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I Reported Gender Bias and it turned out well

In September of 2015, I wrote about a terrible experience with a recruiter, not at my current employer; let’s call the company XYZ. Note that I have a CS PhD and work as a distributed-data architect.

A friend introduced me to the XYZ recruiter in person without a resume. Just looking at me, he says “The Solutions Architect position is fairly technical, perhaps you’d like a phone support position”. I was shocked; I said I would email my resume to him that night.

Do I look like an engineer?

I was in a photo shoot at that day’s events; the photo on the left is what I looked like to the recruiter. That incident led me to join the #ILookLikeAnEngineer group and we were pictured on billboards and transit ads. Over the next six weeks the XYZ recruiter gave me the runaround and I gave up. It turned out that the re-org didn’t eliminate my position and I’m grateful I stayed.

I reported this to a friend at XYZ and he got me a meeting with the head of the US headquarters in late September. I approached this, not as an activist, but as a friend of the company. Before the meeting, the EVP read my medium story. At the meeting he apologized and asked what he can do. I said startup XYZ was growing, no longer under the radar and they should think about diversity and inclusion. We discussed further.

In the months that followed, XYZ took many actions; they donated to a Women in STEM org, formed an internal Tech Women at XYZ group, and an external group including customers and partners. I ran into the EVP at the last XYZ conference and he asked me how I liked the Women’s Networking Breakfast at the conference. I said it was really great, but too short. He said that they just hired their first US-based HR VP and were making changes. I said I was really grateful to see that XYZ was now striving for excellence in diversity and inclusion.

As for speaking up at one’s own employer, I suggest speaking about things as they come up, a little at a time, and not let it turn into a major HR incident. Approach your manager not as an activist, but as a friend of the company. Bring things up right away, without judgement, and explain your personal story. For example, “When <name> does <behavior>, I feel <emotions>, and it affects me <consequences>.” This is just a template. You’ll want to expand each of these three clauses into a several-sentence discussion.

“Do the difficult things when they are easy; do the great things when they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” — Lao Tzu

As one of my friends said “Act fast. Strike while the iron is hot.”

Our industry accepts women in Sales, Marketing, and even technical managers. But, the technical competence of female software engineers is often doubted or challenged. This problem is featured in the video https://managingbias.fb.com. Even watching just the first 7 minute module is enlightening.

At companies for which I currently do not work, I had the following experiences:

  1. Recruiter didn’t think I looked like an engineer, reported above.
  2. I was the only woman at a video-conference with teams from two companies. An engineer from their side asked me if I was the (non-technical) Program Manager. It felt like the 1970s when a man would ask a woman if she were the secretary, and she had to say, “No, I’m the boss of this group”. I had to say “No, I’m the software architect.”
  3. Co-worker gave me a “lesson” on NoSQL basics as if I were in kindergarten, mansplaining to someone with 8 years NoSQL experience.
  4. Co-worker says to me “Programming is a tough career for girls.”
  5. As we entered a meeting room, the manager of the Advertising engineering team asked my manager, “She’s going to this meeting too?”. My puzzled boss said “yes”. I have 10 years of Ad engineering experience and in the meeting I asked him two questions he couldn’t answer. I love making an ambush.
  6. Female friend says “I never saw such a strong resume for a female engineer. I thought you were lying on your resume until I got to know you better.”

Symantec shows me that I am valued; that is the best retention policy. I am the distributed-data architect for Norton Engineering and meet many different development groups. I have great allies in my manager/director, senior director, VPE, EVP and Chief Architect. They recommend me to groups avoiding any potential gender bias before it could start.

I, in turn, make introductions with recommendations for my co-workers. It’s a easy to be humble when someone else toots your horn. 🙂 Instead of just saying in email “[Added CC: Jack]”, I say “Jack is our group’s Cassandra lead; he is DataStax certified and consults for many groups within Norton Engineering. I enjoy working with him on projects. He can help you with your Use Case.” This is a great way to build trust within the company.

I am so glad I spoke up about gender bias. It worked out well for all of us.

One of several #ILookLikeAnEngineer MetroAds

My photo appears on the top-line, third from the left. I am literally a poster-child for diversity in tech. See the one-year anniversary story by Isis: https://medium.com/@isisAnchalee/ilooklikeanengineer-one-year-later-b599e0cae817#.cne9223gi

In the late 1950s, Lois Haibt was the only female member of the FORTRAN compiler team. She later said, “They took anyone who seemed to have an aptitude for problem-solving skills — bridge players, chess players, even women”.

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