• September 28, 2020

Why I didn’t celebrate International Women’s Day

I’m running a little bit behind this month. I was planning to post something around March 8th, which is International Women’s Day, but something held me back. Maybe it was a memory of the trite red carnation or the “women on the tractors” slogan from my childhood in Poland, which made me question the validity of celebrating it this year.  Haven’t we achieved the rights and the equality already?

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Reading around the Web left me doubtful. Interviews collected by Kieran Snyder painted quite a gloomy picture of intolerance causing women to leave the tech field. But I have to agree with this thought from Lea’s Pensieve: “It’s not our industry that has a sexism problem, our society has a sexism problem.”  The problem starts much earlier with our children’s toys, the tales, the movies and how we are bringing up our kids.

I have never paid much attention to the number of women in technology, although I have been accustomed to a certain disproportion since I selected a Math/Physics profile in high school, where the male-to-female ratio was approximately 2:1 ratio. I followed that with a Computer Science degree, where the ratio was even worse at approximately 5:1, which is similar to what I’ve seen in my professional life. The ratio was even higher at our recent internal Rocket.Build Hackathon (18:1).

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Now tell me, when was the last time you saw something like this at an airport?

This left me a bit puzzled, but allowed me to find a definite perk in such highly caffeinated environment, as shown in this illustration. But I digress…

Based on the interviews collected by Ms. Snyder, some of us clearly thrive in a technology environment, and some of us do not. It seemed to me that many women got tired with condescending treatment and lack of appreciation from their colleagues. Worryingly, when a few of us visited universities in Boston area to speak about what it means work in technology during the Rocket Leadership Summit, there were far too few girls in the room to talk to us.

It seems that technology is not a very popular career path for women, but there are some that still choose to follow it. I did my own experiment; I asked myself why I chose the technology field, and I asked a young friend here in Atlanta the same questions. Amazingly there are a lot of similarities. (And it’s also fun to see what tickles us now and what did 20 years ago.)

My friend (2015) Me (1995)
I’m 21 years old. I attend the University of Georgia currently, transferring to Georgia Institute of Technology in the Summer of 2015. I’m majoring in Computer Science & Minoring in Business. In my spare time I like to paint, exercise and, travel. I’m 21 years old and I’m studying at Technology University of Lodz, in the department of Applied Math, Physics and Computer Science, with a special focus on Computer Graphics. I’m learning French in preparation for my trip to Ecole Central de Lyon, France to complete my master’s thesis research. In my spare time I love to paint, read books and travel.
Why did you choose computer science courses?
I have always had a passion for technology, and knew at a young age I wanted to study the world of computers. When picking a college and a major to study I realized how few women participate in computer science compared to men, and that made me want to do it even more. I was fascinated with ability to create visual art using computers. Having spent tons of time painting in Corel Draw, I was intrigued as to how it was actually done.
What do you like about programming? What languages do you like?
I like programming because it’s so complex but yet all you need to know is just a basic understanding of logic. It’s just an exact way of thinking and once you learn it then you’re set. My top languages right now are Ruby, MATLAB, and Java. Java has been my favorite for its ability to play in mobile world. It’s very structured. Once you learn basic rules you can easily switch from one language to another. And you can make new things from scratch! I like C++, MFC, Delphi.
What trends in technology do you find fascinating?
Virtual healthcare, telemedicine, and big data clouds for patients (electronic health records, self monitoring devices) are what has been grabbing my attention recently. Being able to have your doctor’s appointment via web cam and then checking your blood pressure/vitals with an inexpensive app or piece of hardware that easily connects to your smartphone is the future! The ability to create virtual worlds; the ability to render 3D images of human body from CAT scans, which can provide tremendous advantage for doctors trying to diagnose a patient.
How do you feel about working in such male dominated environment?
When I chose computer science I picked it because it was the only thing I was willing to go to school for. Then I realized how few girls go into the field. It didn’t scare me or intimidate me; it actually motivated me to get involved even more. I believe it’s all about confidence. If you speak up and look people right in the eye, others will listen. I’m sure every office and work environment is different but being with more men than women doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t think I’ll be worrying about it that much. I never thought twice about it. What’s the issue?
Where do you see your career going to vs your dream job?
I haven’t fully decided if I want to do software programming or video game programming/design. I would love to be in New York City working for a medical company being the head programmer for their latest update. I also wouldn’t mind traveling the world studying latest technology trends and blogging about it. I would like to work at the research lab at Silicon Graphics, Corel Draw or Pixar Studios to create next generation of 3D imagining software, be it for medical or recreational purposes.
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I believe it’s all about confidence. If you speak up and look people right in the eye, others will listen.

This is something that really struck me in my young friend’s response. As we are celebrating Emmy Noether‘s birthday today, I would add perseverance as a requirement for anybody to succeeded. Anybody. I think this is why I do not celebrate International Women’s Day. I don’t want to be singled out based on the gender and  it never crossed my mind that I may belong to “less capable minority.” I also believe that at Rocket I don’t have to be.

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Patrycja Grzesznik 9 Posts

I am a Product Manager at Rocket by day and an artist by night. I love to paint, sketch, sculpt and make hats. Yes, hats.

6 Comments

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    Eva Bukouricz Reply

    March 23, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Wonderfully written! I agree with your sentiment, “I don’t want to be singled out based on gender….” (I like the illustration as well.)

  • Daniel Magid

    Daniel Magid Reply

    March 23, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    What a great essay! I loved the parallels with your young friend! As one of the top engineers here at Rocket, you are certainly a real world example that gender is irrelevant to Computer Science talent. As a member of the other, more ubiquitous gender, I’d love to have your technical capabilities (and hat making talent!).

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    Jennifer Reply

    March 25, 2015 at 8:36 am

    I also did not celebrate women’s day; I would rather someone recognize me for my accomplishments, rather than my gender. After all, I didn’t have a hand in choosing my gender, but I certainly had a hand in what I’ve accomplished.

    I agree with the sentiment “I don’t want to be singled out based on gender….” but all too often women single themselves out based on their gender thereby perpetuating the very thing they claim to not want. I’ve experienced prejudice and discrimination in my career, but its been overshadowed in comparison to how much respect I’ve experienced in my career.

    The IT industry isn’t unfriendly to women; it’s just not a field women gravitate toward. There are other science-based industries that women do gravitate toward, such as nursing. The mainframe sector of IT especially lacks women, but again, its just not a field women purposely seek out. I slipped into it by accident myself, but loved it so I made a career out of it.

    This was a very well-written article Patrycja; you’re quite the writer!

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    Gary Reply

    March 25, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Well written and thoughtful piece.

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    Glenn Chambers Reply

    March 25, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Great writeup Patrycja, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

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    Viv Reply

    March 25, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Excellent piece Patrycja.
    Like you said, we ourselves perpetuate the preconceived notion of technology belonging to a man’s world. When a new electrical gadget arrives at most of my ‘girl’friends houses, they announce (almost proudly) that they know nothing about it and it is up to their husband/boyfriend to install/configure it. In our house there is usually a fight between myself & my husband as to who can get their hands on it first and of course the manual is left in it’s plastic !
    I hate to see so many of our own gender sell themselves short. Of course there are fundamental differences between men and women – enough studies have been done to prove that. But the general perception that woman are technically ‘dumb’ needs to be changed. And it is up to women themselves to change that.

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