Career WISE women in computer science

Thinking About Statistics

Fifty years of sports statistics. Hardly recreational reading material, Marty.
Credit: flickr / Nati Devalle

I’ve been thinking lately, if we really accepted the statistics about technical women as being likely to reflect our own experiences, how might that affect our behaviour? It can be hard, as technical women, as we deviate from the statistical “norm” for a long time, and it’s easy to think that will keep going… but what if it doesn’t?

Find a Sponsor

I personally have had a hard time accepting that hard work and being smart is not enough. There’s a game on, and it involves getting the right projects, and getting noticed. Studies show that women are over-mentored and under-sponsored, and actually have a hard time convincing their mentors they are ready for bigger challenges. I do think mentoring is helpful, I’m so grateful for my amazing mentors, but it’s not a career strategy. That’s getting noticed, and getting the right projects, and sponsorship really helps there.


Look very carefully at a place where there are no women – do there just happen to not be any? Or are there none there for a reason… maybe it’s a “brogramming gulag” (new favourite phrase). 63% of women in STEM report experiencing sexual harassment, and people who believe they are in a meritocracy (that word, it does not mean what you think it means) exhibit larger amounts of cognitive bias. Clearly, there are places that women would be best to avoid.

Accept a Slower Trajectory

Women do not get as many promotions as men. Which is super-depressing. No-one wants that statistic to be true of them, but if it is… how do you find a way to be OK with it? Less responsibility, less money… but more time to live? One idea.

Expect Burnout In 30s

Studies show that women leave in their 30s. So if that is the timeframe, what are some options?

  1. Work to burnout, save enough money not to need to work, or work much less at something else.
  2. Maintain or develop other skills, as an exit strategy.
  3. Marry “well” – i.e. another high-earning professional. (I hate this, but… can’t deny it).

Avoid HR / Quiet Exit

I think this post from Penelope Trunk is interesting, on reporting sexual harassment. Key quote: “The law is set up to encourage a company to take proscribed steps to protect itself from liability rather than to protect your emotional stability, or, for that matter, your career.

Have an exit plan instead. Women often move to other companies to get their next challenge, and I infer from this that it’s best to quietly notice the signs that a situation is bad, or no more opportunities are forthcoming… and move to somewhere where that is not the case.

Open Question

I find Facebook’s focus on women interesting, cynically, women are the dominant users of social networking and the drivers of consumer spending. In this context, “understanding women” is not a joke about heterosexual relationships… it’s a necessary business strategy. And I wonder – in that kind context (Facebook is not the only place where this is true) – is it be better for women?

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