I’m often asked what it is like to be a woman in the high-tech field. Before I can answer this, it helps to understand my perspective. I was raised in a family with five children; three brothers and one sister. My father was an Air Force Officer, and his mother graduated high school at 16 and was the first in our family to attend college. I played sports through the varsity level in high school, earned a scholarship from the US Navy to attend college, and started my career managing twelve sailors and two federal system integration teams at the age of 22. I was raised to believe I am equal to anyone else, and I can achieve whatever I set my mind to do.
In the first month of my Naval career, I was an Officer and project manager, and a Navy Senior Chief who worked for me came into my office to “explain” to me why his team had not yet met one of their programming deadlines. He threw around words like “ASCII” code, ”hexadecimal”, and “assembly language” hoping I would leave him and the team alone if I didn’t understand the true nature of their challenge. He did not know that I had just received my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, which included many hours in the lab trying to get those very same types of programs running. What he said to me was complete nonsense, and needless to say, after that he didn’t try to pull the wool over my eyes again.
I’ve found that to earn the respect of one’s peers, the most important attribute is to prepare. One must do their homework, understand the problem, look at a variety of solutions, and offer recommendations. It’s hard to challenge someone who has properly prepared, and I found over time it didn’t matter the gender, race or background of a person if they are respectful enough to prepare for whatever the challenge at hand may be.
The sad truth is that 30+ years later, people still ask me what it’s like to be a woman in technology. So, as a gender group, we women still have much work to do. But I’m optimistic we will get to a point where there are an equal number of women and men in any field, but especially in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math industries.