What I wish someone told me 15 years ago

I’ve always been a “math person.” It’s actually much more of a creative endeavor than most assume. I’m gritty and like challenging things- I also love the satisfaction of solving a problem after it nags at you for hours. I sometimes think of what I do for a living as mathematical engineering more than statistics or math itself. Maybe you’re like me.

When I was younger I felt so much encouragement to female and be good at math and science. I know this experience varies, and perhaps much of my encouragement comes from my father being an engineer. When I went to undergrad, I initially wanted to be a chemical engineer and I leaned into STEM hard- every class I took that was not a core requirement was in STEM. I thought I was going to set the world on fire (in a good way, not like global warming.)

I don’t believe the pipeline is the reason there aren’t as many women in tech. I don’t believe it for a second. A few years ago, I attended a Python Meetup and there was discussion about gender diversity after initial talks. I remember how adamently older women were speaking against affirmative action for women in tech. I found this so striking, because it became apparent how many times these women must have received the messages that they suceeded due to affirmative action. I can’t the imagine the extra confidence blow hearing that message over the entirity of one’s career might have. With all of the encouragement I received in my youth, it made me unaware of what life would be like working in tech in my 30s.

Approximately half of women in tech leave or have left about 10 years into their careers. I’ve certainly thought about it more than once. More than 10 times. I’m not unique. Here’s a link to one of my favorite blog posts about leaving:  The Day I Leave The Tech Industry

I love solving challenging problems and talking about model methodology, it’s increasingly apparent that much of the tech environment does not love me in it. I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling stalled in my career and watching more less qualified men quickly earn titles I slaved for. I’m tired of increased scrutiny and having to prove myself many times for the same amount of technical respect.  I’m tired of contemplating how assertive I can be before saying something unpleasant, yet needs to be said from a business perspective- an err on the side of too assertive will inevitably lead to criticism like ”aggressive, harsh and intimidating.” According to the “Elephant in the Valley” survey 84% of women in tech have received feedback that they are too aggressive. I’m tired of holding back lest I intimidate an insecure coweorker or boss. I’m tired of not being taken seriously- an HR professional literally asked me to consider how it felt to be accused of gender discrimination.

Working on technical problems has often brought me deep enjoyment and satisfaction. I love many of the positive impacts it’s had on my life. I deeply appreciative of the men and women who have recognized potential and talent in me and have acted as mentors or sponsors. Should the day I want or need to leave tech come, I won’t be able to leave- I have no non-STEM skills.

My advice to undergraduate women wanting to pursue a career in STEM: Hedge your bets. Study STEM and also double major in an unrelated area that will allow you to be gainfully employed so you will have the freedom to leave if you need to. Unless the world of tech changes, over half of you will someday leave.

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