Rebuttal to Jack Dorsey’s Women in Tech
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey recently offered up some thoughts on women in tech. Or, more specifically, about there not being enough women in tech. I’m happy he’s bringing up the topic, but unfortunately, he hasn’t brought up the whole topic that needs to be addressed. With plenty of personal experience under may own belt in the professional world, having worked in tech since 1991 and with first hand experience working with many women along the way, here are some observations about women working in tech. Let’s explore.
Young Women and First Jobs
As women in their 20s and 30s seek their first, second and third jobs, they also seek something else to fulfill their lives: love, a relationship, a partner, marriage and kids. There’s nothing wrong at all with seeking to have a family. There’s nothing wrong with getting married. There’s also nothing wrong with getting a job. I’m all for having both a career and a family. But…
Jobs and Family
There is something wrong with getting a job just to support your maternity goals. I call that scheming. And, of that, I do not approve. If you are intent hiring onto a job, you need to plan to be there at least 1-2 years (preferably longer) before ever considering having a baby. Yes, I realize biological clocks are ticking, but if that’s your primary concern and not your employment, you shouldn’t be working at all.
So comes one primary issue with women in tech and this situation becomes painfully obvious when specifically hiring women who’ve never had a child. This specific problem typically manifests at the most inopportune time, usually when they are a valued and relied on team member…. and then they get pregnant. When the baby is due, that leaves a hole in the team for at least 3-6 months while she goes on maternity leave and has no contact and does no work. Worse, it leaves the company obligated to hold that position open unfilled while she’s on leave which ultimately makes the situation even worse for the remaining team members.
Unfair to those who still have passion for tech
This is a completely unfair situation to the team who still has their jobs to get done during her maternity period, but now that team is forced to function with one member less. It also makes it doubly more difficult if that person happened to be a significant contributor. It also means that now-on-maternity co-worker, who may have been a star producer, is now a zero producer during maternity leave.
Career or Family
I have no qualms with women wanting to have children, but I would expect them to also use some professional and common courtesy. Don’t sign onto a job and then 9 months later leave the rest of your team in the lurch while you’re off having child for 3-6 months. I find this behavior completely ludicrous, yet it is fully tolerated. In fact, the laws mandate that it be tolerated by the company. This behavior wouldn’t be tolerated at all out of a man, yet women get special dispensation in this area. If you already know you are planning to have a child, don’t join onto a job simply to ‘take advantage’ of the maternity perk 9 months later. While the laws force businesses to support maternity leave, it also leaves that team off balance until she gets back. So then, it’s no wonder that there are women who come back only to find they’ve now been moved into a role that doesn’t matter. Not to mention, being gone for 3-6 months requires the returning team member to spend another month catching back up on all of the new projects and the work that they missed. It’s like hiring the position all over again. Tech moves far too fast to support that long of an absence away from a company.
In this, I have personally witnessed a woman who went from being a star code producer, to getting pregnant and going on maternity leave (a zero producer). When she returned, her attitude had completely changed and she was no longer that star producer. On top of her lack of passion, she set off a series of unreasonable demands for extra time off to tend to both of her children, higher pay, working remotely and after not producing for several months, was ultimately fired. This isn’t really because of the baby more than because of her views on work-life balance. Instead of having passion for and focusing on the work, she chose instead to focus on child and family instead of work. The tech job then becomes secondary and the star player who used to do whatever it took to get something done at work becomes an average to low producer, working only 8 hour days (or less), doing the minimum and taking more time off to tend to family matters. And again, leaving the team in the lurch to find a new star player. It happens far too often than not. While this can happen with men and family, it happens far less often with men than with women.
[Update: 12/17/2014] I have just had this same exact experience described above a second time. Another co-worker recently had a child. Her second child. She took approximately 6-8 weeks time off for her maternity leave. When she returned, a week later than when she said she would return, she worked at the office for 2 weeks. She then suddenly needed a month off to return to her home country for a family crisis. She was again gone for another month. When she returned this second time, it was obvious her work ethic had substantially changed and it was inevitable that she would request yet more time off. She asked for four additional months off. Her manager didn’t allow it which left her to make a choice. Stay on and do the work she was hired to do or leave the company. She opted to leave. This is apparently an all-too-common thread among some mothers. It seems that this is especially true of mothers with two small children at home. This is the almost the identical scenario that played out in the first example above.
It’s clear, having children and hiring female tech workers don’t mix. Any hiring manager who chooses to hire a female tech worker must weigh these risks. If you’re looking for someone who has long term staying potential with the company, hire a male. If you wish to hire a female to be long term, you should hire females beyond their child bearing years or who have already had all the children they plan to have. Hiring a female who is still in the getting married-having child phase, you’re opening yourself up to scenarios exactly like the above, ultimately letting that person go and leaving a new hiring hole to be filled. A hiring hole, that I might add, that may take months to fill.
As a comment about society in general, values have changed, manners have been lost and far too many people have lost any idea of professional and common courtesy for their fellow man especially when it comes to the workplace. For many people, it’s now only about what the company can do for them, not about what they are doing for (or to) the company. Courtesy and manners have been lost and devices like cellphones prove that fact out. I digress.
For these reasons, I encourage any woman who is contemplating having a child (or who is already pregnant) to remain out of the tech workforce until your baby days are behind you, you have your tech career passion back and you have your work and career priorities straight. Let your husband carry the maternity expense on his company’s health plan. If, as a woman, you want to have a long career in tech, and specifically you like the position you are currently holding and wish to have longevity in that job, you need to rethink any baby decision you may be contemplating. Once you’re pregnant, it’s too late to be thinking about your career.
Yes, I understand why women use maternity leave in companies in the way that they do, at the same time it also makes those who are active contributing team members resent you during that long absence and for your lack of work passion when you return. While your team is generally happy that you had a baby, the reality is your team doesn’t care that you now have a family. Your co-workers only care that you get your job done timely, that you do it well and that you continue to do it well after you return from your maternity leave.
Loss of Passion
Having a baby is stressful and time consuming. We get that. You need to change diapers, feed and clothe the baby, cuddle it, nurse it, keep it healthy and do all the right things to make your baby happy and grow into a toddler, child, young adult and ultimately an adult. We get all of that. However, at a workplace, that’s not anyone’s problem but your own. And, you need to leave that at home. Unfortunately, having a child is a huge time commitment that isn’t to be taken lightly. Yet, many women jump into it not realizing how much time, energy and money is drained by being a parent. Additionally, we also get that you want to spend as much time with your child as possible. But, that leaves less time for giving passion to your job at work.
Passion requires focus. Worrying about whether your baby is doing well, is being properly cared for, etc, diverts attention away from focusing on the tech job whether that be writing code or managing systems. Focus is important to do a job well, do it correctly and remain attentive to details. Diversions easily cause loss of focus and loss of details.
Unfortunately, there are many women are not good at a split focus situation. And, something usually gives. When the choice has to be made, it is usually home and family life which is given preference. This clearly becomes evident when projects are delayed, work isn’t getting done timely, pieces of projects are being held open or other people have to do your work because you are at home dealing with home and family issues. As I said, the star player who was previously dedicated to work and getting things done amazingly well is now focused on continually wondering if little baby fell down and got bruised. While that is important as a parent, it’s not important to getting work done.
Laws have forced companies into keeping returning mothers on board when they are no longer the contributor they once were (at least to a point). However, don’t expect to come back from maternity leave and have everything exactly as it was. That won’t happen. Projects move on, managers change, people reorganize and the company changes. Oh, your payroll job will be there as mandated by law, but the job you’d hired into may not. You may find that you’ve been put into a role that has nothing to do with why you were hired. That’s what can happen when you have an extended absence. Time and work marches on with or without you.
High tech and after hour requirements
Let’s just get right down to the heart of the matter. As a member of a high tech profession, one thing you will quickly realize is how much extra time, effort and stress is involved. And, I’m not talking about the 9-5 hours. I’m talking about what happens outside of that. If you write code and that code breaks, you need to expect to be called looking for a fix at any time of the day or night. You are expected to drop whatever it is you are doing, including sleeping, open your computer and look for a fix. It could be 2PM or 2AM.
Now consider being a mom with a newborn. If your baby is continually waking up all hours of the night and you get called to fix your code, what are you going to do and how will you respond? Additionally, when on conference calls under a ‘fix it’ situation, the rest of your team really doesn’t want to hear your newborn burst into the cry song the entire conference call, nor do we want you to leave the call every 2 minutes to attend to your baby. Split attentions don’t work in these situations.
I know this may seem heartless, but business marches on and the company needs undivided attention from team members to solve problems quickly. Just think of this section as your wakeup call to reality. Having babies and being in high tech don’t mix. They both require similar hours and similar attentions, but you’re one person and can only divide your attentions so far. For this reason, you need to fully grasp what it takes to write code for a service that’s 24/7 always on. And, you need to grasp what’s most important, your career or your family. If you answer family, you need to find a job that is not in a high tech startup. You need to find a job where you aren’t required to be on-call to fix your code. You need to find a job where you can stroll in at 9 and stroll out at 5 (or whatever 8 hour period works within your day care requirements) and forget your job until 9 the next day.
Hiring into a high tech job won’t be a long term career goal for you unless you are 100% committed to the job and you are willing to let someone else manage your home and family (like dad or a nanny).
Non-performers and tech
There is no real resolution to this problem from an HR perspective. HR is simply required to comply with all laws. However, that doesn’t mean that every company will tolerate lack of work ethic when a woman gets back from maternity leave. Some companies are very stringent towards non-performers and get rid of them quickly. If you are contemplating working in a tech career, you need to find out what that company’s stance is on non-performers. Some companies are willing to pay very high salaries, but only to the best performers. Anyone not performing sees the door and quickly. You also need to evaluate your own personal views on having a baby. If you think your own views will sway towards family once the baby is born, you should not hire onto a job in high tech which demands tons more time and attention than you may be able to give once your baby is born. You should, instead, look for a job role that is already 9 to 5, limits after hour requirements and doesn’t require staying late.
It makes no sense to commit to a 9 month stint at a high tech company strictly so you can have a baby, which may ultimately end your career in high tech. Placing yourself into this position with a company and your co-workers, you are doing a disservice to yourself, your co-workers, the company and your professional career. It also means you may have to put a firing on your resume. This is never a good thing for a resume. Do yourself a favor and properly plan your career and look for jobs that work on concert with your family goals.