As women, we have to stop adapting

  • Posted on June 29, 2022
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes

When I started my computer science studies in 1991, we were only 11 young women among about 300 male fellow students. Three months later, I was the only one left. The others had gotten disheartened in the midst of an atmosphere that often bordered on bullying. We were told openly that women had no place in this supposedly male-dominated profession. Business administration, however, was the right area for women – and that should have been my place.

It has been 30 years since – and things have only recently started to change for the better.

Stopping the stereotyped thinking (pigeonholing)

I am glad that finally, after all this time, something is moving into the right direction. Society and organizations have recognized that there is an inherent system failure or “bias” that is unfair, dividing and ultimately also economically a mistake. The mistake of pigeonholing people, blocking their paths, excluding them and keeping them small. I have experienced these mechanisms constantly throughout my career, as a women in the male-dominated world of IT. Prejudices and stereotypical behavior toward women are still deeply rooted in the workplace. It is important to note, however, that this bias, which is literally rooted in the business DNA, does not only concern women – it stands in the way of diversity and freedom at all levels.

A new definition of business culture

For a long time, the business world was dominated by men. Many agreements are even explicitly known as a “gentlemen’s agreement” if a written contract is not considered necessary by the parties or if they refrain from writing it down because – very “un-gentleman-like” – it is a dubious business. The rules of the game and modes of conduct were established by men for men and consolidated in clubs, networks and circles, to which women were granted access only much later and only after massive pressure. The Pine Valley Golf Club in the U.S., for instance, has only been accepting women as members since 2021. But it’s not worth the time to lament these things. We have to pick up in the here and now and continue working hard, to break down the cronyism, to open the doors and windows to the backrooms. We need to continue fighting for transparency and diversity and for a workplace that is open to all – and that can be shaped by all.

Power, competition, fear of loss

Due to men putting obstacles in my way – consciously or subconsciously – and thereby tried to hinder my career, I decided to start my own IT consulting business, before I even turned 30. And lo and behold: Outside of a corporate organization, me being a woman was suddenly no problem at all anymore. No prejudices, no competition that questioned my competence, no one who would not listen to me, only cooperation and satisfaction. What does that mean? Apparently, it’s not about men thinking women are less capable. It’s about power, competition, about fear of loss.

I spent an early phase of my career on my own as a self-employed person, and I was able to develop myself and my career in a way that was unrestrained which would not have been possible as an organizational employee. I had to break free of the bias to go my own way. For me that was a good decision and back then the only possible one to make – but I want to live in a world where other decisions are possible, too. I want to spare other women this detour.

A place for change

Approximately two years ago, I joined Avanade because I could clearly see that #breakthebias is not only taken seriously here, but that the organization is concretely doing something without compromise to eradicate this system error. Of course, it was also a decision for the job and for the exciting business tasks. However, the biggest influence on my decision to join Avanade was the prospect of being able to make a real change. Finally, I had found a place where I could do something and make a change for the better myself. So that women in the profession and especially in the IT industry, that I know well, will get more chances and opportunities, get more courageous and achieve more. So that others may be spared my own, oftentimes very rocky path that was defined by men, prejudices and hostility.

Women are no different than men

For decades, or perhaps even centuries, women had to adapt to sets of rules that were laid down by men in order to even have a tiny opportunity to assert themselves. We bought pantsuits, lowered our voices. We behaved the way it is expected of men to have in business, we exchanged empathy for toughness and earned reproach for it, once again. But it’s time to put an end to this now. We have to stop adapting and conforming.

It's so easy to say that women are different from men. Is that really the case? Wait a second. Anyone who talks like that is expressing the idea that men are the standard – and women are merely a deviation from said standard. That’s not splitting hairs, but an important detail because we know that language determines consciousness. Therefore, let’s rather agree that men and women are different. And that is a good thing. Actually, it’s even an advantage. We can only complement each other in all our diversity and thanks to our differences. More and more companies have recognized that they cannot continue to grow if they behave strictly according to a uniform pattern and act one-dimensionally – they will stagnate. Not only recognizing the differences between men and women but also constructively bringing them together is a cultural change and takes time. 

Equal treatment as a KPI

For this reason, one thing drives me: I want to achieve something for women. I want to use my experiences and position so that all of us women, but also men, are done with this bias and change something together. That is why I am involved as a mentor, so that I can support young women on their career path. And that is why I am with Avanade today. An organization that has not only written #breakthebias all over it, but thoroughly lives it. Here, I have “female hiring” as a KPI as part of my personal goals, equal to hard business numbers. Here, my (male) superior asks, “Why there was no woman among the candidates for a new management position?” And he does not do that just because Avanade has a policy that requires us to hire more women, but he asks because he genuinely cares and because it is important to him personally. There are several colleagues here who share the same goal with me: true equality and cooperation where it doesn’t matter if someone is diverse, male or female. 

Courageously seizing the opportunity

I am confident that the more women advance to management positions, the faster true equality will become the norm. Now is just the right time – with a spirit of the times that we must take advantage of, because circumstances can change very quickly, as we have experienced time and time again. We have more freedom than ever to initiate this change, and now it’s up to us and our courage.

On the road to equality, I honestly do not believe that I will actually live to see us reaching the finish line. But the effort for now is worth it – moving forward step by step.

Are you interested in a career in IT? Check out our career site and find your dream job.

Rita Blythe

Great perspective and thoughtful insights- thank you!  So many opportunities  for competent women may have played out differently if there had been advocates and a platform for change. Thankful to see change in action, producing great results. As a leader, I still do the gut check to make certain there are no assumptions of competence based on the obvious. Can’t help but remember, when we know better, we have an obligation to be better. 

July 5, 2022

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