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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

Martha Czernuszenko

Martha Czernuszenko

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Martha Czernuszenko

Job Title: Student, University of Texas at Austin

Majors: Management Information Systems and Canfield Business Honors Program.

Minors: Computer Science, Design Strategies, and Entrepreneurship

After-school programs:

Texas Convergent , Director of Incubator and Executive Board; #BUILTBYGIRLS Ambassador; Texas Orange Jackets (UT’s Oldest Women Honorary Service Organization); Generation Citizen(2016–2018 — Co-founder of UT chapter)

On beginnings:

I grew up in humid Houston, Texas, but I’m also a Polish citizen. Every year growing up, my parents encouraged me to apply to the “Gifted Talented” Education Program (a Texas program that is “only for children with the potential for performing at a remarkably high level of accomplishment”). Every year I failed the exam.

The University of Texas is the trifecta for me — an intersection of nature, government, and of course, technology. Looking back, I don’t think I’ll ever find enough words of gratitude for the sacrifices my parents and grandparents have made. Dziękuję wam za wszystko.

The numbers game — on being the female minority in computer science and entrepreneurship classes:

I try not to count [the number of women in class…] because often the numbers are a bit depressing (if improving), and I’m trying to not see myself as a statistic. I’m very fortunate that there is some diversity in my MIS classes. However, in my computer science, entrepreneurship, my friends’ engineering classes, and tech-based extracurriculars, this is not the case.

Overall, the experience in my classes are not too bad, but there are always some hiccups. There are times in class when I might say the right answer, the professor just nods, and then calls on a male student who says the exact same thing and is congratulated. Other times, my friends and I have talked about small comments in group projects such as “Oh, she won’t know X computer science concept” etc.

I do believe that The University of Texas is making some progress in this area. In Spring 2019, I’m in a first-time offered Women in Entrepreneurship class! In this class, I’m learning how to overcome common obstacles that women face such as gender role stereotyping and the imposter syndrome. Also, the McCombs School of Business hosted the first national women case competition since only 29% of McCombs women participate in a competition.

What’s on the syllabus? On whether gender equality and inclusivity are part of the classroom conversation:

Gender equality and inclusivity is a conversation in class, in the hallways, and in really tough situations.

In one of my entrepreneurship classes, my professor gave each student a face-down article and told us to read it. Once we flipped it over, we realized that the article was about funding NEXTGEN JANE, a women’s healthcare company specifically about their tampon product. The room filled with a shock of silence of a male professor talking about such a “taboo” topic. Then our professor said something along the lines of “You might have felt shocked, disgusted, and awkward. Now imagine having to pitch to investors who had the same reactions that you had. Imagine having to pitch to investors who don’t believe in your product because you are only capturing half of the market. That’s over 100 M users.”

I really urge colleges to include negotiation workshops and “how to start these conversations.” From my own experiences, I’ve had times where I know that I’m being underpaid for a technical offer, but often have this fear that I’ll lose the offer if I say something...

The avenues and resources to achieve equal pay isn’t talked about as much. I really urge colleges to include negotiation workshops and “how to start these conversations.” From my own experiences, I’ve had times where I know that I’m being underpaid for a technical offer, but often have this fear that I’ll lose the offer if I say something, and wonder whether I should just be grateful to receive such an offer.

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On ‘fitting the perfect model’ — and a source of inspiration:

I really admire Reshma Saujani’s work with Girls Who Code and her philosophy that girls are socialized to want to be perfect, not brave. Reshma noticed during her campaign route that computer science classrooms lacked girls and she started a nonprofit to increase diversity in computer science education. I really admire her ability to take action in a new domain of technology.

After watching her TED talk, her philosophy that women are socialized is everywhere in a college setting. For example, often times when companies come to recruit from colleges, they push a message that accepting a position at their firm will fill some future mold of a perfect woman having it all — a great career, love and a family. While I advocate for many of these resources, the way the message is framed at universities is mildly toxic. I’m 20. Personally, I’m not really looking to fit some perfect mold yet (if ever). I just want to be put in settings where I have to be brave by innovating and being challenged.

On ‘bro culture’ (and its facilitators):

Ugh yes. It’s really evident in my social life and extracurriculars. A lot of times the bro-culture is exemplified through small comments such as “If a girl was on my team and recruited by a diversity program, I would really question if she is actually capable of doing the work here,” or “So do you actually know how to code?”

One group thought it would be funny to pitch a ring that would blow-up women that they slept with. The worse part was that the leadership team let them finish their pitch...

I think one of the most toxic situations I experienced was in an exercise where groups were supposed to create an imaginary product and pitch it. One group thought it would be funny to pitch a ring that would blow-up women that they slept with. The worse part was that the leadership team let them finish their pitch, and kind of blew it off by stating that next time the pitch needs to be more appropriate. In that moment, I was singled out — I was one of two women in the room.

More optimistically, sharing my experiences or calling out acts of microaggression has led some guy friends to start standing up in these situations. Even if I’m one of the few women in the room, I’m in settings with some of the future of Silicon Valley, and they might start some change in Silicon Valley.

On finding your cohort — through peer groups:

I’m involved with Texas Orange Jackets, Kode With Klossy, and #BUILTBYGIRLS.

Texas Orange Jackets is UT’s oldest women’s honorary service organization, where we serve as the official hosts of UT and engage with the UT community through leadership, scholarship, and a yearlong project. I’m learning so much through a diverse setting where women are designing sustainable infrastructures in Thailand, ensuring history documents aren’t lost in the past, and working at the Texas Capitol.

#BUILTBYGIRLS is a platform that connects young women to tech professionals! I’m involved in the community as a Southern ambassador as well as an advisee, so I connect women with different roles and perspectives in the technology industry! #BUILTBYGIRLS is important because it gives a platform to have conversations about technology with people across the nation.

On Koding With Klossy, and breaking gender stereotypes:

I’ve been involved with teaching the program in Austin and Chicago, and I’m a former Kode With Klossy student.

I think one of the awesome parts of the program is being in a room of girls who represent, but also who don’t represent what the media shows as women in tech. Often in movies that I watched growing up, the “Hacker Gal” tended to wear dark hoodies and was introverted. In these programs such as Kode With Klossy and Girls Who Code, our students don’t have to feel to conform to a typical “Silicon Valley Bro”, they can truly be themselves, whether that’s in a colorful dress or a dark hoodie.

On the project title, Women Who Tech Are Dangerous:

I absolutely love it. Unfortunately, a common piece of advice given to a lot of women entering the workforce is to “Never cry on the job”, but this project’s title is edgy, fueling energy that I shouldn’t be afraid or worried about the workforce. We aren’t fragile. Denice Frohman once said that “All the women I know are perennials, marigolds, daffodils — soft things that refuse to die.” We are here to not only stay in tech, but revolutionize it — no matter the adversity.

On finding a place of belonging:

I didn’t start coding till my senior year of high school. It’s never too late or too early to start. If you want to be in tech, don’t doubt your experiences. You belong in tech.

Ingrid Vanderveldt

Ingrid Vanderveldt

Grace Lanni

Grace Lanni