WISE women in computer science

Coping Mechanisms and Unlearned Skills

One of the things I’ve been meditating on since escaping the tech industry is what skills do you not acquire when the main skills you are learning are how to cope in a bad situation? And do you have to unlearn them to go back?

The thing about an environment where the main thing you are learning is survival skills: what are you /not/ learning as a result?

The other thing about environments where we “cope” rather than “thrive” is that it becomes hard to think strategically. I think this is why it’s often seems to be a two-step process for getting from a bad place to a good one. Also, it’s a lot easier to recognise a “less bad” environment (a manager that treats me like a human being! No more of that guy who keeps creeping on me!), than a good one.

Coping mechanisms are often not helpful in healthy environments. So one thing I’ve been asking women I know who have found healthy environments is “what coping mechanisms did you have to unlearn?”

The answers have been interesting. It turns out:

  • If you’re listened to, you don’t need to repeat yourself.
  • If you’re not interrupted, you don’t need to interrupt.
  • If you’re taken seriously, snark can be harmful.

I notice that most of these are about communication, but more than that, communication on a foundation of mutual respect.

If we look at the way the tech industry treats women, and other minorities (let’s summarise: badly), it’s really clear this effects on the way we operate, too. How could it not? I worry about the internalisation of imposter syndrome, which I’ve been confronting in myself recently. I worry that when a guy patronises and talks down to me it barely irritates me anymore because I don’t expect better. I worry that I don’t argue at all, because I hate the arguing over nothing so much my capacity to argue at all seems to have disappeared. I worry that I don’t think I really know what a healthy environment looks like. And I worry that I too have coping mechanisms I would need to unlearn, if I found one.

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