THE BLOG

Three Reasons I Hate Working in STEM

08/03/2016 17:11 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Today I am going to take a huge departure for my usual topics and write a post about my life outside of the family. I'm doing this as my own small contribution to this year's International Women's Day theme, entitled Pledge for Parity.

I actually really like that word - parity - covering, as it does, the goal of equality in status or pay. It feels to me that it covers a whole smorgasbord of issues that this world needs to address without necessarily carrying all the baggage of other more familiar and emotive words like equality, or feminism, or perhaps simply not-being-an-asshole-to-50%-of-the-population.

By way of qualification for what follows, I've worked in IT since 1999. We think nostalgically about it now, but I remember being on my first assignment as a new graduate with a major IT consultancy planning for the potential downfall of civilisation with the coming of the Y2K. Laugh if you like, but the struggle was real, and I'm sure there are risk planners who retired with the fees they made that year.

Back then, I was a fresh faced Systems Tester, saving the world one defect at a time. I loved what I did, but I couldn't hold out against genetics, and every move I made took me down an inevitable road that led to me becoming a Project Manager by my mid 20s.

And I've pretty much stayed there ever since, despite finding out the hard way that being a woman in STEM is often a deeply unpleasant experience.

I want to share some of that experience with you, and because lists are big in online writing at the moment, I have decided to be brave and put together my top 3 reasons why being a women in STEM sucks.

Wow, I just realised I called talking about the realities of my profession "being brave". I guess I was more overdue to write this article than I realised!

1. I work with Men Who Know

In fact, the entire industry is filled with them, stuffed into every team and role you are likely to interact with on a daily basis. Who are they? They are the Mansplainers.

These are the colleagues who can hardly contain themselves when it comes to sharing information with you, whether you asked for it or not. They have absolutely no knowledge of your skillset, or experience, but they're not going to let a little thing like your PhD stand in the way of taking you back to basics. Everybody knows, women aren't technical creatures, best to assume zero knowledge in all cases. She'll thank you for saving her blushes.

Coupled with this is the regular delight of being interrupted in meetings, because when it comes to the joy of sharing your knowledge with the wider team, nothing says good communicator like steamrolling over the top of the woman speaking when she has the misfortune to have to pause to take in oxygen.

Anyone who has been guilty of that in the past, please know that while I may have a sanguine smile nailed across my face, inside I am praying to the God of Cats that your beloved moggie has taken a crap in your favourite shoes.

On the plus side, it has made me a far more succinct communicator. These days I try and time everything I need to say to fit into a 30 second window; a bit like Twitter, but in meetings.

2. I am not your fantasy

A long time ago I had to force myself to stop thinking about how some of my colleagues looked at me.

I also had to stop wearing boots that came up past my ankles (no, they're not kinky boots), tops that showed any hint of cleavage (eyes up here, Cowboy, they're not talking, I am!), skirts that sit anywhere but on the knee (yes Junior Coder, the question I came to ask you WAS whether I should wear a shorter skirt, thanks for sharing!) and basically anything that involved leather, even though I use a motorbike for my commute.

Women in IT are generally shoved kicking and screaming into one of two clichés: We are either the ballbuster/ dominatrix managers, or we are the cute geeky girls. Which makes it really hard when you are just trying to figure out how to do your job.

The thing is, I didn't choose a career where physical objectification was on the job description: I didn't look at IT graduate programmes and miss the small print right under the heading of "key competencies" that said "must be able to laugh off years of yicky, unsolicited sexual innuendo" because if it had, I would probably have just cut out the middle man and applied to Hooters.

3. I will consider myself lucky if I am able to do my job without abuse.

This is the scary one; I mean the really life changing, scary fact about being a woman in the IT industry. I can spend the rest of my career working my backside off to be the best PM I am able to be. I can be promoted, maybe one day reach the top of the industry, but I can't speak out about the way women are under-represented and poorly treated in my industry without an unconscionable level of risk.

Thanks in part to the anonymity and immediacy of social media and online communities, abuse has become the de facto response to women commenting on inequality in the IT industry. And I do mean tirade, of the sort you would normally expect from someone just discovering hormones, and which has left several women receiving death threats credible enough to have them leave their homes when they criticised the representation of women in gaming industry.

If that's not the most insane sentence you've ever fucking read, then I have no idea where else to go with this.

So my Pledge for Parity is to keep speaking out about the state of my industry - not on here, I know you just come here for the bad parent stories - and to support my peers to bring parity to how we work.

One busted ball at a time.