Women Need More Women Heroes

stacia_kink.com.jpgBy Stacia Carr (aka @noisegirl) is a technologist, musician, aspiring amateur boxer.

There’s been a lot of talk online over the last 6 or so months about ‘women in tech’ – to call it talk is an understatement. There have been all out shit storms, brawls, debates, discussions, celebrations, and utter failures.

As a ‘woman who works in technology’ myself it’s been an interesting discussion to watch unfold.

I have chosen mostly to watch and not participate because, while I don’t deny that sexism is alive and well, I’m not sure how useful these discussions actually are.

For most of my life I have worked in male dominated fields and hobbies. I grew up playing jazz music, studying the saxophone – a largely male endeavor although it is worth noting that one of the high school jazz ensembles I played in featured an all female sax section, a killer female trombonist, pianist and bassist.

I also participated in one high school jazz ensemble who’s director was caught making the statement that ‘women can’t play jazz’. I attended The Berklee College of Music at a time when it’s student population was 84% male and it’s faculty 90% male.

After which, I worked in the music industry both in classical music and pop/hip hop – where the admin positions were taken by women and the engineering and more creative roles were typically held by men.

I entered the world of high tech because I wanted to be surrounded by people who’s minds were alive and were inspired by the process of learning and the chance to innovate. Sadly, I didn’t find many of these types within the traditional music biz, but I did encounter them in spades when I met up with people involved in high tech. At the time, the mid-90′s, it also seemed like there was a wealth of opportunity for PEOPLE within high tech. New things were happening, the internet was just beginning to actualize the possibility of commercial viability and the communities of high tech folk – geeks – I was able to connect with didn’t seem to give a second thought to what your gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity was.

Over the last 13 years of working in technology have I experienced sexism?

Sure. You bet. I’ve worked with programmers who refused to partner up with me, I’ve bumped heads with stakeholders who wouldn’t make eye contact with me as we went through a requirements gathering session, I’ve had to introduce myself at executive level meetings with business partners when my counterpart ‘forgot’ to do so. And it’s all pretty much sucked. But I knew what it was at the time that it happened and for the most part didn’t take it personally.

The trick with sexism that I have found is that the best fight against it is not to battle it at all but to move forward, follow my vision, love myself, keep moving and actualize my dreams. It’s through actions and the manifestations of intentions that we can not only change the world but the minds of those who see women as less than, or incapable of.

I’m not suggesting that we not speak up, or that we remain in untenable professional or personal situations in which we are not being supported or our sense of self is being eroded but rather that it is the fruits of our labors that will make the entire debate moot.

When I read articles that articulate facts and studies around pay inequality and lack of women in leadership positions I recognize these facts as a reality in this very moment. But I also recognize that in order to change them, I have to keep going. There is no other way forward or up than forward and up. Is it a hard road? Hell yes! And one of the big lessons that I am learning right now is how to ask for help, how to get support and that I am worthy of both.

The other trick that has been important for me has been to identify a female hero. I’ll tell you why. I lived and pursued activities for a long time without really having any female role models and as a younger person I never considered the need for one. I played be-bop jazz – my heroes were Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. These were men who helped craft the language that I was learning to speak. And I loved them. So why weren’t they great heroes or role models?

Well, let’s just say that they didn’t exactly encounter similar challenges as those that I would face. So while I felt a kinship with them vis a via their music and their minds the lenses through which they viewed their world and their obstacles weren’t even close to the lens through which I gazed.

It wasn’t until I discovered the musician and artist Diamanda Galas that I suddenly had a female hero and realized what a difference having a role model who’s gender and life path more closely mirror my own made.

Suddenly my sense of self was richer, my femaleness was no longer something that I shoved to the side and ignored, but rather something that I could proudly embody and take with me down my professional path.

Within the realm of tech I have only recently begun to seek out female role models. But I have found them and when I think about them or read about some effort they are making I am always struck with a sense of excitement and the fulfillment of my own dreams seems a little more possible. I don’t get the same feeling when I think about men working in my field – I don’t think it’s that I respect them any less – it’s simply that at a baser level I don’t relate to them and their experience in the world quite as deeply. Gender, whether we like it or not, factors into a lot of how humans move around in the world.

So, for those women who choose to engage in the ‘women in tech’ debate, I ask you to consider the adage ‘actions speak louder than words’. Make sure the process of this debate isn’t simply a distraction from the task of moving forward. Look for a woman who’s path you admire, take a look at how she chose to handle this issue and see if there’s something you can learn from the work she’s already done. Our lives are finite, don’t duplicate efforts unnecessarily, and be honest with yourself!

Guest blogger Stacia Carr (aka  @noisegirl) is a technologist, musician, aspiring amateur boxer and meditator living in San Francisco, California.  Currently in the role of Vice President Technology and Operations for (NSFW) Kink.com, Stacia oversees a 20-person department of engineers who build video on demand platforms, live video broadcast infrastructure and e-commerce applications for one of the largest sex-positive communities on the internet to date.

Related links:
Hundreds of Role Models on AWR