As some of you know, I spent a big chunk of my life determined to go to law school so that I could work on women’s rights and sex trafficking issues, particularly in South Asia. My college career was oriented as such, with degrees in the humanities and an enriching work experience at the Henderson Center for Social Justice at Berkeley Law. After some life experience and sitting through the LSAT, I realized that law was no longer the vehicle by which I wanted to help the world. I have no shame in saying I needed stability. I wanted to make money. I wanted to learn management. Imagine the surprise and the many awkward conversations when I announced that I was looking for work in the tech sector. I had a friend tell me, in all seriousness, that I was a sellout, that I was being bought by “the man”. It made me feel guilty that my reality was so far off from my dreams.
Through introspection since, especially on important days like today, I’ve had many realizations. First off, my career isn’t set in stone. You’re never too old to go to school or start something new. Life happens but passion is a concurrently running train with its own energy source. It’s so important to remind ourselves of this. I have to reason my way out of thinking I’m too old to pivot my career sometimes. Some of my older friends and mentors laugh when I say this but speaking from experience, it’s hard to trust the path and know when to identify the right opportunity for yourself. Quarter life existentialism is real.
Secondly, I observed that many of the non-profits I respected do the thing where they put the truly passionate people at the bottom of the totem pole and let the minimally interested people, jaded with years of negativity but ripe with “management” and degrees and experience in multinational companies, lead the charge and make the critical decisions. We are still a capitalistic society. Grassroots movements are critical. But so is cash and building your experience in management. Especially on my path, as a woman, I feel that professional experience will better equip me for my future.
Lastly, we women are taught not to acknowledge all that we do, dismissing our accomplishments as “not a big deal” or “good enough” and shortchanging ourselves with permission phrases like “can I just” and “sorry”. This shortage results in a dearth of women in management and the toxic way workplaces are often designed to better suit men. Especially for women of color, it is not easy to put our aspirations to help our people on hold while we raise ourselves. It feels selfish often, to pursue a career when we are taught to value caring for family over everything. But financial help, your ability to contribute to causes you care about and help your loved ones, your ability to mentor young women and your ability to empower yourself at home and work is critical. Tune it all out and TAKE YOUR SEAT. Just sitting at the damn table and using your voice IS RESISTING. Sticking up for women and other minorities in the workplace IS SOCIAL JUSTICE. Even if you start out working for a company that doesn’t prioritize your needs as a woman, working to change that is ACTIVISM. Sitting at the table is where it starts.
Absolute last point. #metoo has not had its moment in tech yet. The amount of shit that I have dealt with in the last four years in this industry is too damn high. While I’ve had tremendous opportunities, I’ve also been mansplained constantly, sexually harassed, blown off of critical opportunities, paid less, experienced horrible ageism and seen others go through all of this as well. And yet I still feel it’s critical to be here. Find your allies. Learn the game. Report to HR, escalate when you see injustice, speak the fuck up. And if you’ve tried everything to influence change in the culture, and it hasn’t changed, leave. But negotiate what you’re worth, grab a seat at another company’s table, pour yourself some tea and continue slaying, because we need you here.