Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

I’m an Introverted Woman in Tech, and I Want to see Introverted Women Succeed in the Industry

My first two years of college I spent a lot of time in the library, where no one expected you to speak. No one expected me to use technical buzzwords to prove I earned my acceptance. I liked to talk in class, but always thought carefully about what to say before raising my hand. But really, I liked the idea of being someone that liked to talk in class. I couldn’t help but think back to the advice drilled from my school’s all women seminar about speaking up “as much as possible as a woman.” My questions and comments therefore came out rushed. They had the sound of things I’d waited for a long time to get off my chest, because, in a way, I had been waiting. It was just the kind of waiting that nobody sees, the kind of waiting that twists your guts with second-guessing before you finally, torturously, raise your hand.

I wasn’t easily intimidated nor felt pressured to speak up in high school. Why was it so frustrating?

I knew damn well why.

I’m an Introverted woman…in a field where dominance and aggression are pervasive.

RIP my chances.

What I got from the women’s seminar was that I had to embody extroverted qualities like dominance and aggression in order to advance.

I forced myself to become an extrovert throughout university. I saw gregarious women respected by their male peers and favored by the administration. I saw public speaking skills and an outgoing personality as being essential to getting ahead in tech. Women who were recognized for their work and celebrated were women who embodied the type of charisma and magnetism that are admired in men.

In the right situations I displayed extroverted qualities — during job interviews, meeting new people, hanging out with my friends. You would never know I was an introvert. I can handle myself in a large group, but I much prefer one-on-one conversations. Extroversion didn’t come naturally, but it felt necessary. After all of that I’d return from large gatherings exhausted, not energized. There’s nothing wrong with that. I accepted myself an introvert.

Before you read any further…

IN TRO VER SION AND SHY NESS AIN’T THE SAME THING  *

Recent studies have shown that introverts make up about one-third to one half of the U.S. population in a culture that celebrates — even enforces — an ideal of extroversion. Political leaders are charismatic, celebrities bask in the spotlight, and authority figures are aggressive at times. It is no surprise that a “quiet revolution” started emerging among the “invisible” half of the population, asserting that they are just as powerful in their own unique ways. Author and former Wall Street lawyer Susan Cain defines introverts by their preference for “lower-stimulation environments where they feel most alive,” as opposed to extroverts who “crave stimulation in order to feel at their best.”

Introverts, like world-renowned physicist Albert Einstein to Hollywood actress and activist Emma Watson, influenced American society in a myriad of significant ways. Nevertheless, Cain contends in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking that schools and work spaces across the United States continue to favor the needs of extroverts over those of introverts. Cain in her 2012 TED Talk describes how it all starts with the education system, where its structured around the way extroverts like to work, which is in “high-stimulation environments.”

“Nowadays your typical classroom has pods of desks of four or five or seven kids all facing each other and kids are working in countless group assignments.” — Cain

As I’m hearing this I thought back to my experiences volunteering for my school’s Society of Women Engineer’s Girl Scouts STEM Day where I had the opportunity to assist with an Alice programming workshop to a group of junior Girl Scouts. The class was set up so that the desks were all facing each other and kids were constantly working on group activities. I saw firsthand how the girls who preferred working alone were unable to do so because they were being talked to and surrounded by troop members and volunteers. We handed out evaluation forms after each session, and the girls who preferred working alone voiced their concerns on the comments section.

“[The] same thing is true in our work places. Most of us work in open-plan offices without walls where we are subject to the constant noise and gaze of our coworkers.” — Cain

70 percent of Americans work in such offices envisioned to foster collaborative experiences. For years now tech giants like Google, Facebook, American Express and Bloomberg have built office spaces that lack partitions. The hopes of many CEOs and powerful businessmen is that these work spaces will help spark creativity, which is for some reason thought to largely come from being in the presence of other employees. In designing offices this way, however, introverts are left without the moments of solitude that help them produce their best work. My university even renovated the library with more collaborative spaces (by removing the private ones) for the same reasons.

I’m not arguing against collaboration, networking or even open-plan offices; all of these things have unmistakably helped us grow as a society. In the words of Cain, “where would be if Steve Wozniak did not come together with Steve Jobs and create Apple?” If not, the very computer I am typing on and making a living off of would not be here today. What I’m arguing against is enforcing one approach to success for women. I’m arguing for ways in which women with different personalities can reach their full potential.

It’s proven for any type of women to ascend in male dominated fields as is, but it’s more concerning when I hear other introverted girls and women are exhausted from trying to be something they’re not for a job. What are we suggesting to young girls when they see and hear that stereotypical extroversion is the way in?

It seems like it’s a problem especially for women, like the modern Western world is suddenly having trouble reconciling that a strong woman can also be an introverted one. After all we’re facing up against centuries of the reverse socialization — the ideal woman as demure, quiet, and in the shadows. I fear that in our well-intentioned advocacy for more assertive, more outspoken girls, we’ve sometimes made those whose style is naturally quieter and less showy feel as if they aren’t bonafide leaders.

“In our efforts to instill confidence in young women, are we promoting an ideal of sassy outspokenness that’s just as confining as the 1950s model of docility?” — Susan Cain

We need middle ground — to appreciate both extroverts and introverts for what they each bring to academia, business, everything. There are benefits to having qualities from both sides of the coin. Instead, we’re championing a one-note image of female strength and leadership, as if being like Beyoncé, Sheryl Sandberg, or any other quintessential extrovert is the only way to be a female and to be successful. In the process, we’re pushing introverted women to behavior that’s unnatural to them, like that’s what they need to do to get ahead, and to question if something is “wrong” with them for being more of a think first, speak after type. And since we know full well — thanks to countless studies like this one — that “the most assertive person in the group doesn’t necessarily have the best ideas,” as Cain says, it’s to the detriment of everyone, introverts and extroverts alike, companies as well as classrooms.

“Women who are naturally quiet feel as if they can’t be feminists or be powerful because of it. We really need to undo that perception.” — Susan Cain

But what, beyond TED Talks, best sellers, and initiatives like Cain’s new Quiet Revolution can be done to bolster the introverted female’s image? To let the world know we shouldn’t try to change those women’s natures? We need more introverted role models for young and grown women— we have Cain herself to look to, yes, as well as these women showing the world that introverted women are powerful too:

Some famous introverts: Emma Watson, Courtney Cox, J.K. Rowling, Michelle Obama, Rosa Parks

It shouldn’t stop here. We always need more.

Every time we stomp down a woman’s introverted nature, we crush part of her soul in the process. Nowadays I embrace my introversion, and all the wonderful qualities that come with it. My femininity and strength radiates from the inside out and finds its true form when I’m allowed to be myself.

An introverted women claiming her space is the biggest “fuck you fuck face” you can give to anyone who says you have to be someone other than yourself to be there. And when an introverted woman is allowed to have her space, she can perform to the best of her ability. She’ll be thinking. She’ll be listening. She’ll be solving problems. She’ll lead by example. She’ll be assertive in her own way.

She’ll be reducing her risk of suffering from imposter syndrome if she’s given the freedom to work challenges in an optimal environment. She’ll be someone who contributes thoughtful responses if she’s free to roam around in the adventure land of her own mind. She’ll be someone who genuinely wants to be around you if and only if she has control of her free time and has respect her personal space. If competent at she should receive credit and recognition and promotion offers as her extroverted coworkers and colleagues.

She’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

In an ideal world, introverts and extroverts would be able to learn and work together in spaces that favor both of their personality traits, however antithetical they sometimes may be. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have more successful introverted women in the industry if solitude would be valued just as much as collaboration.

I’ve been lucky enough to have employers who recognized what I had to offer as an introvert, but for those still looking I would make sure this is a company where you’re able to be yourself. For companies looking to hire more women and diversify your teams, I hope this post was a learning experience. For introverted women reading this post, I hope you have success stories about working in the industry as an introverted women, and I hope you’ve embraced your introversion — You truly are strong assets and a force to be reckoned with.