I remember the first day I was bold enough to wear pants to work.
I remember hiding in my office all morning, worried about what my co-workers would say, hoping I wouldn’t have to resort to the back-up skirt hidden in my car. When I finally gathered the courage to be seen, I remember walking the halls of the dental manufacturing facility, half-surprised that no one noticed. Eventually, my boss asked, “New outfit?”
Stifling the nerves in my voice, I answered, “Yep!”
And that was that. Not a single fear realized.
It was the early ’80s, and it wasn’t my idea to break the implied dress code for the first time. I mean, of course I had dreamed of wearing something less cumbersome to work (almost daily!) than a dress or business suit; but I never would have had the courage to actually do something about it if my friend Milly had not introduced me to the possibility. Just a week prior to my own début, I saw her in pants at a trade show, and I thought, “How did she get away with that?”
Turns out, the same way I did: she just went for it.
Perhaps to compensate for my personal acceptance in the workplace, my mother never missed an opportunity to tell me how I was making life more difficult for myself and for my family, in choosing to pursue a career. For working women 30 years ago, encouragement either came from within or it didn’t come at all. It was up to us to do more, achieve more, be more. My husband knew this, and we built our family around ideals not shared in the majority of households for the time. We were quick to adopt non-traditional roles between us, considering he took care of the laundry and I mowed the lawn for 17 years. We taught our children these same values of equal responsibility with our family motto: “If you see something that needs to be done, just do it!”
The software industry today shares one thing in common with the dental industry of the ’80s: it just happens to be an industry of predominantly men. Ten years ago, university graduates with dental degrees in the United States were approximately 50% male and 50% female, and the statistic looks to favor women more and more in the years to come. Many other—and older—industries have seen the same shift: lawyers were once exclusively men; now the majority of law school graduates are women. The opposite trend is occurring in nursing, where male nurses are making a comeback in a role previously dominated by women.
The truth is that the software industry is still very, very young. We may be overwhelmingly male right now, but that doesn’t mean an imbalance will always exist. And in fact, history indicates that it won’t last. However, just as I couldn’t change the dress code 30 years ago, neither can any one of us close the gender gap alone, even with the “perfect idea” or the “one true perspective.” What you can change, however, is your behavior: by staying proactive, by focusing on the positive instead of pointing fingers, each of us can help foster an environment of inclusion. And hopefully in the years to come, software professionals will include an increasingly diverse selection of individuals. Because among us there are great women and great men, there are great 21-year-olds and great 71-year-olds, and each one is different. Instead of focusing on what divides us, recognize that we are all different, and treat those differences as ways to complement our commonalities.
One of 8th Light’s most defining traits is that we lead by example, just like how I followed Milly’s example back in the ’80s. That method was effective back then, and I have found it to be just as relevant in my life today. I am proud to have raised three wonderful children—all of whom have grown up following the example set by their progressive-thinking parents—knowing that each of them can do more achieve more, be more.
Well, except for my sons, Paul and Mike, who are technically incapable of carrying children. I will concede that women are better than them at that.
What are you doing to lead by example?