Women are often pigeonholed into “soft skill” roles and pushed away from engineering
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Michelle Glauser, Founder & CEO at Techtonica.
Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.
A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?
Women in Tech — The Survey
We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!
Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.
Without further ado, we would like to introduce Michelle Glauser, Founder & CEO at Techtonica.
Michelle Glauser, Founder & CEO at Techtonica
Since becoming an engineer in 2012, Michelle has been passionate about helping underrepresented people join, feel comfortable in, and stay in the software industry. To that end, she:
- founded Techtonica, a tuition-free tech training and job placement program for women and non-binary adults in need,
- curates a learning-to-code resources spreadsheet,
- leads PyLadiesSF, and
- created the #ILookLikeAnEngineer ad campaign in 2015.
In 2016, LinkedIn chose Michelle as one of the top 10 professionals in software for their first “Next Wave” list.
When she’s not doing techie or community things, Michelle enjoys baking (and consuming the goods), burying herself in a book, going on hikes, and dog-watching.
For more information about her projects, visit her blog.
What got you interested in technology?
I was interested in tech even in throughout school when I was in the “multimedia club” and later the “.Exe Filers” club. I learned a bunch of commands with DOS, played with Visual Basic, and when I went on the internet I would be there for hours and hours.
I guess because I was a girl and I grew up in a blue-collar family, I didn’t know what the career options for tech were. When I started blogging in 2003, I would often google how to make things I wanted on my blog—like a drop-down menu—and have fun playing with the code until it worked. Then, five years ago I started wondering how software engineering worked, googled it, and next thing I knew I was taking a class and loving it!
How did you end up in your career path?
I got a job after taking an intensive course in software engineering and I was so happy to be working on something that I thought was so interesting. That job paid really well, and my income was three times as much as what I was making before. A big obstacle for me was imposter syndrome: feeling like I didn’t belong there and not knowing as much as everyone else—especially since there is this whole thing about preferring people with CS degrees.
Technology is a blessing and a curse because it’s always changing and you’re never going to get bored, but you will also never feel like an expert. That is an obstacle at times, but overall I think it so fascinating and engaging.
I couldn’t pay for the software engineering program when I was accepted, so I told my boyfriend, “Let’s get married and ask everyone for money,” and that’s how I paid for the tuition! My spouse is the most supportive person—every time I was feeling really discouraged and that I couldn’t do it, he listened to all of my concerns and reassured me that I could.
I have a lot of role models; the women in tech who stand out have been able to carve out their careers while being vocal about their experiences in the industry and what needs to change. For example, Erica Baker generously contributes a lot of the results of her emotional labor to the community and is the essence of the confidence I would like to have. Sarah Mei does really thoughtful Twitter threads about effective engineering and diversity and inclusion. Megan Rose Dickey, Ashe Dryden, and Shanley Kane inspire me by providing a voice to underrepresented people in tech. I also really look up to my former boss, Shea Tate-di Donna, who projects wisdom, confidence, positivity, and encouragement.
I wouldn’t say that anyone I’ve interacted with in person has ever knowingly tried to stop me. I’ve had quite a few people make assumptions about how much I know and what I want to be doing, or dominate my time with no benefit to me, which inadvertently prevents progress. I’ve learned to surround myself with really great people who inspire and guide me. When I first started out, all the different technologies were especially overwhelming, and I was often not sure which ones to focus on. I really appreciate people who give me good guidelines about what would be most valuable.
A day in Michelle’s life
I’m the founder and CEO of Techtonica, which is a non-profit tech training program for San Francisco Bay Area women and non-binary adults with low incomes. My day typically includes waking up really early, even without an alarm, because I have a constant to-do list running through my head that touches on every role businesses have—marketing, operations, training, partnerships, managing people, website development, etc.
My favorite part of my job is planning out visions I have for how to improve Techtonica. My everyday tasks revolve around contacting, answering, or meeting with people about how they can help Techtonica help others. I don’t know if I knew before just how much starting a venture dominates one’s life; when friends and family members ask me what’s new, it’s hard for me to come up with an answer that’s not about Techtonica or some of my community organizing. I really make an effort to get as much sleep as possible so I can continue to do my job, but I’m usually working from the moment I’m up to the moment I brush my teeth. I realize this isn’t the best way to take care of myself long-term, but my passion for what I’m doing keeps me going, and I’m hopeful that at some point I’ll be able to hire people to handle more of my tasks.
I’m most happy about my community work that makes me feel like I’m making a positive difference for others—running PyLadies San Francisco, creating the #ILookLikeAnEngineer ad campaign to raise $47,000 dollars to put inspiring ads around the Bay Area, or even starting Techtonica. All of these are my high points and I am very proud of them because they centered on things I am passionate about and challenged me in new ways.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
I think it starts very young and that girls just aren’t given the same toys or encouraged to spend a lot of time figuring out how things work, so they end up thinking that computers are boy things. I wish that I had known when I was growing up that tech would’ve been a great thing for me to get into, but it took a while for me to get there. There have been a lot of women in tech who had to end up leaving the industry due to discrimination, so there are problems on every front. I think it’s important to tackle those problems from every angle.
I think we’d have better products if we had more diversity in tech, and I’m not just talking about women here—there are so many other aspects of diversity. The diversity in tech conversation tends to focus on race and gender, but I’d also include socio-economic status, background, ability, etc. If the people building products don’t represent the product’s users, the product is not going to be as useful and successful as it could be if it was built by people who know how to build it with a larger, more diverse group of people in mind.
One of the best examples of this is car crash dummies: women were getting killed by airbags, and engineers kept wondering why, and it turned out that they had never tested the air bags on crash dummies that were the average height and weight of a woman, which is probably because all of the engineers were men and they had never thought of that. There are a many blind spots we have to make sure to fix by having good representation on our teams.
Challenges women in tech face
I would say that women are often pigeonholed into “soft skill” roles and pushed away from engineering and towards things like managing, recruiting, marketing, etc. Those are all wonderful roles if they’re a great fit for someone, but they shouldn’t seem like the only options.
I also feel that a lot of underrepresented people are getting paid less than their counterparts and held to a higher standard: when they get feedback, it’s often unclear because it’s questionable. For example, saying a woman is too aggressive—how is someone supposed to take action on that? And if a man is described as aggressive, it’s a positive thing. Women shouldn’t be held to higher or abstract standards.
Microaggressions underrepresented people face on a daily basis are really wearing. Online forums that could be such great conduits for career development and support are often full of abuse or assumptions right from the get-go for people with stereotypically-feminine usernames. It’s pretty hard for women who are parents because they are disproportionately expected to take care of kids which can often cause them to be excluded from meetings later on in the day. This list could go on forever.
Things won’t change until we can actually get leading decision-makers to listen and understand why there needs to be more diversity. The fact that people are reporting diversity numbers is helpful because we can see if it is, in fact, getting better.
Tips & tricks
- If possible, they should sign up for a class—feeling that you should show up to get your money’s worth and that other people are expecting you to show up to do the work is really motivating.
- Find your people; there are a lot of different groups on Facebook and Slack channels for underrepresented people in tech and if you join those you will have a good place to vent and you will get a lot of solutions from people who make it feel safe to ask questions.
- Women who want a tech career should know that the industry isn’t easy, but that it ends up being worth it (so far in my mind at least), because you will get a stable career that pays well, and you’re not likely to run out of work or things that would interest you any time soon.
- Finding the right company and people to work with makes a world of difference.
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
- “Technology reflects the people who make it”
- “In the right company, working in tech is a great career”
- Why women fall out of the tech pipeline
- Breaking the mold: ‘It’s not that you’re good — it’s that you’re female’
- How to avoid the culture of male programmers
- Creating an equal playing field is about more than just teaching someone coding skills
- The more women you see in STEM, the less intimidating it is for others to join
- The tech industry tends to lose women along the way. Change is underway
- How to get (and stay) into the tech industry: Tips & tricks for women
- Transitioning into a tech career? Silicon Valley culture is one of the biggest initial obstacles
- Abby Kearns: “Diversity ensures continuous innovation”
- “In technology, you become a lifelong learner — More women should embrace this career”
- Cultural impact is not driven by gender, but by diversity
- Everyday superheroes: “I don’t have a role model, my career was based on my mistakes”
- Diversity talk: For tech, it’s less about a pipeline problem and more of a marketing problem
- Diversity talk: It’s important to receive support from tech communities
- Everyday superheroes: Women just need to see more of us — techie women
- Anyone who wants to learn and grow won’t continue in an industry that tells them they are stupid
- There is too much allowance for tolerating toxic people in tech
- Coding myths and how finding communities like Hear Me Code helps you learn best
- 3 strategies to try out if you want to support women in tech
- Young women carry less career gender bias and more media influence