On Wednesday I had the privilege of going over to the university and talking to some computer science majors about “Having a Life and a High Tech Career.” Unfortunately due to some other class conflicts there were no women in attendance at my talk, but I did have a room of students. As I went through my history, and how I ended up in high tech, despite the fact that I studied history and eduction, the students had some interesting questions. It was fun to be able to put myself back in their shoes, back at a time when your “career” is just a foggy idea in your head, and you are more concerned about how many more papers and projects you have to get done that week before you can go out and party.
I wanted to really hit on the idea that there is no PERFECT path, and that each student needs to think about what really makes them happy as they choose a career post college. I discussed some of the choices I had made which ultimately brought me to Palo Alto Software, and Eugene, Oregon, and why those choices had been perfect for me, and my situation.
As I talked, and answered questions, one student seemed bothered, or anxious, about my path. He wanted to know how I dealt with the fact that being a woman might mean that other companies didn’t want to do business with me. When he first asked the question, I stood there for a few moments – probably with a perplexed look on my face. I just didn’t quite know what an appropriate answer was (probably telling him to get off his high horse and stop discriminating against women… was not the way to go! ). I also knew that he wasn’t trying to be insulting — that he was simply perplexed.
I regained my composure and just told him that I was fully aware that as a woman I faced challenge. But I told him that because I had confidence in myself, because I am well educated in my field, because I work hard, I don’t feel like my company or my career has suffered because of my gender. I am well aware that discrimination exists – and I definitely understand that going to a business meeting dressed dark ultra conservative and professional does much more for me then dressing in “girl” colors and wearing girly business clothes. But at the end of the day my company does well because it puts out high quality products, markets them well, and is (if I do say so myself) run well. If we had crappy products, or bad customer service, or a shoddy marketing strategy – then perhaps I might try and blame our failure on discrimination.
At the end of the day though – if I am a good business person, running a successful business, people will want to do deals with me because its good for their business — and a good business person won’t care of I am a girl, or a purple monster.