I just read Eileen Burbidge’s post on women in technology. Here’s the quote that left me boggling:
Within tech, I don’t think we need to give more women a chance; I think we need to tell more women to go for it — if they want it.
At one level, she’s completely right. Women have to put themselves forward, not wait to be recognized. This was the most important lesson I’ve learned in the past few years; just ask Clay Shirky. It turns out that if you decide you don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission to be excellent, you can do amazing things. If you’re willing to talk about the things you do to the point of monomania, you’ll find other people who think your work is amazing too!
What Burbidge’s piece doesn’t recognize is the costs of putting yourself forward. You can step up all you want, but if you’re a woman, you should expect the rewards for stepping up to be less than those men get, and the risks far higher. Not only that, but your decision-making processes are probably already being influenced by this unconscious knowledge. All your life your efforts have been met with less reward, more dismissal, and a higher level of risk, whether you’re aware of it or not. “Going for it” is an activity that’s conditioned by your prior experience. If your prior experiences have been negative, it’s going to be harder for you to do.
(There’s an extensive literature on this, but the best summary I’ve encountered is in Anna Fels’ Necessary Dreams. Every woman should read this book, period, whether she’s willing to admit she’s got ambition or not.)
So, along with Burbidge, I’ll say to women out there, “Just do it!” But unlike her, I’ll also say, “Beware!” Burbidge may pretend that all women have to do is try harder to be recognized, but that’s just not the case. Ladies, it isn’t you; it’s the world you live in. But there’s also no better solution than putting yourself out there. Go for it … with courage, if you’re a woman. Sadly, you’ll need it.