A femgineer discusses the Silicon Valley and women in engineering.
By Poornima Vijayashanker (Founder & CEO, BizeeBee)
It’s been five years since I started blogging at Femgineer. I can vividly remember the process I went through when I was deciding on a name for the blog, I wanted something that would capture being feminine and an engineer, because my mission was to show women and girls that they could be an engineer and still have feminine qualities. They didn’t need to change who they were because the field of engineering was male dominated. While we were building Mint, Femgineer was born!
On this five year anniversary I’d like to share what I’ve experienced, and how I see the femgineer community evolving.
Evolution of Femgineers
When I first moved out to Silicon Valley almost 8 years ago, there was a different ambiance. There was less infrastructure and encouragement for femgineers. Sure there were femgineers working at startups and large tech companies but at the time most people just complained and very little was being done. In fact, I saw most women leaving engineering altogether to become product managers, sales people, or pursue motherhood full time. This was a little disheartening as a young and impressionable femgineer. Nevertheless, I kept searching.
Then another dynamic began to emerge about two years ago. One that was focused on complaints about organizational structures, fostered by panels like “what its like to be a girl coder and how much it sucks”. There were in fact a number of articles published and some pretty bad talks (here’s looking at you TechCrunch). In the midst of the negativity emerged a third movement, one that was focused on nurturing women.
A few organizations that led the way were Women 2.0, some communities like DevChix and Women Who Code, social enterprises like Invent Your Future, and programs to empower and educate young girls like Iridescent. These organizations have been supported by large tech companies, women, and a lot of men!
This is when things got really interesting – Because instead of sitting around and complaining, there were bright women who were just femgineering. They were starting companies, building products, hosting workshops on how to code, and creating organizations that were pushing for the cause of having more women in engineering. They were leading by example, which is what any good role model does!
Change Isn’t As Easy As Hiring More Women
However, there are still some fundamental ideas that need to change. There are still too many leaders of startups and tech companies who want there to be more women but don’t know how to bring them in. The problem isn’t one of searching for women, it comes down to the type of environment that is present in these organizations.
Here are the top three reasons most women don’t join startup teams:
- Teams dominated by one sex – I know there are more than a handful of women out there who don’t mind working on a team of all men, but it can be lonesome. The reason it’s lonesome is because of the difference in communication style and goals between the sexes. After a while you either have to give in, or leave, if people can’t empathize with your perspective.
- Rigid culture – Most women and I’m not speaking for our entire species here, are more into working for a collaborative and cooperative culture, but if the primary sentiment of the team is being results-oriented it can be off-putting for many women.
- Inflexible work environment – Women play many roles during the course of their lives, and one of the roles outside of working is being a mother. Unfortunately, too many organizations don’t understand how mentally and physically taxing this role can be. Long hours, tough deadlines, and less than understanding bosses make it hard on the role of a nurturer. While women are willing to make do with hiring nannies or sending their kids to daycare, it still doesn’t really capture what they need most, time, to spend with their family and loved ones. Even for young women without families they need time to create a support structure for themselves, and yes time to date. I know the choice to pursue a competitive career does require trade-offs, but it shouldn’t mean having to fundamentally give up on other life goals indefinitely.
What’s In Store (The Next 5 Years)
I don’t doubt the tech community will continue to pave the way in being progressive and encouraging women to pursue careers in engineering. But I am worried about the additional burden it will place on women’s roles. Encouraging young girls to pursue engineering is great, but they will still need to have environments where they are free to be themselves and pursue other life goals.
Balance is something that both sexes actually need to achieve. But balance doesn’t mean just taking time off. It means encouragement, and being mindful in how teams communicate and the way organizations structure and achieve their goals. The tech community is very competitive, and while competition can build great products and companies, it can also make it hard to attract talented individuals.
I haven’t yet figure out how to breed a healthy culture that is competitive, but I’m searching and experimenting with my own startup. I’m also encouraging younger girls by continuing to share my experiences through speaking engagements.
I look forward to continue being a femgineer and I want to thank a few who have actively supported Femgineer over the years: Aaron Patzer, Angie Chang, Dave McClure, Jason Putorti, Liz Wiltsie, Lyndi Thompson, Noah Kagan, Shaherose Charania, and especially my dad who strongly encouraged me to take my first computer science class in college.
This post was originally posted at Femgineer.
About the guest blogger: Poornima Vijayashanker is Founder and CEO of BizeeBee. Prior to that, she was at Mint where she began as employee #3 in 2006, and stayed through the startup’s acquisition by Intuit for $170M in 2010. Prior to Mint, she was in the Master’s degree program for computer science at Stanford University but dropped out to join Mint. Poornima holds a double degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science from Duke University. Poornima blogs on Femgineer.com and is a competitive yoga. Follow her on Twitter at @poornima.