When you read Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” you get a seat in the boardroom with the author’s reflections about the climate for women in the tech industry. A former VP at Google, Sandberg noticed that many females were holding themselves back due to self-doubt and insecurity. While hiring about 4,000 Google employees, she observed that men would bang down her door for opportunities that arose, while women would cautiously consider their options.
After reading “The Vanity Fair Diaries” by legendary editor Tina Brown, I could compare the role of women in two completely different industries. Even in the world of fashion in the ‘80s, powerhouses like Brown had to push their way up the ladder, but probably because there were more women in the field, it was nothing like the challenge for females in the tech world. More women entering the workforce in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) should make female presence less mystifying.
Freelance web developer Rebeca Godin of Santa Clarita has firsthand experience working in large tech corporations.
“I started testing video games in my early 20s right out of college, and that is where I first encountered difficulties,” said the Santa Clarita entrepreneur. “The company where I worked, a major publisher of sports video games, is notorious for their male-centric culture. I was the only female in the training class of about 50 people and when we went in to tour the main area where the testers work, I found out that out of around 300 testers I was one of four females. I didn’t even see the others when we toured. … To say the least, I felt a bit uncomfortable.”
Video game testing tends to be seasonal, she said, so she worked there for just a few months.
“And it was never easy,” Godin said. “I was constantly being told I wasn’t a good tester.”
She had a better work environment at her next job, which was another video game company.
“There were more females, still not an even ratio, but definitely more of us,” she said. “I never felt uncomfortable or discriminated against at the second company. I enjoyed my time there a lot.”
Godin transitioned into web development, and still finds it hard to be accepted.
“There are always some men who are condescending because I am a woman, but it happens more in groups of men,” she said. “In forums I learned to never use a name that sounds girly, because I am scrutinized more; when I am thought to be a male developer I get treated differently than when they know I’m a female. I still find it more difficult to find a job as a developer than a freelancer, and I feel it’s because of the same reason. … As a female in tech you can’t just be ‘OK’ or ‘good’ at what you do. You have to be ‘great’ to even be considered ‘good.’”
Of course, Godin is in the minority at tech conferences; only about 10 percent were female at the last one she attended.
“At small functions, like meet-ups, many times I’m the only female,” she said. “And many times, I still get asked if I’m a designer, because apparently it is unfathomable that I’m a developer.”
Unfathomable – but in a good way – is the word many people use to describe the accomplishments of Niamani Knight, the local high school senior who is globally connected to such forces as Amazon. It all began with S.T.R.E.A.M. Kids Expo, which she founded at the age of 13.
An acronym for Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Manufacturing, S.T.R.E.A.M. brings the industry to the students through the young entrepreneur’s expos, which she produces in Santa Clarita and as far away as Atlanta. For each expo, which is a platform for organizations to showcase their technology, Niamani develops business plans, pitches investors, and oversees the permitting and licensing process.
“Our goal is to connect the dots between education and career choices,” she said. “We allow kids to have real-deal conversations with industry experts at an early age and explore possibilities many would not otherwise have access to.”
Amazon reached out to Niamani last year, choosing her to conduct an “Hour of Code” Q&A, a global movement exposing students to computer science. Claiming her “grandma can do it,” Niamani hopes she’s making coding understandable and inspiring more girls to work with technology.
“I have many interests, some being engineering, journalism, and business (and) I was fortunate to have a successful team surrounding me,” she said. “However, I understand that not all kids have access and opportunity to a success team; I want to be a voice and communicate that I am on their success team and look forward to seeing them succeed.”
As more girls are trained and women choose STEM industry work, we should see numbers grow. As Sandberg says in her book, “I believe that if more women lean in, we can change the power structure of our world and expand opportunities for all. More female leadership will lead to fairer treatment for all women.”
Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal.