The tech industry tends to be regarded as a boy’s club. Even as rallying cries around the importance of diversity in tech grow, women are still vastly underrepresented and underpaid in this space.
Oftentimes, women working in tech face discrimination and feel like they have to put on a different personna to be respected and taken as seriously as their male counterparts.
Aqssa Mohammad, technical writer at adMarketplace, shared her personal experience as a woman breaking into tech and about how adMarketplace has been a uniquely refreshing experience in an industry that can often feel stifling for women.
What challenges/biases have you faced as a woman in tech and how do you overcome them?
When you’re a woman coming up in any male-dominated environment, you’re almost trained to put on a steely mask or persona so you can be taken seriously. Traditionally “feminine” traits, like sensitivity, are often conflated with weakness.
I’m very friendly, bubbly, and sensitive, and not hiding that does come with some assumptions about my intelligence and skills. I know my feminine qualities make me strong, however, and good at what I do. So I remind myself of that often, and try to always lead with compassion and gentleness.
How do you think the tech industry can better support women?
I think that my team (I work in Infrastructure) has a culture that any industry can benefit from emulating. It’s thoughtful, respectful, and most importantly, caring.My managers are deeply aware of the biases women face and always want to learn how to be better allies. In our 1x1’s, they don’t just ask me about my projects. They ask me how I’m feeling, what I need for my career and happiness to flourish, and also what they can learn from me.I really think it just starts off that easy, with those empathetic, open-minded conversations during lunch breaks, 1x1’s, and things like that. When women don’t feel like they're under constant scrutiny, it’s very easy for us to own our voice.
Are there any notable women in tech that you find particularly inspiring? What was the greatest lesson you learned from them?
Annie Easley was a computer scientist and mathematician who made stellar* contributions to NASA’s space exploration technology. She started working in tech before, during, and after the Civil Rights Movement as an African-American woman. I can’t fathom the challenges she faced. No matter how much society told her to keep her head down, she was openly, proudly pushing for equal opportunities and diversity in STEM.
Her story reminds me every so often that no challenge can scare you away from your path. Quite the opposite. It makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Louisa May Alcott: “I’m not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
I’m also a huge nerd for physics too, so she’s basically my hero.
(*Pun intended 💫)
Can you describe a moment where you felt particularly empowered as a woman in tech?
I had serious first-time jitters when I gave my first team presentation here at adMarketplace. I just wanted to do well, but kept worrying about whether or not I’d fumble. What if I stutter? What if I say “umm” too many times?
I knew worrying wasn’t productive, so I spoke to one of my managers about my feelings. He immediately understood and didn’t judge me–which was already a huge relief–and encouraged me by affirming my skills and intelligence.
That bit of support made my fears almost instantly disappear. I soared through the presentation and my manager and I were grinning from ear to ear right after. I felt like I could do anything!
Can you describe your role within adMarketplace’s technology organization?
Technical writers are like the storytellers of the technology world! We help create all kinds of technical documentation–policies, guides, design docs, you name it. We connect complicated technical concepts to our audiences through clear, accessible language, and help keep the industry focused on humans, people.
We help patch up gaps like miscommunication, user issues, and knowledge loss, so the fact that adMarketplace was hiring for one really showed me that they understand the value of communication.
Tech is an extremely fast-paced industry. It feels like you’re required to learn a different language or adopt a new skill every day. What advice would you give to someone having trouble staying up-to-date?
Humans are a long way away from our humble beginnings. Here we are, processing more information per second than our ancestors did in an entire lifetime. That’s pretty cool, but also very daunting when you think about it. Life is already hard–you’re like, now I have to worry about knowing a thousand new things a day to stay relevant, too!?
I think the best thing you can do is to have a realistic approach to knowledge growth. Focus on small, cumulative efforts. Listen to a podcast on your commute. Read or write just 15 minutes a day. And always, always engage with subjects that are outside of your comfort zone. It helps you not just learn a new, separate skill, but also helps you think differently about what you already know. Being able to learn is a gift so many can take for granted–the more you appreciate the beauty and value of education, the easier it is to just get started.
Aqssa encourages women to embrace their femininity, while still being assertive and speaking up in the workplace. Her positive experience at adMarketplace highlights how important it is to have empathetic leaders who are aware of biases in the workplace.
If we can foster environments that encourage and empower women to be leaders, we can slowly work towards greater representation and opportunity for women in tech.