To be quite frank, I've never wanted to be a part of this conversation. Women work. Women have always worked. Always. From the cave to the farm to the factory to the lab. From the beginning of human evolution, women have worked. We have always been there, whether in the limelight or not, we have worked and we have made things work. I have never understood why people focus on the achievements of women as if it is an anomaly for a woman to achieve something.
I heard a story on the radio the other day, a story about racism. In it a young woman gave a public talk about her own story and her push-back on the notion of racism. She sounded young but she was incredible smart and articulate. She ended her talk with, "Don't hesitate to come talk to me afterwards if you have any questions. Just don't tell me how articulate I am for being an African American."
And don't tell me how smart I am for being a woman.
I started my technology career in the late nineties. A year after graduating college, a small software start-up took a chance on me. Although I earned my B.A. in film, I knew the wife of one of the partners, and she knew my work ethic. They invested in training me to be a 'junior programmer'. I was coding in HTML and SQL building web-based software. It was a new frontier. I remember when we experimented with this strange black box that allowed us to connect to the internet without a cable. It was an exciting time in software and, even though we were working in a dark warehouse with no windows or heat, it was exciting to be a part of the company they were building. I was one of three women developers on a team of four. And although it was my first job in software, it never dawned on me that it wasn't typical in the industry to be working with a team of women.
Since then I've taught and written technology-based curriculum in public schools and private summer camps. I've worked in web, mobile and social media with high levels of responsibility. I've worked under male bosses and female bosses, and quite honestly, and luckily, have never felt chauvinism in the workplace. During the time I worked in mobile entertainment, I had the pleasure of collaborating with many talented V.P.'s and Senior V.P's who were leading digital at big brands, mostly all women. We would meet in cafes in New York or San Francisco, drinking tea and starting our conversations with the struggles of breastfeeding while working, or how we juggled kid pick-ups when we were stuck in long meetings. We still hadn't figured out the balance, but we weren't afraid to go after the jobs we wanted. It felt like the playing field was equal, that women were not only at the table, but leading the conversations. At a high level.
It wasn't until Neologic that I started to notice push back on my role. I lead a technology company. We offer technical services and we dream up new and innovative projects. I am the CEO, but I have a male partner, and it never fails that once the conversation shifts into a technical discussion, although this partner is an anthropologist, they expect the answer to come from him. We're often asked if we're married, as if I'm just there tagging along, or helping push him forward. I've also been told by a client that my partner needed to approve a proposal (during his vacation) and I gently reminded them that as CEO I had the authority to make the final decision. It has been an interesting shift in my experience as a woman in the technology industry.
This is why I am now joining this conversation. I'm a professional problem solver; this is a problem I just can't crack. Why aren't we just referred to as people who work in tech, rather than by our gender? We don't refer to our developers as "female developers" and we don't talk about how many women work at our company, because it shouldn't be a topic of conversation. But for some reason, it is still an anomaly. Everyone thinks it starts with getting more girls interested in math and coding. Girls are interested in math and coding, but maybe they just don't want to compete. They don't want to constantly have to prove themselves, or stick out in a crowd or feel like no one trusts them to pull it off.
Change the conversation and you will change the perception.
Jaime Bancroft Gennaro is the CEO of Neologic, a digital experience agency with an innovation lab. Neologic is launching their time-capsule app on September 23rd at WebVisions Chicago. www.cornbreadapp.com
Contact Jamie 503.236.2500 or visit her at Neologic
Twitter and Instagram: @cornbread_app
Facebook: Cornbread app