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Women Who Tech Are Dangerous: Portraits and Stories in the Age of #metoo

All portraits and interviews by John Davidson

johndavidson-photography.com

Sara Inés Calderon

Sara Inés Calderon

 
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Sara Inés Calderon

Job Title: Lead React Native Developer

Years working in the tech industry: 3

On early expectations — and later reality:

My parents are first and second generation Mexican American professionals, with several graduate degrees between them. I was raised to believe that if I worked hard, I could achieve my goals, that education is a pathway to success. My father, in particular, raised me to believe that I was equal to anybody else, regardless of education, socio-economic status, or gender. It was not until I hit the workforce that I fully realized that the world was not always going to rise to meet my father’s standards.

On mentors:

Most of the mentors I’ve worked with have been men. That said, in technology I found it very difficult to sustain mentorship relationships with any of the men with whom I worked, which is how I came to be involved with Women Who Code. Through this organization I’ve found friends, friendships, hackathon & open source collaborators, advice, encouragement, pats on the back, etc. I learned from the ladies I met in Austin tech that “mentors” don’t always mean that someone knows more than you and they teach you things. Sometimes mentors are just the people who help you keep your head on straight when it’s spinning too fast from some sexist or racist shit that went down at your job and you are at a loss when it comes to what is next. Mentorship can be a group of people who want you to be successful even though you’re interviewing for jobs where men are staring at your breasts for a full hour or speaking over you for the entirety of your technical interview. So yes, a handful of other women have been mentors and role models for me in my career, and although it would have been great to find a woman in a professional context to mentor me, women would have had to be in the industry long enough to gain seniority and security for that to happen — which is not happening, and why we’re having this conversation in the first place.

On other women providing inspiration:

My friend Rosie Castro has been a great inspiration to me, modeling how women can work daily to help lift up other women, regardless of their particular professions. I have been friends with her for many years and she has consistently been very encouraging, while also giving me advice and pointers on how to be my best personal and professional self. She’s definitely been one of the voices in my head during the low lows helping me realize that, it’s never as bad as you think it is, and that tomorrow you get up and try again. She also taught me that you really have to be the change — if you want to see more women succeed, you have to do whatever you can every day to make that happen.

I’ve worked in other places where women in positions of “power” were ultimately overwritten by the men they worked for, and it showed, they were basically go-fors (gophers) for men. Both of these scenarios taught me that seeing women in positions of power, and women actually being in positions of power are two distinct scenarios.

On working for a company that was women owned, or where a woman was the company President or CEO:

I have worked in places where women were high up in the chain of command. One instance in particular stands out that, where even though [a woman] was in charge, she didn’t really take charge and let things happen to her, rather than making them happen the way she wanted to. I think after I left the company she may have grown into that role, but it was strange to listen to someone with, ostensibly, authority share that she felt like she had none. I’ve worked in other places where women in positions of “power” were ultimately overwritten by the men they worked for, and it showed, they were basically go-fors (gophers) for men. Both of these scenarios taught me that seeing women in positions of power, and women actually being in positions of power are two distinct scenarios.

On uneven playing fields:

I can’t say I have been passed over for a particular position because of my gender; rather, I have seen over and over that men are given the benefit of the doubt for their ability to learn new things, where I am expected to already know them in order to demonstrate my worth. It’s a common phenomenon where men are judged for their potential, but women are judged for their experience.

On the value of support groups:

Groups like Women Who Code (and other gender/race-specific professional support organizations) are, ultimately, a temporary solution to the problem of rampant gender bias in industries like technology — but they are essential. They provide professional development, mentoring, kinship, support, access to resources — in short everything you need to be successful as a professional. That said, women alone cannot run the tech industry. White men alone cannot run the tech industry, so these groups are ultimately stop gaps in the road that should lead to equality.

On whether the #metoo movement has been empowering:

The #MeToo movement has definitely made it clear in the professional world that certain behaviors have heavy repercussions. And while I think that having that back-up is really important, and it’s nice to know that any problems I have will be taken seriously, what has really emboldened me to push back and speak up is working at a place where I am valued, respected and appreciated as an individual — where my gender does not play a role in my professional evaluation. Experiencing that, and really growing and thriving as a result of that environment, is what has truly augmented my intolerance for inappropriate behavior.

I’m very honest with young women who are interested in technology about what they will encounter: I tell them there are a lot of places that are fucked up, but if they focus on their goals and work hard, eventually they can have very meaningful and fulfilling careers...

Advice for young women entering the tech industry:

I think that young women, see themselves as individuals, as I did — and therefore expect to be treated accordingly. I think they recognize in an intellectual sense that there is a disparity, but when they experience discrimination in the first person it causes a variety of unfortunate reactions.

I’m very honest with young women who are interested in technology about what they will encounter: I tell them there are a lot of places that are fucked up, but if they focus on their goals and work hard, eventually they can have very meaningful and fulfilling careers — — and what’s more they will be able to make enough money, and have enough experience in a high demand industry, to pick and choose the amount of bullshit they have to put up with. I hate that I have to say that to people, but I think it’s better than telling them everything will be OK — because in my experience working with women in technology these past years, there’s always something that’s going to be uncomfortable, at the very least.

On the ‘diversity hire’:

Oftentimes, I think the perception is if you add a “diversity“ hire to the mix, problems will be fixed by themselves. Unfortunately all this does is make everyone very uncomfortable. I would urge anyone thinking about fundamentally changing their teams to also think about how they need to change their processes.

A really good example that I have encountered is when you’re trying to tell someone that they did a good job, the only things that come to mind are either sports metaphors (knocked it out of the park), or violence-related metaphors (you’re killing it). When you go out to celebrate, do you go get beer, or go golfing, or what? These are just small examples to emphasize how these things are more complex than a symbolic hire that you’re setting up to fail because they have no support in the environment you’ve always had, and that you have no interest in changing.

On the generational divide amongst men — and the work still to be done:

There’s absolutely a generational divide in mens’ attitudes towards their female counterparts. In my experience older men have more “dated” (read: sexist) attitudes towards women that vary from “sweetheart”/”cutie”-type patronizing attitudes (I once worked with someone who always asked his female counterparts to fetch faxes for him or look up personal errand info for him) to straight up dismissal (refusing to work with women, or very publicly not taking them seriously).

That said, even amongst younger generations, the attitude towards female colleagues can often by characterized by outward/superficial appearances of feminism/equality, but in a work situation these men will still dismiss a female colleague’s feedback, form male-only alliances or promote each other over other more, or equally qualified, women.

If men want to stop living in a fantasy world, and speak up when a man is given credit for a woman’s idea in meetings, tell their male colleagues that those comments are not appropriate, and try to hire women themselves, that would make a huge impact.

Over to you — on the role men must play in raising up:

If the shock from men at the #metoo movement has shown me anything, it’s that most men live a partially blind life. On a daily basis they are blind to women being ignored in meetings, jokes being made about how women look or speak or behave, women being treated like objects in bars and the street, and generally choosing not to see that they live in a different universe than the women with whom they share most of their public spaces. If men want to stop living in a fantasy world, and speak up when a man is given credit for a woman’s idea in meetings, tell their male colleagues that those comments are not appropriate, and try to hire women themselves, that would make a huge impact. I do not feel that the burden of changing sexual politics in tech is mine. There are ways to actively seek out female developers, write codes of conduct and procedures in a way that invite everyone to have input and be inclusive, and create opportunities for women to be successful.

 
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