We have a long way to go in diversifying the tech industry. According to Stack Overflow’s 2021 Developer Survey, only 4.8% of professional developers identify as women. While this number illustrates how underrepresented women are in tech, this meager 4.8% also accounts for women at the intersections of other groups who see even less representation in the industry. A programmer may not only be a woman, but also a neurodivergent single mother, a queer person of color, or a disabled veteran.
While having a relatable role model is invaluable, they're sometimes absent for those of us who are statistically underrepresented in tech.
On our way to a more diverse future in tech, we need brave individuals who can pave their own path and inspire positive change and promote diversity in the tech industry for generations to come. Today, we’ll discuss what it means to be your own role model as a woman in tech, and 7 tips to help you along the way.
- What does it mean to be your own role model?
- 7 tips: Being your own role model as a woman in tech
- Wrapping up and next steps
The Educative team has talked to various women across the industry. What we found was that many women didn’t have relatable role models in tech. Undoubtedly, role models and representation can be a game-changer for women speculating a future in tech. The presence of someone “like you” can serve as tangible proof of what’s possible in an industry that suggests otherwise. But when they’re few and far between, there’s power in forgetting the idols. You can blaze your own path and write your own rules instead.
Being your own role model means setting your own standards for success and paving your own path as you navigate your tech career. By looking to your own standards, you don’t need to compare your journey with another person’s to validate your success. We can still be inspired by others, but it’s unfair to make comparisons with role models from entirely different backgrounds. This is especially true if you’re at the intersection of several underrepresented groups (whether it’s gender, ethnicity, or neurotypicality). Being your own role model is a mindset in which you take leadership of your life. In doing so, you can inspire future generations to come.
“Equality in the workspace shouldn’t be an exception; it should be the standard. That’s non-negotiable for me as a leader.” – Mehwish Salahuddin, HR and Office Manager (and one of the many women who power Educative)
We're still writing the story of how diversity and equity in the workplace became the rule, rather than the exception. And you, as one character in this story, have your own unique path to pave.
Part of the beauty of being your own role model is that you don’t have to compare yourself to others. Instead, you need to clarify what success and happiness looks like to you. Your best self is not the person others expect you to be. Your best self is who you want to be, in the best possible scenario. After all, the true measure of your success and happiness should be defined by nobody other than yourself.
In getting to know your best self, ask yourself these questions:
- What would I be like in ten or twenty years, if everything worked in my favor?
- What would I set out to achieve, if I knew I wouldn’t fail?
- What am I known and celebrated for?
In the absence of other role models, your best self will be your guiding light. While she may not feel completely “real” yet, your best self is an important resource that you can turn to when you need perspective in difficult situations.
“Your best self today could be different from your best self a week ago, and yesterday. Make a general vision, and something that’s achievable on a daily basis. **You can be the best version of your best self relative to the day ahead of you – and that's good enough.” – Edit Vosganians, Technology Services Librarian Specialist
We’re often our biggest critics – but we should also be our biggest advocates. Advocating for yourself means having the courage to highlight your accomplishments and have difficult conversations.
Workplaces benefit from a plurality from perspectives and input, so don’t be afraid to communicate. Most people have no idea what you’re going through until you talk to them about it. While it can feel daunting, communicating and addressing concerns head-on can improve a situation for you and your team members. There’s strength in being vulnerable. When identifying problems, try to propose solutions as well. If you can, support yourself with objective facts and numbers too.
As part of an underrepresented group, it’s a common experience to have your voice and your accomplishments left unheard. This can feel alienating and infuriating. Just know that you aren’t alone. When you do face difficulties like this, be sure to take care of yourself and call on your support system for help.
That being said, not everybody experiences a workplace where hard conversations are encouraged. If your employers don’t react well, take it with a big grain of salt. You may be a better culture fit at a different company!
"Working at Google, we have this idea of "Googleyness." It can be interpreted in a lot of ways, but my biggest take on it is to treat others with respect, and call out others when respect isn't being shown. I believe hostility creates toxicity, and that's not an environment I want any women entering tech to be a part of. It's taken me a while to build up the courage to call things out when I see it. If you're afraid of conflict and have an awesome manager, I strongly encourage you to lean on them for support." – Abigail Carey, Developer Advocate
If you don’t feel like you’re an amazing developer, here’s a little secret about performers: All performers have moments where they don’t feel like playing their part. But they do it anyway. It rings in tune with the saying “Fake it ‘til you make it.” And it works.
No matter your level of experience, you have every right to take up space in the place that you're in. If you’re struggling with self-doubt, you’re not alone in your feelings. Part of the issue could be that you’re feeling imposter syndrome, which is completely normal for high-performing individuals. But as an underrepresented group, there are several other elements that can threaten your confidence, especially mistreatment ranging from microaggressions to demeaning comments.
“Being a Black woman… in this industry… things like [microaggressions] will happen... What helped me… were my female friends and peers… it's happened to them. It's happened to some guys as well. … We have a few people like that in the [tech] culture who feel like they want to take over the room. If you're taking up too much space, they want a piece of that space.” – Timirah James, App Frameworks Evangelist (Hear her full story on Educative Sessions)
Keep a meter on your confidence. When challenges arise, honor your feelings, take care of yourself, and lean on your support system. You’re fully competent and capable, and you have a seat at the table because you’ve earned it. Even if it seems like the odds are stacked against you, believe in yourself, and the people who believe in you too will see you and lift you up too.
Even on a molecular level, we are nothing without relationships. As the idiom goes, “It takes a village” to raise a child, and the same can be said for our careers. When you’re looking for advice or someone to talk things out with, your community will be an invaluable support that you can turn to. Some people are lucky to find a supportive community with colleagues in their workplace – for the rest of us, it’s up to us to build our own supportive relationships with others. The key to doing this is finding out who you can trust and building mutually supportive relationships with them.
It can take some time to build a community, but it’s well worth the time investment. To meet people, you can participate in study groups, volunteer your time, or go to Meetups or networking events. You can also just focus on building your own community that consists of individual relationships. Be open to individuals with differences too – there’s a lot you can learn by straying away from a narrow window of “like-minded” people.
“I still think it’s very important to volunteer and to reach out. LinkedIn can be scary because you don’t know anyone necessarily, but just reach out to someone who came from the same school or is at a company… that you like or want to know more about.” – Ivette Cortez, Business Program Manager (Hear her full story on Educative Sessions)
All successful people have been inspired by something. Inspiration can be found everywhere. Be curious about the world and look for the things that speak to you. When you don’t have a clear idea of what your “best self” would do, you can turn to these sources of inspiration to navigate your path forward.
Your inspiration could be as tangible as a person or as abstract as a concept. The person could be your next door neighbor. They could also be someone you’ve never met, such as women in tech history or even fictional characters. Apart from people, inspiration can span as wide a range as your imagination allows. It could be found in a philosophical concept, or even in your favorite animal.
"I don’t have a role model, but I have a role motto. My motto is “Get it done.” … Just the satisfaction at the end of the day that I’ve crossed some things off and contributed to the process is enough for me to consider it a good day. I’m happy with myself going home with that." – Edit Vosganians, Technology Services Librarian Specialist
“I want to be at a place where I’m comfortable not knowing everything. I’ve found that senior people are okay with admitting they don’t have the answers, and those with less experience tend to try and sound right all the time.” - Kaitlyn Yamamoto, Software Engineer
One of the biggest ways we hold ourselves back is by setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves, and prioritizing product over process. If you settle for nothing short of your end result, you may be missing opportunities to be present in the process by celebrating milestones and learning from mistakes. Instead of paralyzing yourself with unrealistic expectations, be content with small steps toward your goals.
It’s important to celebrate not just your end goals, but each step along the way. Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments. Set up a consistent reward system. You don’t need to reward yourself based off something being completely “done.” It’s enough that you did your best, showed up, or moved something forward. Rewarding yourself for even the little things will keep your morale strong. Remember that you’re still winning, no matter how imperfect you may feel.
Self-care is incredibly important. Do you ever write “Rest” on your to-do list? Be they big or small, the challenges you face on the day-to-day add up. Even if others won’t, cut yourself slack and show yourself some love.
Give yourself breaks and opportunities to disconnect and destress. Taking breaks will help you stay strong and resilient through tough times. It will also help you be more productive in the long-term. When you’re in the zone, you may never think the solution to debugging that code is a simple 5 minute break to stretch your bones, give space to your emotions, or clear your mind.
“...We need restoration… recognizing that is a huge first step... Whatever it is, [find something] that really restores that energy for you and gives you energy rather than… you expending energy on something else.” – Mary Thengvall, Director of Developer Relations (Hear her full story on Educative Sessions)
Being your own role model is about paving your own path, owning your unique journey, and defining your own standards for success. While you could look to other role models for inspiration, nobody is walking in your shoes but yourself. By owning your story, you can succeed while staying authentic to yourself, and serve as an inspiration for a more diverse future in tech – one step at a time.
To hear about how other women paved their own paths into tech, check out the Women in Tech series on our podcast, Educative Sessions. You’ll hear engaging stories on the challenges they faced, the wisdom that helped them succeed, and the sense of humor that helped along the way.