Two reasons women leave tech jobs

On Sunday The New York Times posted a provocative story about why there aren’t more women in top positions in Silicon Valley. It’s not the first such article about subtle bias against women in business. As a woman working in the software industry I read the article with a combination of disappointment, mild surprise (at some of the more outrageous examples), and the grim recognition of common experience.

The NY Times article focused on the nature of people to revert to long-held biases (including those against women) in tough times, combined with the tendency for women to want to work more socially than men in similar engineering roles. It also touched on long-standing issues for women such as work/life balance and timing when (or if) to have children.

Here’s what none of the articles I’ve ever read touch on, although I can’t understand why. As a woman who used to be a web developer and chose to leave that mostly predictable, job-secure field to join a team of product managers for two reasons:

  1. The “Code Monkey” Bias: Even though what I was doing was far more technical than most of the sales/marketing people I worked with, I often got treated like I couldn’t understand, affect, or God-forbid drive strategy. Nothing pisses me off faster than people who treat me like I’m stupid, and ironically at this most technical time in my career it happened on a fairly regular basis.
  2. The Woman Bias: Never in my life until I was on a team full of men (who did the same thing as I did, btw) did I have the experience of giving an idea in a meeting that got ignored, only to have it brought up by one of my male colleagues ten minutes later to room-wide acclaim.

During that same time I went out to happy hour with a couple of guys I used to work with who had nothing to do with the technology field (the photographers from SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo). Over beers, I heard myself talking as fast and with the shortest sentences I could muster. I slowly realized I was doing it because I expected to lose their focus at any moment. When I looked at their faces, they were relaxed and waiting calmly for me to continue my stories – so different than what I realized I had gotten used to. The sinking feeling in my stomach at that realization was the beginning of the end of that line of work for me.

Sometimes I miss the feeling of satisfaction and control you get when you build an entire website, from beginning to end. But I can still build sites if I want to-and I never get tired of people respecting me and listening to my opinion.

4 thoughts on “Two reasons women leave tech jobs

  1. I’m totally with you! Great post. I can’t begin to count the number of times my ideas are first ignored, and then stolen by a male counterpart, and then recognized as brilliant. Goes to show that men can’t make it without us.

  2. Not a friend, but after 40+ years in the workplace, yes, your experience is quite familiar to this male.

  3. Christine, as an engineering manger for many years, I have observed this type of behavior in many forms. Rather than try to explain my own behaviors which may come across as entirely self-serving, I would rather focus on a positive trend in our industry, which is the adoption of Scrum and Lean/Agile Methodologies. When implemented well, this has a democratizing effect on group decision making and exposes the true contributors. The team ignores this at their own risk and will not succeed if they continue any biased thinking. Couple this with a strong experimentation and data-driven culture and you have the foundation of solid, non-biased, meritocracy. This may very well be why some traditional engineering groups have ignored or discredited this approach. In addition, I have experimented with this type of structure outside of engineering and it can be just as effective and more importantly fun!. BTW both of my current Scrum Masters (leaders) are women and they rock (not that that matters, of course).

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