by Chloe Gunn
To recognise International Women's Day, we sat down with Jamie - a talented developer here at Catalyst, to discuss what Jamie’s experience has been like in a male-dominated industry
Chloe: So Jamie, what your experience as a developer been like so far?
Jamie: We have come a long way since I started as a developer. My first two agencies I worked at had only male developers; my first ever interaction with a female developer was actually at my interview with Catalyst. That was a profound moment for me.
When you don't have people that look like you to look up to, or to share experiences with, it can and has been very marginalising. Progression becomes murky, even starting can be difficult.
I can see that people have an appetite for change, and so I try to hold that with me to combat some of the fatigue you get from feeling like you still have to fight to make space for yourself.
C: Do you feel being a woman sensitised person affects your role?
J: I think women sensitised people have been culturally encouraged to consider others' feelings, to the point of putting other people's needs before their own - often resulting in having better people skills in the industry than the less those who have these expectancies.
Not because we are intrinsically better communicators, but because society has told us that that's the way we have to act to be a "good person". It is a strength and a skill, but it also means that we have a lot more emotional overhead than cis men might. My communications are also affected, I have to actively try to remove words like 'just' and 'could you possibly' from my emails because I shouldn't have to have them in, but it's difficult to undo that compulsion.
There's also been a lack of education. Where I grew up there were two colleges near each other that would occasionally swap classes. The girls' college (which I attended) offered no programming whatsoever: the boys' college did, but it wasn't one of those classes we could attend.
We shouldn't underestimate the impact of early exposure to programming and how far that can put you ahead later on, hence why early access in education is important.
In my teenage years trying to read a book on PHP from the library with no one to help, leading me to believe I wasn't "smart enough" for programming. Having even one person help would have made the world of difference.
I'm really happy to see more accessible learning resources now, and that we're actively trying to educate young people, but that does leave a little bit of a gap for older women, or those who continue to get missed by those programs of work.
Additionally, I have experienced sexism. Whether it’s "ugh female tech support don't know what they're talking about”, or more subtle like not listening to me when I am talking about my domain of knowledge, asking whether I understand basic technology principles despite being a developer, singling me out with certain language "love, dear" etc. This makes it, as a whole, a little more difficult to be taken seriously and to progress in the industry, and can make the day-to-day less pleasant.
C: Do you have any advice for women looking to become developers?
J: First, understand that you can do this! Try to remove that mental block, as that will be one of your biggest hurdles. How you then go about it will be different for everyone, but you might want to figure out how you learn and find resources that work for you.
There are resources catered to more interactive learning (Codeacademy), 1:1 learning (mentoring), social learning (going to Meet-Ups), and so on.
There are a lot of allies out there who can help you, so you might find it makes your path a little easier if you can find them and ask them questions. Find out what programs are available to you, what resources you have and use them.
Lastly, people are working to make tech a more inclusive space, but we've got a long way to go. Be mindful of that, but I'd encourage you to not let it put you off. The only way we're going to be more inclusive is to work together and forge ahead with the careers we want. But, do your due diligence when you're looking for that first job: you're interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Turn it around and ask what are they doing to make their business more inclusive.
As a side note, development is not the only role in tech, you might want to investigate other areas that could spark your interest. Companies like Catalyst will give you opportunities to explore and try on different hats.
C: As part of the Catalyst Inclusivity team, how do you feel Catalyst approaches gender equality and do you think we are on the right path?
J: I'm so happy and so honoured that Catalyst has given us (the Inclusivity team) the space to work on this and that they're willing to let us lead and influence on this area. The most important thing a company can do, first and foremost, is to listen.
Don't assume that you know what is best: ask the people who inequality is actively affecting.
We still have a long way to go and we're working with larger societal issues here. But small changes make a huge difference: gender-neutral bathrooms, period products in all the bathrooms regardless of gender, giving people space to talk about their experiences, trying to figure out mentoring and ways we can help achieve equity - the small things add up.
What I'd like to see is more awareness in all of our leadership of implicit and explicit bias (often referred to as 'unconscious' and 'conscious' bias), and that's something we're working on - I believe it should be a compulsory part of any leadership role to understand these and how to mitigate them. I know as well that we are looking at improving honouring Te Tiriti, but there's still a lot to be done in this area within and outside of the business, and that's a crucial part of any conversation about equality.
Jamie’s right, there are many issues surrounding equality and equity – all we can do is keep going and strive to be better, always. Thank you, Jamie, for your time and if you are interested in joining the tech industry keep in mind our Open Source Academy, Open Source Scholarships, training, and career opportunities.