A woman developer’s survival guide in IT

It is a well known fact that a large number of girls/women demonstrate inclination towards STEM fields during high school and college, but when it comes to pursuing a career the number drops exponentially. Do you remember that fellow student who aced Math exams during school? As far as I remember, in my middle school, the first top 10 ranked students were always us girls. #shamelessplug

Despite a plethora of programs and initiatives which thrive towards promoting girls/women in STEM, most of them achieve little or no success. I say this also as a mentor trying to enroll women into IT. Out of the 45 women who enrolled into learning Python programming, 2 graduated.

Considering the fact that IT sector is one of the largest employers in the world, it is rather baffling to comprehend the reasons behind such extreme under representation of women in the field. Therefore, it is crucial to sustain women who are already in the fields so the numbers don’t fall because of unhappy employees. Often I notice women developers struggle to find work life balance ultimately switching roles or careers to a non-programming field. The gender diversity in programming fields is quite wide apart in an alarming way. I believe that a greater part of the responsibility lies with the organisation to create a diverse environment that fosters women’s well-being and growth in male dominated fields.

I completely fathom the fact that studies show women’s inclination in fields like Arts, Linguistic, Literature, Human Resources or Public relations as a natural selection. Unsurprisingly, this does not justify the point as to why young women who chose Science and Mathematics in their high schools give up on their interests all of a sudden. Why do women who have engineering degrees or who enroll into IT move away after only a few years!

According to studies by World Economics Forum India ranks 52 in gender parity w.r.t per capita income, with Sweden and mostly western countries leading the charts. See here. Economic times reported, India’s GDP can expand by a whopping 27 per cent if the number of female workers increases to the same level as that of men.

According to International Monetary Fund’s chief Christiane Lagarde. Modern women resorting to household giving up their careers for family or other unforeseeable reasons besides having valuable degrees to their advantage seems certainly unfortunate.

Wikipedia lists a good amount of reasons which results in women dropping out from STEM in the article here.

Therefore, I thought of compiling a few points that could be vital in sustaining and growing as a woman developer.

1. Let the confidence flow:

Evidently, from all those interviews I conducted it became crystal clear that women developers were low on confidence and are victims of self-doubt. Among all the candidates I have interviewed I noticed that men were more likely to be vocal about their likes and dislikes or ask for a pay that they found suitable or above the “market standards” in comparison to a female developer. The language with which women spoke also displayed poor confidence even though their answers were correct.

So, ladies when you face an interview or somebody asks you a question that is in your area of expertise I’d suggest you to answer as confidently as possible. If you do not know the answer just accept it. Being honest makes you come across as an ethical person who an employer would like to have. As much as you want the job they want you too. Make your terms and conditions clear.

During a conversation with a friend recently, we discussed why the gender pay gap exists and one of the reasons we both unanimously agreed upon is that we women end up asking for less than the standards. I did have a few male colleagues share their qualms about having the ‘imposter syndrome’ because they did not think they deserved the job or to be in that position but that did not mean that they took home less salary. Negotiate until you get what you think you deserve. Do not ask for less as the company has a budget for every role and if you quote less you end up getting paid less and it is not the organisation’s fault.

2. Rising above discrimination:

In a work environment, it is a common occurence to have doubts about your capabilities especially if you have more experienced colleagues. In fact it is a boon in disguise as it aids exchange of knowledge and you will end up learning faster. Certainly, it is impossible to know everything but it is essential to commit to only how much you are capable of. A woman programmer would have to prove her worth in every walk of one’s career as a result of the negative stereotypes that exist in the society. In a patriarchal country like India, it was a common sight to see a colleague get a raise, promotion, to be sent overseas work or an unusual opportunity over you little because of one’s performance or capabilities. The world is wide, move on and find a place that will reward you for your commitment and contribution. You want to be recognized by the code you write and that cannot be taken away from you. Every day, teach yourself something and make yourself worthy. Also making it happen is solely in your hands.

3. Learn to learn and unlearn:

When you are in one of STEM fields, it is an established fact that learning never ends. If you have signed up for it then most definitely you are prepared for the never ending journey of learning. Keep yourself updated with the whereabouts of technology with the fast growing fields and knowledge that concern you. This will not only make you shine in a meeting or a conference you attend but also creates a persona people can never forget. A boost in confidence could prove to be positive for one’s well-being.

Unlearning, as underestimated as it seems, is also a part and parcel of a programmer’s life. If you are not flexible to unlearn it is easy to be left behind. The human brain has limited memory and self heals by washing off unwanted memories and making space for new memories during sleep. Without unlearning learning new things is next to impossible. A technology which was the talk of the town yesterday eventually is taken over by something newer and better.

4. A healthy diet, good sleep and exercise:

Most of us get so lost in our mundane chores that we forget to eat healthy. As silly as it sounds, it is easy to forget that breakfast trying to reach early to work making healthy diet a far cry. 
Science says chronic exhaustion, a bad diet, lack of sleep and exercise can shorten one’s longevity noticeably leading to cardiac diseases. Deficiency of many nutrients can cause issues in women like hormonal imbalances, PCOD, irregular periods, stress or tension headaches, spondylitis, depression, issues with eyesight, etc. in the long run. The only way to combat such problems is to eat healthy, sleep better and get your regular dose of exercise.

I cannot stress the importance of exercise more as, I myself, have resorted to meditation, yoga and pranayama to have a decent work life balance after fighting years of chronic stress, anxiety and depression. A good half an hour run can prove immensely beneficial in many ways. If you want to continue doing what you do until you retire it is important that you have a strict balanced healthy diet and a good workout regime. Compulsorily, get eight to nine hours of sound sleep and your body will thank you.

5. Ignore the noise:

We live in a society surrounded by opinionated people. Whether you follow the same ideology or have different beliefs, eventually it becomes more and more important to cope with the commons and differences successfully in order to thrive at the job. Being open to ideas and opinions is necessary but thinking on your own is of utmost importance. Take a ‘no’ for an answer as if it were a ‘yes’. Validate and absorb the good and reject the noise. Be professional, lend an ear putting aside biases and prejudices and have a neutral stance in a meeting or a conversation. There is no one answer or solution. A critical part of a developer’s life is to embark on ideas, speak your mind with confidence and to take a stance in what you believe.

6. Success is subjective:

As humans we set goals and strive hard to achieve them. You may ask, “Goal reached, so what now?” We set a new goal. Goals change, beliefs change, opinions change, people change in an everlasting process to become better, do better, to achieve more or simply to grow and evolve. Be it picking up a hobby, continuing studies, learning a new sport or travel plans. I believe ‘success’ cannot be defined by the state of accomplishment. It is obviously fantastic if you succeed in your plans but it is also absolutely not important that you do. Mathematically, the probability of a successful endeavour is 1 because when you toss a coin, regardless of whether the outcome is heads or tails, the experiment is considered successful. On similar lines, as the definition of the word ‘success’ itself states- “Success is the good or bad outcome of an undertaking”. Do your job and let karma take its course.

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