Throughout history, many of technology’s advancements were implemented by women. In the 1800s, Ada Lovelace created the first computer program. In 1952, Grace Hopper invented the compiler, an intermediate programmer that translated instructions written in English into code understood by computers. Mathematician Katherine Johnson confirmed the accuracy of equations by NASA computers in 1916 to progress safe space travel.
Still, tech today remains a male-dominated field where women are often excluded from more technical roles and leadership positions, due to a barrier to entry that starts even before women have even been hired. Built In previously reported that 48% of women in STEM jobs report discrimination in the recruitment and hiring process. And once women do get a foot in the door, they often find themselves vastly outnumbered by male colleagues, which presents its own host of issues.
Marlee George, an enterprise IT manager at wellness retailer iHerb, recalls a situation at a former job where a colleague wouldn’t work with her because he said he “didn’t want to work with a woman.”
George reminds us that it’s still not uncommon to be the only woman on a tech team, and even with supportive colleagues, that presents some unique challenges. To overcome obstacles like imposter syndrome and gender discrimination, George shared her top tips for women in tech with us. One that stood out?
“Remain focused on your strengths and the work you are doing,” George said.
What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team? What did you do to overcome that challenge?
I have been in situations where I was told directly that a colleague did not want to work with me because I am a woman.
On one technical support team, we had a process to follow when customers asked to speak to a man, due to the frequency of the request. Those situations were challenging, but today, the true challenge is not knowing if a collaboration is difficult because the other person is sexist or simply because of our personalities.
What did you do to overcome that challenge?
I always choose to maintain focus on the project at hand. One of my mentors taught me to always assume the best of intentions of the other person on my team. That advice has been very rewarding. My focus and constant leaning toward the positive have helped me keep moving forward with the work.
What’s the most important lesson you learned from being the only woman on a team, and how have you continued to apply that lesson in your professional life?
The best way I can help with inclusion in every situation is by supporting both men and women as they work toward their personal and professional goals.
Working together as a team results in our success as a team.
My focus and constant leaning toward the positive have helped me keep moving forward with the work.”
What is the best piece of advice you’d offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?
Remain focused on your strengths and the work you are doing. Always assume the best of intentions from anyone you work with while collaborating. I have learned that most conflicts are between two colleagues who want the same things: for their team and company to succeed.