Becoming an engineer was an easy, and practical, decision for Lidiya: she was good at math and physics. Both her mom and her dad were mechanical engineers, so she never perceived the profession as off-limits for a woman. Besides, she didn’t have the patience to be a teacher and didn’t want the responsibility doctors have.
Did you experience any barriers being a woman in the tech industry?
I personally wouldn’t say so, but it may be because I am very oblivious to politics and not very good at soft skills. There could be major drama going on in the office and I wouldn’t pick up on it. That said, I do hear stories from other women that gender is sometimes an obstacle for getting ahead and being promoted. Or even to be taken seriously. A girl I know went on a customer visit to Germany together with a male colleague. It was a big round-table, with 20 middle-aged guys in suits. She started speaking but the men asked her when her boss would be joining them. Even though she was the boss!
Why do you think there are fewer women in high-tech? Some believe it's because women are less capable of being engineers...
There are actually a lot of women on my team! But in general it is a matter of numbers. Fewer women apply for these jobs. Say, for every job there are 100 male and 10 female candidates. So it if you are going to interview the top 10% of exceptionally qualified candidates, it will be 10 guys and only one woman. I personally think there is an advantage to hiring women. In a male-dominated industry, women may think of completely different solutions, outside of the box, which can offer considerable advantage.
What has your experience been like?
There are pluses and minuses to being a woman in the industry. You are up against the stereotypes that the old-timers have, but the newer generation of managers is more open to family needs. 20 years ago the industry was comprised mostly of a bunch of kids hacking something day and night (read: not family friendly at all!), but these kids grew up and have families of their own now. There's a lot more awareness of work life balance.
The benefits of working in this industry are that the hours are more flexible (compared to, say, a dentist, who must be in the office when the clients are): you can work from home, set your own hours. A lot of large well-known high tech companies have improved maternity leave benefits recently too.
The drawbacks are that this industry is still men-dominated, and men tend to spend much more time work than women, and so the expectation is that you work a lot of hours. In fact, working anything less than a full time load is generally an exception.
I personally have a very supportive manager, so my transition into being a working mom hasn’t been hard. However, high numbers of women are leaving the industry after having kids, there is no way to hide it, the rate is very high. Some try to work part-time, but in many cases it’s a joke: you end up working full time for a part time salary!
What advice do you have for women?
Try to assess what how family-friendly your manager is before starting a family. Talk to other women. If your manager isn’t supportive, try to find another team, perhaps work on a slightly less interesting project but one that offers flexibility. You can switch back to interesting projects when the kid is a bit older. Definitely ask about flexible arrangements! Many women are worried they might be perceived as not motivated, so they don’t ask.
What surprised you the most about motherhood?
How much I love it! I was scared going into it, I was worried about how my life was going to change. But it’s awesome! Watching my son grow, change every day, do new things, smile, just being there, it’s so cool! Every night my husband and I snuggle and say to each other “Oh, can you imagine, there’s a sweet little boy in the room next door!”