to emulate or look up to. So probably, we were all just infected with the Impostor Syndrome and never even tried (I am equally guilty of that in college, something I regret to this day.).
In terms of work culture, I had relatively few issues. I have worked in 5 companies, all startups or small offices (<100 people). I only ever had issues in the first one. The was enormous pressure to conform to their company culture (which was very not female-friendly, and at some level, it was quite not human-friendly too). There was plenty of politics too. Thankfully, I moved out pretty fast. Every company I have worked since has been quite cool. Lesson learned? “The culture of a company is like a fingerprint. Quite unique and may not be just because of tech per se. If something does not work out, move out and move out fast. There are 10 better ones for each mismatched one.”
At this juncture, I would be remiss if I did not mention my experience at another startup. It was a very employee friendly workplace. They supported me through a very difficult phase in my life when my close family member was very sick and I admire them for that. Yet, their policies did not take particular care for women. It was at the beginning of my pregnancy, and the project was going through a crucial phase. Since I had to work with a team in the different timezone, I had to work through the night from home. Yet, again, I was called in for meetings during the day. This went on for more than 3 weeks. This proved to be too much at my then state of health and I had to quit over medical issues. But to be fair, the startup closed down 2 months after I quit. The company was in it’s death throes and I may be just got in it’s way.