I Constantly Deal with Undercover Sexism, and I’ve Had Enough

Scotland
Technology

Before having my child, I worked at a small non-profit company where I spent most of my days helping people and securing government funding for projects.

I enjoyed my job, and it was a great learning opportunity but I didn’t feel like it gave me a clear career path where I could work in roles that used my experience.

My partner and I decided to take a break from work to travel the world, and try to decide what we wanted to do in the future. I returned from our travels pregnant and started working in my first tech job. 

Working in tech as a new parent

My entire experience in the tech industry is as a new parent, and it’s quite different from my first career in nonprofits. While the third sector is mostly women, the tech industry is dominated by young men.

Being a parent in tech is interesting because not many of my peers are women or even parents. Most of my coworkers are young men who aren’t parents and don’t know any parents.

They don’t understand what being a parent means and the accommodations I need to have a work-life balance.  

While I’ve had a better experience than most other women I know, I still have to remind people daily that a meeting from 5-6 won’t work because I need to pick up my child from nursery.

Asking for reduced hours

I needed to ask for a different working pattern with reduced hours, but I went in knowing my rights. So, they said yes, but it took quite a long time for them to agree as we were still in the early stages of development. There was a lot of talk about how this would look for our clients.

Employers legally have to consider flexible working and have to have a reasonable reason to say no. My manager was so resistant that he said: “it’s the law, so I have to say yes.”

Unsuitable contracts for parents

Our contracts initially had hours that ended at 18:30, which was a big signal they didn’t understand the needs of working parents. I raised this issue, and they said they’re trying to change it, but right now they want everyone to be on the same contract.

My contract now says shorter hours to allow for nursery pickup, so they were willing to make this change for some people but not everyone. Some people get this privilege, but people who don’t have the confidence to ask don’t and that goes badly for them.

Constantly having to push

When you don’t work in a diverse company, you have to proactively tell people what you need and battle for what feels like basic accommodations.

For the first five months of my new work schedule my team wouldn’t move a big meeting that was scheduled for a time in the week where I wasn’t working

They claimed it wasn’t a very useful meeting as we weren’t doing it very well, but I still felt excluded and that I was potentially missing out on information that would help me work more effectively.

I brought it up a few times, but nothing was done. In the end I spoke with my colleagues individually, so the next time I brought it up other people were aware that I was quite upset. These people then spoke up with me.

I think it was another one of the things where people were so unaware that I would be upset about being left out. We’re a remote team and we talk about how to make remote working work you need people to champion it, and I felt the same should be true of any kind of different working arrangement. I felt like I needed the support of others in order to change things, which is crazy that I needed to explicitly ask for this kind of help.

Wearing down day to day

In some ways, I don’t feel like I can speak for underrepresented people in tech because my experience hasn’t been awful. But on the other hand, the lack of accommodation builds up over time and becomes rather exhausting.

Every day, people call attention to the fact that I have a reduced working schedule. They’ll say things like “we can’t do it then, remember Anna’s* off on Fridays.” It’s mentioned so often that it begins to feel like an inconvenience and that my employers and coworkers don’t actually want me to take time off.

I continuously need to point out why being a minority, both as a junior and a woman, is hard and why it’s challenging to speak up sometimes. I also need to tell coworkers why it’s extra hurtful when people don’t listen to you or talk over you.

How I’m trying to help

I do a lot of mentoring through my own network. So, I’ve come across a lot of stories of people who are going through much more terrible experiences and there’s nothing I can do for them, nothing I can point them towards.

A lot of the other working moms I know have been made redundant during their maternity live. Before becoming a parent, I didn’t realise the scale of the situation as it was so hidden.

So I’ve been trying to build a community of people who can support each other to overcome these issues. Whether it’s CV or interview help, we’re building a community of people who’ve experienced a range of different problems to raise each other up and change the tech scene.

I am quite an outspoken person, but fighting against these misconceptions is tiring. I’ve managed to have accommodations made for me eventually, but you shouldn’t have to fight to get these changes. People shouldn’t have to change who they are to be successful at work.

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