I’ve been wanting to publish this post for almost 2 years now but haven’t mainly because I hadn’t figured out how to communicate my story without sounding like a victim, a bitter shrew, or a resentful killjoy, all of which at various points since I left that career to be frankly honest, had been true.
I kept struggling with sharing my story not because I’m afraid that future employers would Google me and then not hire me. No, I’m more afraid of letting go of the ledge and trusting that I will land safely in the life work that I am really supposed to do. If I hang onto the pain of the past, I can use it as an excuse for not moving forward. (Can you hear Dr. Phil already?)The pain of the past is comforting not because I like it but because I know it. Who knows what’s out there in the future? It’s more comforting to be with the devil you know than the one you don’t, right?
But no more excuses. No more writing drafts and no more waiting for the right time to tell the story perfectly. I still don’t know how to write this with my normal panache but whatever. It has to be told because I’m tired of keeping it in, and it is like a ball and chain. I know too that besides helping myself heal it will help other people cope or deal with their own similar career struggles.
Before, I do go further, I want to pre-empt and emphasize that this story is my perspective of Silicon Valley based on my past, and I do make some generalizations. Not everyone is an asshole or sex crazed maniac. I've met some very nice people as well. Today, I'm really just doing inner de-cluttering of piles of rubbish that is taking up space leaving me no room for new happy stuff. So here it goes….
The real reason I left my marketing career in tech is because I got fed up with feeling like a sexual target every time I went to work, and especially at tradeshows and conferences where you add to the picture booze, partying, and “what happens on the road stays on the road” mentality. Since geeks like PowerPoint slides, here is a slide I did that illustrates just one example of how many times an attractive young woman working during one day or week at a technology tradeshow can get hit on, sexualized, and gawked at.
Try having to deal with this at various degrees for 10 years. You can quickly start to see how gaining those pounds of protection become an effective tool in warding off sexual advances and attention because guys are not as interested in the “fat girl” as they are the “hottie skinny girl.” That extra fat makes you almost invisible and the guys leave you alone.
After being raped by the co-worker boyfriend, I quickly gained 30 pounds because I didn’t want anyone to hit on me nor did I want to deal with anything sexual. Going to a new company only resulted in a nervous breakdown, or break through as I call it now. The worst part of that whole experience was not the assault itself but the fact that the company stood more by the guy’s side than mine because he was their multi-million dollar golden sales boy who everyone thought was Midas because he was so good at closing deals. I was more expendable than he was, and I was too afraid to fight for myself.
I hated myself for not standing up for me, but I equally hated the company for choosing what was right for their greed versus what was the right thing to do. This was the culture of this particular company, and not all companies in tech would tolerate behavior like this. My example is an extreme case but unfortunately I’m not alone. It is by all means not common, but it is also not unheard of.
One of my theories as to why women stay away from the tech industry is that they don’t want to put themselves in situations that make them feel like sexual targets on a constant basis. If you want a glimpse as to the kind of hostility geek guys can have towards women, visit the comments section on any popular story on Digg like this one about a video where a guy punches some girl in the face after she rejects him for a date. The incident with Kathy Sierra was not an anomaly as women are often targets of antagonistic attacks online. And here's an example of what some guy wrote about the search engine Spock after their poor taste Victoria's Secret vs. Sports Illustrated swimsuit models search demo at a Web 2.0 conference:
"Spock is a great way to get laid. Seriousy. Just enter "slutty whore" and look at the results. You could bang any one of those skanks, especially my ex-wife."
Sound revolting to you on the outside of tech, but this kind of tone and speak happens all the time online in tech sites, blogs, and forums. The maliciousness and ill will on the women's sites/blogs/forums pales in comparison. So, how would you feel having to deal with this kind of offense in your job on a constant basis?
On the office front, it’s no fun being the only female working with a group of guys as if you were the first one allowed into the locker room or frat house. I had enough of egomaniacs who expected me to kiss up to their insecure male ego because they couldn’t stand a woman being smart, creative, and not afraid to tell them the truth versus what their pride wanted to hear.
...I got tired of busting my ass and giving up my life to make other people richer...
I got tired of being treated like a bitch because I produced more results than my jealous male co-workers. I got fed up with people attacking my virtue by spreading rumors about me sleeping around when I spent most nights in my room crying myself to sleep. I didn’t want to hear one more, “It’s not personal, it’s business” when the management was going back on its word.
I also saw the writing on the wall. The opportunities for women over 40 years old in Silicon Valley dwindle dramatically. You have a better chance of getting into a pair of size 2 skinny jeans than you do of becoming a VP or C-level officer or getting your own startup dream funded.
Tech companies and VCs want people who are young because they are cheap, they will give up their life for the job because they do not have the responsibility of kids & family, and they don’t have as many life conditions as older people do like limits on travel, flexible work hours, or wanting more to time to work at home. And nothing will stop your promotion track faster than letting it be known that you want to be a mom.
Lastly, I got tired of busting my ass and giving up my life to make other people richer while I got a paycheck and a “Good Job” paper certificate at the end of the year. I came up with ideas and produced results that helped some of the companies I worked for make millions of dollars, and while of course I got more responsibility to keep on doing what I was doing, I got peanuts financially compared to what others got.
I’m not saying I’m not grateful for the prosperity I did have, but it was nowhere close to being fair for the results I produced. And this is where the difference between those who want jobs and those who want to be entrepreneurs come in. People who want jobs want security. Entrepreneurs want wealth, not just in money but in doing work that has deep meaning and purpose for them, and that is what I want.
Exactly how I get there, I have to figure out, but I know a big step is continuing the process of letting go of the pain of the past, and letting go of the ledge trusting that everything will turn out just fine. Yeah, I have been through a lot of horrendous crap, but it's made me wiser, not perfect, just more reflective. I've already spent a good number of years working on my issues so I feel like I am coming to the final chapters. I do believe that anyone can have their happy ending if they can just find a way to trust the process. It has to be, don’t you think?