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Thoughts on being A Woman in Technology

Today I attended the California Diversity Council’s Women in Leadership Symposium. To be honest, I was sort of dreading it. I’m not usually one to talk about being A Woman in Technology or one to take up the torch of sisterhood, or to think of myself as blazing a trail, carving a path, cracking any glass, or anything like that. I often think that the best way to be a woman in technology is just to BE a woman who happens to be in technology. But after today, which was much better than I expected it to be, I left with a lot on my mind.

There’s no question that I have always been sort of a guy’s girl. I’m a big, Montana-bred, no-makeup (off-camera, anyway) kind of girl who carries a knife, knows how to ride a horse, and prefers trucks to cars. Before I became one of the few female attendees of conferences like MacWorld Expo, E3, and CES, I was one of the few women in the press room after football games, basketball games, and golf tournaments. Being a female sports reporter felt a lot more isolating than being a female tech reporter. The vibe was so much more macho, the air so charged with testosterone. Covering football as a woman is a particularly hostile endeavor: at least I might actually have played basketball, golf, or tennis.

Being a woman in tech seems, at first blush, a lot more fun. A lot of geeks flat-out worship girls, and girls who know things about computers take on a goddess/hot-elf/fantasy Geek Woman vibe that’s kind of hilarious and flattering. Technology itself is equal opportunity — if you can learn it, you can do it, and if you can talk the talk, you can talk your way into some of the clubs, no outstanding physical skills required.

But the geeky girl-worship doesn’t change some of the fundamental truths about being female and covering technology. You’re still thought of as vaguely alien, even if you’re beloved. No technical mistake will go unpunished, because you’re expected to not know what you’re talking about. And there’s never a time when you’re not being parsed more for your looks than your knowledge. And then, frankly, I’m still a woman in corporate America, and that’s got its own set of enraging double standards, uncomfortable boys club moments, and the nagging feeling that I’m never doing quite enough.

What I realized today is that I’m a lot more sensitive about being A Woman in Technology since I’ve had a child. My life is more rigid: I hardly ever go to evening events, because I want to spend time with my son. I leave every other day at 4:30 on the dot to pick him up from daycare on the other side of the bridge, and I know I’m unbelievably lucky that my husband and I can alternate these early departure days without drawing managerial ire. I’m not doing much on the weekend other than juggling kids’ birthday parties and naptime and the various friends and grandparents and parties and stir-crazy toddler needs. I’m not Web 2.0 networking, in a nutshell, except on Twitter.

I go from the rush of mornings at home (getting us all up, dressed, fed, and out the door with a minimum of oatmeal-covered shirts, meltdowns, and last-minute pooping) to the rush of the workday (six shows a week, with whatever media appearances, meetings, and show fill-ins might crop up) to the rush of the evening (dinner, what the HELL to have for DINNER?) to the almost thrilling release of collapsing in a pile of cats and wine to watch “Lost” or “Battlestar Galactica” or whatever we’ve TiVo’d on Food Network. And that usually involves multitasking of the laundry-folding or dish-washing variety. I’m tired. I never rest. I worry that I’m failing, and I’ve spent almost all of 2008 over-compensating for that feeling. At today’s symposium, there was a discussion of work-life balance, and the overwhelming consensus was that the thing we do, we Women, is stretch ourselves too thin, fail to set boundaries, and fail at saying no.

So, 2009 is about saying no. I’m fattening up, in terms of my time, my boundaries, and my work-life balance. I’m going to spend less time angry and more time editing out the things that make me angry. I’m re-prioritizing, and yes, some beloved activities, like Buzz Out Loud and who knows what else, may end up by the wayside. But trust me: only good can come of a happier, healthier, more productive and focused Molly (even the rants).

And if, along the way, I push through a ceiling made of glass or inspire a girl who’s younger than me or get myself a mentor or any of the other things that Women in Leadership are supposed to do, I won’t deny that part of myself at all. I’m grateful to the Women in Leadership for the reminder that I am not the only one doing all this ridiculous working and living and child-rearing and stressing. I’m grateful for the permission to make things easier on myself, and I plan to take it and not let it go.

UPDATE: After reading your comments, I’ve realized that the last few paragraphs of this post (boundaries, saying no more often, stretching ourselves too thin) are more “thoughts on being a [parent] [grownup] [human] in [California] [America] [the world].” That’s why I usually avoid the “woman in x” self-labeling — on some level, we’re all in this together, right?

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