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It’s Time to Shatter the Glass Ceiling
As August is nationally recognised as Women’s Month in South Africa, it seemed appropriate to write about women in the workplace – especially as one such woman.
Mainly because, despite the long-overdue global movements and justified social media outrage in recent years, across the board – and on every continent – as women, we are still trying to break through that glass ceiling.
At first, happy to be allowed to leave our homes and do something more than ‘mind the babies’ or ‘know our place in the kitchen’, women entered the workplace quietly, tentatively, even.
After all – with centuries of being told ‘you can’t do that because you’re a woman’ attached to our gender’s collective subconscious – we first had to prove to ourselves, let alone our male counterparts, that we could, in fact, do the job.
This meant that, for decades, even when confronted with the not-so-proverbial glass ceiling, we tried to be polite about it.
We thought, okay, we’ll just chip away at it slowly, neatly, hoping that it might eventually crack and that the light of fairness would be allowed to glimmer through.
That never quite happened though – it still hasn’t. (You know, not properly.) So, in recent years, women have had to adopt a more masculine approach: pound against it with a sledgehammer until it shatters.
Why? Because women in the workplace – perhaps most especially women in technical fields, like IT – face some hard realities.
- We are still subject to ‘mansplaining’ from our male colleagues;
- We are still not awarded the same equal pay or respect as our male counterparts;
- We are undermined and second-guessed on an almost daily basis in the office environment – everywhere from meetings to general discussions;
- In interviews or office banter, we encounter those same falsely innocuous questions that working men rarely, if ever, face: “Don’t you want to have children though?” or “How do you juggle your career and your family?” or my personal favourite, “If you get the job and work for us… who will look after your children?”
Entering the workplace as a woman remains a daunting prospect. It’s an unspoken fact understood among women. You know it – even if you have never worked a day in your life before then.
It is almost a given that we will need to work twice as hard or twice as long as any man, to prove ourselves in any role.
We need to watch how we dress because we’re far more likely to be judged on that than the skills and acumen we bring to the boardroom.
We need to be more assertive (but careful, don’t come across as bossy or overbearing), particularly in management positions.
If we show any sign of passion or feeling, we are labelled as ‘emotional’, even when emotion has nothing to do with it.
The list is endless – and we know it.
Women are infamously crippled by ‘imposter syndrome’ and a lack of self-confidence in the workplace. Not because we feel we can’t do our jobs well but because we constantly wonder when our ‘luck’ will run out?
When will we be sidelined or overlooked simply because of our gender? When will sexual harassment from a colleague or a superior force us to quit a job? Which maternity leave will be seen as the final nail in our career coffin?
Okay – now that we know some of the realities, some of the negatives, what can we, as a workforce, as a nation, as society, do to promote a more inclusive company, workplace or industry?
One that does not judge or assess someone on the basis of their sex – but rather, on the know-how, skills and experience that they offer.
Because, at the end of the day, every working man and woman wants to be valued for their contribution; seen for the experience and skillset they possess; and above all, respected by their peers and superiors within their companies and field.
For women in tech, this means also recognising that we can unquestionably do any job a man can do. There is no physical disadvantage that women face when it comes to writing code, fixing a computer or using a complex program.
If we have the qualifications and skills to do something – then it is safe to assume that we can do the job as well as Bob or Brian. We haven’t spent years studying or working to wind up knowing less than our male colleagues. (Weird, right?)
Even as a content writer, a predominantly female role these days, I have faced constant career roadblocks, unsolicited male advice and self-doubt in my career – and I’ve been fortunate, privileged even, by most accounts.
I have had every opportunity to excel in my academics and to walk away with a good qualification. I have encountered incredible mentors – both male and female – who have fought for equality and believed in me every step of the way. Giving me the assurance that, despite my own doubts that plague me, I can do my job – and do it well.
That is what everyone in the workplace needs – regardless of their gender, race, religion or creed.
To be believed in, to be given a chance to prove themselves and above all, to be recognised for their achievements, great or small.
At Sintrex, we are fortunate enough to now have some strong, excellent female employees in executive and management positions and while it speaks to the inclusiveness of our particular company, the fact remains that, at large, women in tech are still something of a mythological species. Like unicorns – except there’s nothing magical or fun about it.
I hope though that in the next few years, that changes. I hope that women in tech – and indeed, the workplace at large – are recognised for the intuitiveness, the drive, skills and determination that we, as a gender, bring to the workforce. As much as any man.
Above all else though, I hope that by the time the next round of bright-eyed, bushy tailed junior recruits enter an office – any office – that they will be seen as equal. That they will feel equal.
Until then, I will continue to have a crack at that glass ceiling because I want to obliterate it – and I hope, whether you are male or female, that you want to do the same.
It’s been hanging above us all for far too long.
Tamlyn Ryan - Sintrex Content Writer