30 years ago today I was a young developer on an engineering team. Though in no way close to the trauma experienced by those involved in the massacre of 14 women and injury of 14 more people at École Polytechnique in Montreal…. I do remember the disbelief and horror at the thought that someone would purposely target women just because they were engineering students. It was a shock at the time to everyone. A loss of innocence.
So, I was really disappointed today when my LinkedIn news of the day seemed more interested in reporting that McGill will have a cannabis program than it was in marking this day. This story didn’t get a mention.
I wore a black armband to work on Dec 6 for a few years. Until that practice kinda faded into the background. I still take a moment of reflection on this day each year. I just more often do it privately.
I studied CompSci and Stats at university, which was equivalent yet different than Electrical Engineering. We all worked side by side once we finished. Our different strengths from our different foundations was where the real diversity came from. A blend of creativity and structure – like music. I had found that path serendipitously after starting at university as a Commerce student and having to take a CompSci course as a first-year requirement. The career guidance in my Catholic girls’ school had not even opened up the subject that Engineering might have been a possibility.
My career has taken me on a similar serendipitous path. Developer, post sales consultant, solution architect, project management and consultant/founder…. Sometimes helped by advocates, sometimes ignored or held back. I’ve come to think that being a woman in STEM is like playing a tennis tournament with a -30/30 handicap. We all have the same things to overcome… only the women need 6 points to win the match and the men need 2. Yet, most of the women I worked with in the early days have risen to senior management positions. I think a bit of the right stuff phenomena that comes from being trailblazers who are going to get there regardless of challenge. (Excuse the ego – though a man wouldn’t feel the need to say that, lol)
As I reflect on my career and look at today, it’s funny how much things have changed and how much they have stayed the same. Sometimes I think it’s even harder for women these days to take a STEM path. Women in STEM today have a lot more pressure and visibility. And I think they face more real resistance and blocks. We somehow flew under the radar and got there anyway.
No one called it STEM in those days. Yes, there were fewer women in the more engineering type path my career took. I’ve worked in a lot of environments where there were fewer than 10% women. Yet, all the environments I’ve worked in have been somewhat diverse, just by virtue of me working in them. So I thank the hiring managers who have given me opportunity – men and women. I’ve mentored people of both genders because I think it’s important to practice diversity.
My strongest advice, or the thing that always worked for me, was to just show up. Do the work. Perform. Just do it, as Nike says. Be of value. Always be learning. Remember you learn the most from people who are unlike you. Promotions are more often recognition of the work you are already doing. And most of all enjoy it! It can be a lot fun and very rewarding.