When I was younger I loved reading. I would read on average four books a day. My brother would read to me as I fell asleep. My father would tell me stories in the morning and at night. He was a writer, by passion. Words, sentences, novels— they shaped my childhood. Another thing that subconsciously shaped my childhood was my perception of the working world.
My father was a kickass engineer; he loved to write prose but that didn’t feed his family. Instead, he began coding at a young age, he moved to the United States from East Africa and began to write in different type of languages: Fortran IV, Pascal, C, C++, Java, and many many more.
My brother was an AP acing, number crunching, genius child. I was..well I was 8 years younger than my brother and was definitely still under the covers reading Harry Potter while he was interviewing for his post-uni jobs.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my future, but I did see the strongest figures in my life excel in their professional lives. My father and brother were the most successful people in my eyes and they still are till this day. They’re my role models. However, what I didn’t know when I was younger was that it was going to be very different for me to step into the same high-tech world, and also perform as well in my coveted job. I saw the struggles both my dad and brother faced. But what I would struggle over, what I would have to grapple with, would be a bit different.
Rewind 10 years, little me was in the 6th grade lining up for our routine P.E sports activity; this week it was baseball. The two team captains for baseball were male; they stood at the front eyeing our class ready to go to war at picking teammates. I was definitely not chosen first, but I eventually got on a team. I had never played baseball in my life, but I was excited to try it. I walked out to the field with my bat and high spirits. I missed the ball three times. But I told myself, “It’s okay! Try again next time.” I walked back to the benches and heard one of the boys snicker,
“That’s what happens when you give a girl a baseball bat.”
I told my P.E teacher that I felt sick and didn’t play again. Then I thought maybe it is just a guy sport. Now, I think, that kid can kiss my ass.
You see, I was a little girl then, thrust into a new environment, one in which I was ready to take on. I didn’t have thick skin then; I was 10 years old still building my confidence. I was thrust into an environment that didn’t believe in me. Now, I’m becoming a woman, graduating university, and once again to be thrust into a new environment. One that is unfortunately is still struggling to accept me.
Board Room Personality
This past summer I interned at Twitter in Product Marketing. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Aside from learning how to launch products, I learned work etiquette. I learned how to speak to executives, how to interact with teammates’; I observed, introspected, and then regurgitated. I built strong relationships with women in high positions and I spoke to them about their journeys.
Someone close to me told me that in order to be respected she had to harden her persona in business meetings. It took her a while to create a strong authoritative personality because she was a bubbly, kind, and loving person. She would often go home and second guess whether or not she was too mean or too nice. I realized as I move forward in my career, I too will have to figure out the fine line of when to soften and when to harden.
This summer I realized if I wanted to be an executive woman in tech I needed to train myself to have two personalities. I don’t want to become a harsh, unemotional woman. Many people think this is what you need to be in order to succeed, in some cases that is the sad truth because of the environments many women in are thrusted into. The environment you are in shapes who you will become. Honestly, if I pursued baseball, I’d be one hell of a bitch.
Recently women have come forward to speak of the hostile environment they were put in while working at Apple.
One woman recalled a meeting in which she was the only woman in a room filled with over a dozen men. ‘The conversation turned to all of the men being dismissive about their wives and their significant others. I felt very uncomfortable of the reality that I was the only woman in the room as all of my male coworkers stereotyped women as nags and this was not countered by my manager as being inappropriate.’
Did you know that if you google the word, “CEO” the first dozen pages are all of men?
You have to scroll down about 10 times before you find a picture of a woman CEO, CEO Barbie that is.
Now, it’s not Google’s fault. The images are driven by algorithms, and many CEOs are men. But it’s an indication of how underrepresented women are at the top of the corporate ladder. If more women were working in high-tech there would be fewer situations where we felt like the minority. But think about it. You think women are going to voluntarily throw themselves in hostile work environments? We need to take the risk, we need to push the boundaries, because obviously people aren’t learning and we need to teach them. We are natural born leaders so let’s lead our way to the top-together as a team.
I know what I’m in for as I grow up to be the woman I have envisioned for my life. I know I will have roadblocks my male peers won’t necessarily face. I will get emotional, I will second guess my decisions, but I won’t give up. Women hold half the jobs within the U.S. However, they only hold 25% of STEM positions. Things need to change, and unfortunately we need to take the risks and the hits to make that change. I’m building my tough skin, my board room personality, and alongside many women in all industries, in hopes of kicking ass and kicking down the glass ceiling.
Rabiah Damji is currently a Senior at UC Berkeley. She is a lover of dogs, travel, tech, and writing. Passionate about marketing, thought leadership, and women empowerment, in her free time Rabiah actively blogs on Linkedin reaching an audience of over 15K. She spent her most recent summer at Twitter in Consumer Product Marketing.