The Good, the Bad, and the In-Between: What It’s Like to be a Woman in Tech

Women have made incredible contributions to technology throughout history from Grace Hopper to Ada Lovelace to Hedy Lamarr to Katherine Johnson, but often–even today–face blatant sexism, microaggressions, and uncomfortable situations.   

In 2021, women represented just under 27% of technologists in the U.S. with the number declining 2% between 2020 and 2021, according to the 2021 Top Companies for Women Technologists.

Here at Tackle, women make up 44% of our workforce in roles across the company and diversity and inclusion are an important part of what makes up our culture. 

The challenges of a career in tech

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we wanted to hear more about the experiences of our own colleagues. So we asked what challenges the women of Tackle have faced working in tech throughout their careers. 

Common themes centered around not being taken seriously, feeling unwelcome, and feeling less physically safe on work trips, but each person had unique experiences to share.

Nicole Wojno Smith, Tackle’s VP of Marketing, pointed out that women are often the default for traditionally female tasks like taking meeting notes, remembering birthdays, or ordering food. 

“As my career has progressed, I have been in roles where I have been underpaid for my position compared to my male peers. I also can’t count the amount of times I’ve been talked over or ignored by men in meetings, left out of important meetings or events due to a ‘boys club’ situation, or been called things like ‘mean’ or ‘aggressive’ when a man saying the same thing is called ‘assertive’ or ‘passionate’.“

One Tackler shared a litany of challenges ranging from having to wear a fake engagement ring at conferences to avoid being propositioned, being told she almost wasn’t hired because she wore pants instead of a skirt to an interview, and “being peered at from around a corner” because she was the first female engineer at a startup. 

Another shared her experience specifically as a woman of color in tech: “I’ve been asked to sit on DEI committees while being the only person of color. I always felt like I wasn’t ever taken seriously and only had “a seat at the table” due to technicalities. I’ve faced many situations where I’m perceived as weak, sensitive, high-maintenance, and expected to be smiling/bubbly all the time.” 

I always felt like I wasn’t ever taken seriously and only had “a seat at the table” due to technicalities.

 The stories all highlighted that while there is no universal experience for women who work in tech, it’s exceedingly common that women struggle in the tech world. In addition to the stories above, women are more likely to deal with pay inequities, poor growth opportunities, and often start lower on the career ladder than men. 

As a result, women leave tech roles at a 45% higher rate than men and 50% of women who take a tech role drop it by the age of 35, compared to approximately 20% in other types of jobs, according to research by Accenture

We know we need to do better.

How women experience Tackle

Our survey asked women if and how Tackle’s culture supports women and where we can improve. A number of women mentioned our remote-only organization, which puts emphasis on talent and skills over anything else and reduces the pressure to physically present in a specific way. 

Being remote and fully distributed across the country helps find talent where they are instead of being isolated to one location. The focus on work product and not appearances or where some people in an office get seen as more dedicated employees helps to address the double standard that is often present in office settings.”

The focus on work product and not appearances or where some people in an office get seen as more dedicated employees helps to address the double standard that is often present in office settings.

As one Tackler put it “I can wear a hoodie to a meeting and still be seen as credible.”

Muldair Welch, Director of Engineering, spoke to a deeper cultural reasoning beyond remote, as well as the importance of allies: “I think remote helps, we’re all on the same size box, my clothing and body aren’t being stared at from different angles, etc, but a bigger part of it is the culture here – we don’t reward toxic, aggressive people. The allyship here is staggeringly good. The person I work closest with is respectful, supportive, and frequently verifies that he’s not reading something through only his own lens. My boss doesn’t show preferential treatment to either of us, the team I work with both listen to female voices (mine and folks on their team) and then turn around and amplify them.”

And speaking of our Director of Engineering, the number of women in Tackle leadership (including Muldair and Nicole) made a lot of women feel represented and heard. 

A number of Tacklers are working moms and some shared stories of how the culture supports work/life balance with action. That can range from not penalizing women who’ve taken breaks between jobs to care for kids or even just not having to worry about being judged.

(Editor’s Note: Case in point, I’m working on this blog sitting next to a sick kid who is watching a movie.)

Ellen Thorne, our Head of People and Culture shared a story: “My youngest had a program she needed to start in the fall to help with her anxiety. We had a senior leadership meeting that same week. I told John, our CEO, I was ok traveling, I just had to work out the details. Without a hesitation John suggested we move the meeting to my city so that I could be there for the start of the program to drop her off. And we did, the entire team flew in. That may have been the kindest and most supportive decision I’ve seen and experienced as a woman, mother and human being.”

The Tackle philosophy on culture

All of these stories speak deeply to the culture we’ve created and continue to nurture at Tackle, but we know the work is never done. We believe that creating and maintaining a safe environment where women can thrive because they feel supported, valued, and seen is vital. 

This year, that includes establishing company values that truly reflect the inclusive, cultural attributes highlighted in the stories in this blog. We plan to name the values as a company. We also will create a peer-to-peer recognition program where Tacklers can celebrate successes and behaviors with each other, revamp our interviewing process so that we can use the values as part of assessing future Tacklers and lastly, weaving the values into a performance mechanism to hold ourselves accountable on any given day.

We believe that diversity strengthens our culture and our company, and we’re hiring across the organization. Please check out our careers page for opportunities to join our team.

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