My husband gave me the Lego women in STEM and Lego Women of NASA sets for Christmas. He is knows me well!
Our son was quite fascinated by the women of NASA kit and we assembled it together. I have an Lego X-Wing fighter from a long time ago aka my childhood. Our son was playing with it one day, and I noticed that Mae Jemison was sitting in the pilot’s seat instead of Luke Skywalker.
Me to my son: “Huh, Mae Jemison is flying the X-Wing now” He: “She’s an astronaut Mommy, she can fly anything.”
A few days later, I noticed she was flying a small Millennium Falcon. A very talented astronaut indeed!
Last week I spoke at CUSEC (Canadian Undergraduate Software Engineering Conference) in Montreal. I wrote about it here. After my talk, a couple of women mentioned that they really appreciated that I featured the work of women in my slides. I said to them that I did this in purpose. If you work in a field where people always reference the work of people who don’t look like you, you can begin to think you don’t belong. If you look at your company org chart and see the people above you all look the same but not like you, you can wonder if you how difficult it will be for you to advance. Underrepresented folks in tech do amazing work but often aren’t referenced as experts due to bias. You can change this by highlighting their work and making them more visible.
I’ve been taking a course at work on leadership. One of topics is being an authentic leader. As part of the that course, we talked about how people cover or hide parts of their identities at work. For instance, some parents don’t talk the childcare responsibilities they have because they don’t want to seem less dedicated to their work and be offered less challenging assignments. People who grew up in families with less financial resources might hide that fact from coworkers who grew up in more privileged circumstances. People who are members of communities that are disproportionately subject to police violence might not want to discuss the latest news with their coworkers who don’t have a reason to fear the police. People who identify as LGBTQIA might hide their identify for fear of job discrimination or dismissal, because in some jurisdictions this is still (effectively) legal.
The course talks about ways that as a leader you should be try to show more of your authentic self if this is safe for you to do. Which is easier to do with the people that are your peers, but it more difficult to do for the people who report at a higher level than you in the org chart. For instance, I’ve a manager in the past who blocked off part of his calendar everyday to pick up his kids from school. This is a signal to others that this is acceptable behaviour within the group.
So I tried to be a little more authentic in my talk.
“Outside of work, I like baking and running long distances. I have an amazing family too! I put these pictures up here to show you that as a developer you can have a life outside of work. Our industry tends to glamourize long hours at work at the expense of everything else but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
It’s just a very small thing but I wanted to let people know that you all belong here. You are welcome. And you’ll be amazing. Representation matters.