5 Common Feelings Being a Woman of Color in Tech
From the day I realized I was destined to be a coder, I knew I was going to be an underrepresented group in more ways than one. It started to hit me in the few classes I took throughout grade school, but I didn’t realize how much of a minority I was until college. I’m lucky that for the most part, I have been able to fit in with my other software engineering peers. But there is still a lot that I have realized about being the only woman of color in a room full of engineers.
Never Feeling 100% Comfortable in the Room
I guarantee that if you walked into a room right now with complete strangers and no one looked like you, you may feel a little uncomfortable. Sure after some time you’ll get to know them and feel a little bit better, but you may always feel out of place. Well, that’s how I feel all the time. Every semester in school I would walk into a class and look around. Every time I saw a room full of white, Asian, and Indian guys sprinkled with a few girls — who most of the time were also white, Asian, or Indian.
Very rarely would I ever see any Black or Latino guys? Even more rare were Black or Latino girls.
In some classes, I would sit near a group of girls and in others, I would sit near the few black students who were pretty much always guys. Not that people talked in lectures, but I could tell that no matter who I sat near, I was an outsider.
I had a few friends in my major who I would talk to and sit near in class, but I never got close to any of them outside of that. Even though now I have many friends in the tech world, sometimes I still feel like I can’t be 100% myself, because I’m still one of the few double minorities in the room.
Questioning the Motive Behind Decisions
Have you ever been passed over for an opportunity and thought to yourself about the possible reasons behind that? Whether it was in school, during an internship or during my full-time job, I’ve had moments where challenging tasks were given to someone else. And I would get in my head wondering — why? With discrimination and wage gaps still a thing, I always question if I wasn’t given an opportunity because of my experience, or because of my race/gender.
I hate jumping to the conclusion that it is because of what I look like that I wasn’t given an important task, but honestly — you never know!
With men being stereotyped as go-getters and the working world being dominated by white men, many team leads and managers may be giving out the more challenging assignments to people who fit that description.
There have been many times when I have been on a project, the leaders of that project would speak to the men on my team. Men who were almost always white. Because the leads were already talking to the other men and not so much to me, those men would get assigned a bulk of the work.
Now sometimes my teammates were more experienced than me, and that could be the real reason behind the decisions. But because I am a double minority, I am always second-guessing myself. Sometimes how much work would lead entrust to me if I were a white male.
Becoming Annoyed with Women In Tech Meetings
Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s important to advocate for underrepresented groups in the tech field. Women as a whole face a lot of discrimination in the workplace. Many of the pains spoken about during these Women in Tech meetings and conferences resonate with me.
But sometimes when I’m sitting there listening to these women talk about what can we do, and list potential solutions — it always seems like their solutions only support white women.
When I first started my job, I got to go to a Women In Tech conference where Debbie Sterling, the founder of Goldieblox, got to speak. I heard about Debbie Sterling in college and was beyond excited to listen to her talk. I was captivated by listening to her and hearing the details of how her business came to be.
I love her idea of creating engineering toys for young girls. After speaking on how she got her character, Goldie, to become successful, she mentioned that she realized something — she was excluding minority girls by only selling a blonde hair, blue-eyed doll. So what did she do? She created a Black character and an Asian character, that would attract underrepresented groups of girls to play with her toys. I was in awe. Not often do you hear about initiatives at these conferences that can specifically help minority women?
Of course, I will still do my best to attend these meetings and conferences. Helping women in tech is the first step to helping minority women in tech. I do hope that over time, leaders and speakers at these events have ideas that will benefit ALL women not just white women.
Major Disappointment From a Failure
No one likes to fail, it sucks. It’s even harder as a software engineer because one small mistake could take down a whole system. It’s even harder as a double minority because I believe people expect you to fail — so when you do, it’s not always seen as a mistake!
I want to be an example for other black women and girls that they can make it in tech, but I can’t do that if I mess up.
A couple of weeks ago, I pushed a change to our codebase and a few minutes later a bunch of people started saying they could not run the program. I was freaking out — What did I do?! I didn’t want anyone to think “figures the black girl did it” and not want to work with me. I quickly began trying to find what I broke and tried to revert my code.
I was about two seconds away from tears when I found out that the issue came from someone else’s code, not mine. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. To me these types of mistakes aren’t just mistakes, they are career-threatening failures.
I know that’s an extreme way to look at it. But when you are the only one who looks different from everyone else, you try everything in your power not to be seen as lesser.
When you are the only one who looks different from everyone else, you try everything in your power not to be seen as lesser.
Major Highs From Successes
On the other hand, having success as a black woman is the best feeling. In my opinion, black women are often given the short end of the stick. There are not many of us in the tech world. So being able to show that we can create great things impresses people. When I added my first feature to my team’s project after only 2 months of experience, many people were impressed with me, and I got a lot of praise.
One of the best highs in life is proving to people that you are of the uppermost caliber.
And this, my friends, is why I’m in tech. I want to prove to everyone that minority women can be just as good and better than the white, Asian, and Indian men that dominate the tech field. So while I often second guess myself and other team members, I believe that in my tech career I will be making a lot of people proud, and proving even more wrong. I hope that I can be one of the black women that pave the way for other minorities to become a prominent part of the tech world.