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Episode 8: Here To Stay

April 20, 2019
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Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast connecting with insights from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and this podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences. We’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Rachel Jones: And, I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: And, normally we would have Gretchen, our COO, but she’s out sick this week. So, onward.

Rachel Jones: Today, we’re talking about leaving tech. Is this something that’s been asked about a lot or something that you think is a conversation in the tech world?

Angie Chang: I think we’ve definitely heard a lot in the news about people being unable to survive in the San Francisco Bay area with the rising rents and inability to afford living here. And, part of that, fingers have been pointed to tech as the dominant industry. So, I’ve definitely heard a lot of news about people leaving the area and leaving the industry, especially women.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I remember I was talking to a CTO of a company who happened to be female and she said something like, every day it feels like a battle to stay in tech, and it’s been so difficult for her to stay motivated and she just powered through it, tried to build her army around her, as she called it. Basically, other women in tech and her network around just so they could bounce ideas off of each other. This is something that happened at work. How do I respond to it? I was called angry, or I was called aggressive. What’s the best way to respond to it? So, I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that the more senior people get, the fewer and fewer women there are in those roles. Well, we should definitely start to notice when it’s happening around us and try to do what we can to resolve it.

Angie Chang: There’s definitely been a lot of women finding community and support outside of their jobs, online. And, I’ve heard great things about the Women in Product group. There’s an Executive Women in Product group, there’s a Female Founders group for women that want to start companies. As we know, two percent of venture capital goes to women-backed startups, and that is an incredibly low number when you think about women being half the world. So, there’s definitely a lot of noise, especially this year. It’s so important to find your community, find your flock, and find people that you’ll talk to, whether it’s at your jobs or outside of your jobs, meeting up over dinner or having phone conversations. But, definitely getting out there because there is, I think, support that we all need to reach for and remind ourselves that we are worth getting that help and reaching out for that help, and starting those lines of conversations so that we can find the best way forward. Rachel, what do you think?

Rachel Jones: Yeah, so thinking about this issue as someone who’s not in the tech space and just observing it from the outside, I definitely have seen a lot of people I know, if not leaving immediately, definitely expressing frustration with things that they’ve experienced in the tech world and thinking about, yeah, making a transition out to have a more supportive kind of work culture.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Angie, have you ever felt like dropping out or leaving? I ask this question to everyone.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. So, I don’t think about dropping out because I’ve been here for almost 20 years now, so I have a different perspective. I’ve been kind of entrenched in another stage, but I do see more possibilities “to stay in the arena.” People say, stay in the arena, stay in the game. What is the game? Does that mean you have to work at a big company? Does that mean you have to work at a fulltime job? Does that mean you could be a contractor and still work in tech, and I think all these things are possible. There’s different ways to look at how you make this work for you, I think.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I know there have been times that I found it really, really difficult when I felt challenged or taking things very personally at work. I felt like, oh this is just so hard. You know? It wasn’t the job itself, but it was sometimes dealing with personalities that made it a difficult situation. So, I feel like that’s probably why a lot of women end up wanting to leave because you already feel marginalized. There’s not too many people around you that look like you, and then when it gets stuff with personalities around you, then you feel like, is this even worth it?

Angie Chang: I think that’s the part, is this worth it? And, right now, it’s at a very interesting point because it is super notoriously expensive now to be in the Bay Area where the tech is happening. And, the question is if you, for example, aren’t the super type A, graduated from a top university, you may not be able to sustain more than five, ten years in the Bay Area, and then you might want to move to Austin where it’s perfectly a great place to live and work in tech as well. If I had come out of college now, versus 20 years ago, I probably would move to Austin, or move to a more sustainable place where it is not so exorbitantly expensive and continue to work in tech there. I think there’s ways to get around.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, there’s a few reasons people end up leaving besides the cost, right? It feels very high pressured around them and they are not getting time to do anything else. But, I guess when we’re hearing this conversation quite a bit about leaving tech, it ends up being a conversation more about women leaving tech, right? So, do we think it’s only a women’s issue?

Angie Chang: I think we would like women to be around us more day to day, right? There’s already so few to start. And then, as the years go, we find them falling out for various reasons. And, that’s why we notice it. You have more?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, totally. I do think that we internalize as women. We internalize a lot of what’s going on around us and we tend to take things more personally. And so, while someone else might brush off a difficult situation at work, I think we need time to think about it more, and then it ends up affecting our careers one way or another.

Angie Chang: So, this leads well into our quote from Claire Hough. Claire was a Senior Vice President of Engineering at Udemy and Tapjoy. And, she’s currently the Vice President of Engineering at Apollo GraphQL. Last year, Claire spoke at the SquareTrade Girl Geek dinner, sharing stories of grit and pushing forward for all women in tech.

Claire Hough: I’ve been in tech for a long time and it’s very disheartening to me that tech has become increasingly unfriendly for women, especially women engineers. And, statistics say that lot of women get out of engineering much at a faster rate than men, right? So, that these are all very disheartening statistics, and I think we’re trying to turn it around. So, during my career, of course, like every job I go to, I have to reprove myself. Although my resume is very long and has a very reputable companies in it, and I’ve earned promotions at those companies, and yet, sometimes when I get a new boss they always question, can you do this job with mostly dominantly male population, male engineers. At one time, one female executive actually said, “I’m not sure you could handle our male-dominant engineering team.” Even though I came out of companies where it was-

Wini Hebalkar: Very male dominated.

Claire Hough: … largely male, right? So, I think we have to just keep educating others. And, I think, actually the younger generation’s much more open to this idea of diverse work environment, that you could learn from each other. And, there’s lots of statistics that diverse engineering organizations actually deliver better products, or diverse companies do much better in the marketplace. So, these are not just diversity is good, therefore you should do it. It’s there are statistics that better products are built, better companies come out of having more diverse workforce.

Claire Hough: So, we need to be constantly educating, but also being empathetic to learning about each other’s background. When I actually talked about imposter syndrome with my entire engineering team, which is about 80 percent men still, actually all men also raised their hand when we asked, do you have an impostor syndrome? Right? So, it’s not just women. So, we have to be empathetic to what their imposter syndromes may be and just have that empathy, and through conversations and through sharing experiences, I think we could change the workforce.

Rachel Jones: How does what Claire says compare to what you’ve seen in your own experience?

Angie Chang: I think what Claire said was interesting in that she pointed out that there are times when she was underestimated by a manager who thought she may not want to, or couldn’t put up with an incredibly male team that was…was engineering. And, that sounds really unfortunate because I can think of a lot of other situations with a lot of men. I like to think that when people underestimate you, you kind of smile and you’re like, oh, I’m going to prove you wrong. And I wish, and I know sometimes that happens where I do, where I’m like a-ha, I’m going to prove you wrong. And, sometimes I get really insulted and I’ll get really angry. But, hopefully, more times than less I wind up on the better side of being like, I’m going to prove you wrong, and not take that personally or as a way to put you down. But, instead to show people that you can actually do it and you’ve proved them.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Claire’s talking about being asked, would she be able to handle a team of male engineers. Initially, earlier in my career I would have thought, oh yeah, if someone is difficult with me, I’ll just respond and I’ll give it back or respond in a way that they wouldn’t do it to anyone else, or they wouldn’t do it again with me. But, I think there’s, like you said Angie, smiling, be thinking in your head, I’ll show you is a better, much better, much healthier way because you don’t want to add to the aggression and what you might think is assertiveness, you don’t want to add to it and then make a difficult for someone else while trying to make it easier.

Angie Chang: I think that’s definitely the ideal scenario is to be able to show people what’s up. But, I can definitely see how I do snap sometimes as well. And, I can imagine people, women and underrepresented groups might also have more history with it and be snappier for sure.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think you’re snappy when you reach your threshold, right? And, sometimes you come into work where you’ve already reached halfway through that point because of just everything else that’s going on around you that not everyone gets to see.

Angie Chang: Absolutely.

Rachel Jones: I definitely see how this could be overwhelming or burdensome for women and make them feel like they do want to leave the tech space. Thinking about how much women internalize these things and think, oh, I just need to not respond in this way, or I need to rearrange how I feel about it. I think it’s just a lot to take on, and so it’s interesting thinking about whose responsibility it is to actually make these things better for people. Is it about women thinking of how they approach the work and show up every day, or is this something that should be on the other people who are making these spaces what they are?

Angie Chang: I definitely think there’s a lot for managers to do and stick up for, and help advocate for their reports and their teams and make sure that everyone feels like they are being supported and coached and getting feedback and helping other team members understand each other’s intentions and, as Sukrutha pointed out, having to make sure that her manager was actually doing their job. That’s a lot of work for her. So, in an ideal scenario, the managers would just do that. But, as we see in places like “tech,” you get a lot of hypergrowth companies with lots of new managers who are going to take a few years getting to be the best managers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think a lot of the times I assume that I can let my manager handle things behind the scenes because they don’t know every cultural nuance or they don’t know everything about what various minority groups might go through, right? I truly have felt most of the time that I have to fight my own battles. Now, there is a gracious way to do it. And, there’s other ways, various ways, to do it. I don’t think I’ve really found exactly what works because it’s different with different people, right?

Rachel Jones: I think we’ve started to kind of touch on reasons besides gender issues that people might leave tech. So, what are some things that you’ve observed?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, I think nobody likes to feel like a minority, right? No matter what they look like or what gender they are. When people have not felt like they’re flourishing in their career, they’re not getting the attention they need, they’re not getting their due, they’ve wanted to leave. When there are really capable people who have low confidence, then they sort of tend to think that the role or the industry is not for them, and then they just leave it all together.

Rachel Jones: This relates a lot to our quote from Lili Gangas, the CTCO of Kapor Center. She shared research that they had done on this topic. The findings dive into why people leave, and how we can help level the playing field.

Lili Gangas: We found that 37 percent of the surveyed professionals left because of unfairness. Some kind of mistreatment in their role was really what turned them over to leave. This is actually the highest reason why people leave and it’s not rocket science to be able to say, if you’re not treating me fairly, I’m not going to stay. And so, it just permeated across all the different groups as well. Specifically, underrepresented people of color were more likely to be stereotyped. Some surveyors responded that they were actually mistaken. If I was the only Latina, they were mistaken by the other other Latina in the room, and so little things like that really started adding up.

Lili Gangas: Out of 30 percent of those underrepresented women of color, they shared that they were actually most likely passed for a promotion. LGBTQ also had some of the highest rates of bullying and hostility. One out of ten women reported unwanted sexual attention and harassment. And then, lastly, looking at some of these areas, some of the women reported really others taking credit for their work in addition to being passed over for promotion, and sometimes even their ability was questioned at much higher rates than men. The part of that was interesting in all of the survey is that actually white and Asian men and women reported observing a lot of these biases the highest, and they actually also attributed them leaving because of this reason. And so, it’s not just impacting the underrepresented groups. It is really impacting the entire company.

Angie Chang: It sounds like a thousand paper cuts are definitely reasons why people decide to leave their job, and that job might be in tech, and hopefully they will be able to find a better workplace. That is where they’re not the minority, as Sukrutha mentioned. It’s often when you’re different.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think the generalizations that people feel are being made about them and they also sometimes when you feel like you’re being passed over for no reason for salary increases or promotions. That also seems like, from this study, reasons why people might want to leave.

Angie Chang: I think it’s interesting that the Tech Leaver Study pointed out that people are leaving because of feelings of unfairness and really driving that home. I hope that the Tech Leaver Study is able to highlight to employers how much emphasis needs to be placed on inclusion and diversity in the workplace. And, as companies have HR, part of HR being dedicated to ensuring that their employees are feeling like they’re invested in, and invited to dance is something I’ve heard. You don’t want to just be invited to the party, but you want to be invited to dance and have a good time. So, whatever we can do to help, I always look for the thing to do. I’m like, what can we take away and do? And, I hope that people are able to be a good employee to other employees. I think that’s all we can really do at this point. But, besides changing things from the top.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s so many things that when I dug into the Kapor Center Study more, I noticed that they called out what companies can do to sort of give people the environment that makes them feel like they’re being heard, and that they’re getting fair treatment. For example, they talked about improving your company leadership, making sure that no one’s making comments or making generalizations that they shouldn’t. Making sure that they do a full sweep of the salaries and show that there’s fairness in pay. A lot of companies, larger companies, have committed to doing that. The smaller companies generally explain it away saying that they don’t yet have the size or the HR department they would need to be able to do things like that. So, I’m hoping to see it expand to smaller companies as well. And then, things like schedule flexibility, allowing people to work from home, work from anywhere. They don’t have to be in the office between certain times or too late as long as they can get their work done, and generally providing more respect.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. One thing that stood out for me is the importance of having opportunity for advancement. As a lot of these findings point out, people feeling like they’ve been passed over for a promotion, and obviously if you’re in a career and you feel like you’ve gotten as far as you’re allowed to go, then you’ll have to go elsewhere to feel like you’re still advancing in your career. A lot of underrepresented groups feel like there’s a ceiling, or how high they can get in the tech world when the leadership roles and CEO roles, a lot of them still look like the same kind of person. They’re still reserved for white men, so if you see that you can only go so far, I think it makes a lot of sense to jump ship.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. I think if anything, all these topics of not getting the pay and the promotion just signals to me that people should be looking for a new employer. And, I don’t mean to say that because we run Girl Geek dinners and we offer these opportunities for women to go to a different workplace every week and hear from the women there, and talk to recruiters, but I think it really is a big world out there and there are literally thousands of places that you can possibly work at, and hopefully people don’t feel like their job is the only place that they can work.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I want to urge people though, when they’re feeling like, oh, this is too tough, this is not worth it, I have so many other things going on with my life, I need to leave the tech industry. I would say sometimes people also think that they’re just not cut out for the role. Change your environment before you change you, first. And, changing your environment could be a variety of things. What’s a good culture–company culture for one person could be awful for someone else because sometimes it’s team specific. It may not be company specific. You could go to a completely different org within your company. If it is a medium to large size company, try that out. Seek out people through your network first. Of course, build your network and then seek out people through your network that you think you’d want to work with and pursue that opportunity. Do everything you can to find a different environment before you leave tech.

Angie Chang: I think it’s kind of funny when people talk about women in tech, it’s such a big umbrella and hopefully there are still very technical things we could do in places that people didn’t expect. You don’t have to work at Facebook, Google, Apple, et cetera. I think there’s so many companies that are places for women to get jobs at that have more flexibility and offer hopefully opportunities for advancement in these smaller companies where you are able to climb the ladder faster than you can at a bigger company, and feel like you’re getting your promotions and you’re being respected. Get on that rocket ship like Sheryl Sandberg.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Rija Javed shared her own thoughts on how to help people stay in tech. She was a Senior Director of Engineering at Wealthfront and is now CTO at MarketInvoice in the UK. She spoke at Elevate, our virtual conference, last year, and gave some amazing gems of wisdom.

Rija Javed: I think in terms of that sponsorship, I read a great article which I think is probably one to two years old now on Medium, but that was talking about how mentorship is not the answer for why women leave tech. The answer is actually advocacy at the higher exec levels, and that’s actually one of the things that I’ve been more mindful of given the leverage that I’ve had at the company and thinking more about that diverse group, and how I’m able to speak up for them because I also know that I’ve been able to grow in my career because there’s been that one person for me that’s been speaking up for me at that high level E-staff and board level.

Rachel Jones: So, what do you think about Rija’s solution for tech leavers?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is a big one that I think about a lot. I guess my challenge always has been, as I grow in my career, how do I get people to advocate for me? Right? Being able to manage up and manage upwards and outwards has been something that I had to deliberately do, and not everybody is coached or trained and knows automatically how to do things like that. If you’re a mid level engineer, how do you get the VP to endorse you? It’s really hard.

Angie Chang: When I heard Rija speak, I thought about how one thing that I hear a lot from women is that they enjoy finding sponsors and mentors, but in their company and outside their company. So, they hopefully find some people in their company as well as people outside the company through mentorship programs or through their own means, and kind of diversify their options for when they do demonstrate their competence by succeeding at their projects and keeping people updated so that you are able to widen your net of people who are impressed with your skills, who will be able to give you a promotion or another meaty project when the opportunity comes.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I was talking to a mentee of mine just two days ago and she just transitioned into management and I was asking her, has she been connecting with other managers, new managers around her, and she said no. And I said, “What’s the reason that you haven’t been trying to network a bit more?” And she said, “Because I have until now always focused on getting to work, do my work, and go back home.” And I said, “This is work too.” Networking, finding people who will be there to support you from your peer group and offer support to them. Later, when you know you need a favor, you’ve already been that person who has given a favor so you feel comfortable to ask someone. There’s going to be people who are going to help you.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, while I don’t yet have a good example for myself where advocacy at the higher levels worked for me, when I deliberately made it happen, I have had a lot of positive experiences where I’ve had my peers be supportive of me and advocate for me. And, that’s worked really, really well. And, it wasn’t with that intention necessarily, but it started off with me wanting to be supportive of other people. And then, in turn it worked in my favor for sure. Things like that have helped me want to stay even in difficult work situations and power through it.

Rachel Jones: I think that advocacy piece is really big because then it takes the burden off of the person who’s experiencing the unfairness. Claire mentioned that earlier, and I think if you have someone who’s in a leadership position who’s actually setting culture and they’re advocating for you, then it does take that burden off because then they understand these issues and they can approach it from this more decision-maker perspective instead of someone who’s experiencing things also having to explain why they’re wrong. Any final thoughts on staying in tech?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I want to say that there’s this quote from Obama where he says something like, how can you win a game when half your team is not allowed to play? When he was talking about increasing the representation of women. Be a part of change and don’t let external factors allow you to doubt your abilities and make you feel like you need to leave the industry. There are different stages where you can, like I was saying, you can cut out aspects that make your work situation difficult before you even say it’s not for you.

Angie Chang: I would recommend and request women who are thinking about leaving to come to a season of Girl Geek dinners, and see different workplaces and talk to different women and find a way to make everything work out. And, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you have a 40 hour job at a big company. It can look like a lot of different things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I feel inspired every time I attend a Girl Geek dinner that I’m lucky to have so much access to … if you have access around you, then take advantage of it. If you don’t, then there are avenues that you can find. Keep looking and it’ll be better.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s worth thinking about this issue as bigger than just a tech thing. I know we’re a podcast about tech and that’s why we’re approaching the conversation this way, and also there’s just a lot of thinking about the tech industry as kind of an engineering boys’ club, but there’s definitely mistreatment and unfairness across industries. I know personally I’ve thought so many times to myself that I’m ready to leave the nonprofit world because of things that I’ve seen there. So, I definitely think, yeah, before your answer is just leaving and trying something new, really try to think about, yeah, where you are, how to make it work, how to find people to advocate for you, how to find peers who support you.

Angie Chang: I think there’s so many amazing people out there who are amazing managers and entrepreneurs and engineers and you will find those people. It just takes some time. You’re not necessarily going to be so lucky as to have them as your employer after college. But, after four or five or six jobs in your decade or two of working, you realize that you, by changing teams or companies, are able to find the best fit for yourself. And, if you keep looking, you’ll find a place.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. And, encourage other people around you, encourage the women around you, because you don’t want anyone else to feel self-doubt. And, another thing I want to say, just because something feels difficult doesn’t mean you’re failing.

Angie Chang: That’s a good point. That’s a very good point. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice for women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. You can also find videos and transcripts from our events. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, email sponsors@girlgeek.io.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by SquareTrade, a top rated protection plan trusted by millions of happy customers and offered to top retailers, including Costco.