I plan on being a tech-departing statistic.

Note: I graduated with my STEM degree in 2009 and started working full-time in the industry in 2010. I have been working on this post since 2014 off and on.

Being a woman in a STEM field is a beast.

This blog is about finances, not about career, though in reality, those two go hand in hand. Over the years that I’ve been writing this blog, people have occasionally commented on my seemingly low job satisfaction and not understood why I assume I won’t make good money forever.

I don’t know how many of my readers are in STEM or women, but for those who aren’t, there is systemic discrimination against women, undercompensation compared to men (I was reasonably fortunate with my compensation and was not underpaid until I took my most recent job), and little to no training for new managers, in addition to the high stress environment. The tech industry is a burn out recipe for any sane person (somehow other than my husband…), let alone a woman with one or more bad managers or coworkers.

On compensation: for comparison of AGI figures, when my husband and I first started dating, I outearned him by 10-20% for the first two years, but by the third year when we got married, he earned 70% more than me. That is controlling for two people of the same ethnicity, socioeconomic class growing up, education level, undergraduate program, and alma mater who worked at similarly sized, valued, and located companies. This year, two years since I last held my most recent job, he is on track to earn only just under 10% less than we did combined back in 2016. Granted, there is huge privilege in all of these numbers as our household income has been in the top 1-3% the whole time we’ve been together, even now, but that doesn’t negate the comparison in his earnings versus mine. To me, that makes it even worse because he is earning that much and I really doubt my income will ever recover from the poor job change back in 2015, if I do find another job in tech.

So yes, this industry pays well. Very well. But is it worth it beyond aggressively saving for financial freedom?

There is a statistic that 41% of women leave the tech industry within the first 10 years out of college. This is higher than the statistic for men – only 17% of men leave the tech industry within the first 10 years out of college.

I don’t blame them and I very likely plan to be one of the women who leave within the first 10 years. My female friends and I compare our savings plans, our exit strategies, and when we think we’ll leave, what the last straw will be. My male friends talk about the work they do, not the sexist comments and toxic work environments they’re in. My male friends rant about project deadlines and high work demands or coworkers refusing to work weekends.

Over the course of my career so far in the tech industry, I’ve had coworkers express an interest in sleeping with me or suggest that I sleep with another coworker; managers treat me differently because I am a woman. I’ve seen management by guilt and humiliation and other such toxic work environments, had coworkers not listen to me because I’m a woman let alone a young looking woman, and had coworkers repeatedly comment on my attire to the point that I stopped wearing feminine clothing, makeup, nail polish, accessories, etc. to work for months. I’ve missed important meetings because they happened over drinks. When the keg comes out, I go home, even if it’s the middle of the day. Whenever I would negotiate, the other side would assume I was bluffing. I had the same recruiter as a male friend at the same level and he had the complete opposite experience – the recruiter took him seriously the entire time and gave him far more money. This is my life and from talking to other women in my level, it’s normal. Do the women who get further ahead get lucky in their work environment or do they have a harder shell to ignore the tiny cuts? (My older friends who are still in tech say it’s both.)

I want to be financially independent so that I can some day quit the tech industry without ever worrying about money again.

My plan was to financially plan so that I can quit my job by my thirtieth birthday and be set for life, while career-wise working to build a career that I wouldn’t want to walk away from. I wish I could simply change companies and ditch the systemic issues in my industry. I was cautiously optimistic that my future Master’s degree will help me pivot to a less toxic subfield, but after the multi-month panic attack I had when it came time to look for a job, I’m unsure.

At the best of times, I’ve felt Othered in my job in that I don’t, for example, play video games outside of work. I don’t fit in. I don’t have my people.

Whenever I’ve complained about any of my comments in this post in the past, the feedback I usually get is:

a) The money is good, so you should take whatever crap people give you. Hah. That’s what my nest egg is for. So I don’t have to take the crap.

b) If you’re underpaid, just ask for more. A lot of studies have been done to show that if you control for job title, the wage gap is smaller. Those studies hide the fact that fewer women are at the higher levels where the men are making substantially more money.

c) Women ask for the sexism. My response to comments about my attire eventually became “I’ll only accept comments on my attire if you comment on [John]’s attire just as frequently as you comment on mine.”

d) You shouldn’t complain because women have these problems at lower earning jobs too. Sure, that also sucks.

I have always been a go-getter, an over achiever, a studious hard worker. I was an oddity – I loved coding from an early age and always wanted to work in this field. Coworkers were regularly intimidated by me in my early twenties, which really countered my looking young. Thankfully I’ve also always been a saver, as has my husband. I thought I was a career lifer, so I keep wanting to try just one more job to see if it might be better. But then the pain comes back. Somewhere along the way, I stopped being so much of a go-getter.

That’s the why behind my path to financial independence. I want freedom from working in the STEM field. Financial independence means figuring out who I am, letting me define myself as myself.

My offline friends say I’m happier now than I was in any of my jobs. They want this reduced stress life I have, too. They figure with the amount my husband is earning (ignoring the nest egg that I have…), why should I work too if it leaves me so dreadfully unhappy? So far, the best reasons I’ve come up with to go back to work are for better temperature control than our condo, so I would have my own health insurance, so I can make further contributions to my 401(k), and so I can earn money that is sourced by me by myself.

further reading: Cate Huston e.g. http://www.catehuston.com/blog/2016/09/15/real-talk-women-in-tech-and-money/

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44 thoughts on “I plan on being a tech-departing statistic.

  1. So sorry to hear you are going through this Leigh – it does suck and you are absolutely right. Working life is much easier for men -they are given so many more opportunities and rarely encounter discrimination or sexual harassment.

    I’m another woman in the tech arena who plans to make it out before 40! Although I work freelance now which is much nicer and has more freedom.

  2. Total solidarity – my industry (biglaw and related “high prestige” legal work) is pretty awful about sexism and diversity, but in a much more sneaky way (thanks to actually having a healthy awareness of employment discrimination law I suppose) that’s not obvious until one has been in one of the bad workplaces or on one of the bad teams for a while. I’m a <1 year biglaw attrition statistic myself, which means I definitely left sooner and essentially got pushed out a lot faster than I ever thought possible. It was bad times.

    The stories I hear coming out of tech are just so overt and awful that it makes me so mad. I manage to have an unusual amount of experience with employment discrimination law despite not being a specialist in that area, and in most instances, people construct complaints alleging discrimination by putting together a handful (generally just 2-3) of arguably discriminatory comments from their supervisors over a many-years long career, whereas it always sounds to me like tech presents that kind of evidence regularly on a weekly/monthly basis. It's awful!

    • Thanks Xin! I’m sorry you left biglaw so quickly, while you still had large student loans. I hope your new path is more enjoyable! When I left one of my jobs, I left all of my documentation behind but I had a two page long document of issues just with one manager.

  3. No advice!

    Without going into too much detail, this is related to an area that I know about for my work. As you know, you’re not crazy, and the environment has been getting worse, not better, for women over time, which is the opposite of pretty much any other industry. Which sucks.

    • Thanks! I love that you are researching stuff like this. I’ve heard from friends who did CS PhDs that grad school can be worse than industry because the more socially aware guys go into industry right away.

  4. Unfortunately, I hear this sorts of stories even from my MIL who worked at a public university in the tech department, though it was really limited to a specific few people. Maybe it’s because the job pays less than other tech jobs, but it also had great benefits and work life balance – and no kegs :)

  5. I work in a stem related job in academia and the University world is no different. Good luck with your future! Another thing we were just talking about today is how you grow up thinking all the senior women are just evil bitches and then you find yourself becoming one, because the anger and experiences culminate in a rage if you do stay in. All I want to say now to younger me is don’t buy in. Like your senior female colleagues.

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I definitely believe that you have to become one of those women in order to stay in. I don’t want to do that.

      • But thats kinda the point – they aren’t really the problem, they are just made out to be the problem. The actual problem is the structural sexism. I totally understand your need to leave, yet I also think we need some people to stay, or where does the change come from?

        • I agree – the actual problem is the structural sexism. I do think we need some people to stay for change to happen, but we also each first have a responsibility towards ourselves before others. I’m more valuable if I’m not burnt out. I hope some stay and it gets better, but I also don’t know what the answer is to get it to be better.

  6. Kegs at the office? There is a reasonable drinking culture, but i’ve been comfortable with it in most cases, meaning it has been in the realm of reasonable, and nearly exclusively after hours with rare exceptions (holiday party). I also don’t feel pressured to participate.

    I feel like I’m currently in a really supportive environment as far as gender goes, and I’m not in the specific kind of tech area that is most notorious for the worst of sex (i.e. comp sci/internet and startup type stuff). I still think a nest egg escape hatch is comforting.

    • Yup, kegs at the office! My last two groups had them. Also, lots of pressure to drink. (My husband was surprised you were surprised at the kegs!) I’m glad you are in a really supportive group right now!

      • I’m sorry your in this situation, but generally glad you’ve been able to create security and freedom for yourself. Of course you don’t have to stay and take a toxic culture for any of the reasons anyone tries to give you! You are free to pursue a life that will make you fulfilled and happy!

        • Thanks SP! Part of my qualms of what to do at the moment include wondering if I would make different decisions right now if I wasn’t married and if so, what those would be instead. The other concern is figuring out what in life would make me fulfilled and happy! I do miss the parts of my job I was good at, like organizing things that were bigger than just me and having an externally productive looking week.

    • Thank you! <3 I am so happy escaping early is possible too. So many women spend plenty of their high income, which worries me because then finding an escape hatch is harder.

      So hideous!!!! I have had so many crying/upset moments over that gap. Like why is he so much more valuable than me??? And then people would tell me that I still made plenty of money, so I should not worry about the gap. I'm like wtf, yes, I am thankful for what I do make being great money, but why is he so much more valuable??? When I made more, I didn't make that much more. I remember when I met Bridget the first time, and I said oh my boyfriend is making $X more than me where X was the result of that 70% and that didn't feel like the same money anymore and she was like no, it isn't, that's insane.

      On top of that, the last company I worked for refused to pay market rate because it wasn't sustainable, yet my husband's income has increased 20-30% a year for the last three years? So I'm glad I got out of there, but really feel like taking that job ruined my career network and income trajectory.

  7. I’ve been pretty lucky in my work environments in that nobody has been overtly sexual or discriminatory. It’s mostly more subtle stuff, minor enough that I have to consider whether it’s real or in my head, which can be it’s own mindf*ck sometimes. My friends in non-CS areas of STEM have had it a lot worse, though, with married clients actively hitting on them, overt “who did you have sex with to get this job” type of comments, etc.

    That said, I’ve always had feelings of unease in tech culture. For me, I think periods of hard work / long hours are fine, but the bias toward overconfidence, constant pressure cooker expectations, and everything being a “passion” just makes me feel at odds. I’ll probably make it to the 10-year mark, but definitely plan to be out by 40.

    • Sometimes I feel like the minor stuff where you have to consider whether it’s in your head or real is worse. Where you have to question is this actually worth worrying about or was it just me? The worst is when you complain to someone and then they convince you it’s all in your head after you finally decided it wasn’t!!!

      40 is a great goal too! Definitely easier to hit and more sustainable and honestly, I think everyone in tech should financially prepare to retire by 45 at the very latest before ageism kicks in too badly. And you should be able to come out feeling more accomplished in your career, like Tanja did: https://ournextlife.com/2018/05/02/retire-even-earlier/

  8. Woman in STEM field here…22 years in. I’ve been comparatively lucky. I felt very little discrimination for the first 10 years of my career. Then I got married and had children. My spouse also worked at the same company and managers assumed that I was going to be the “trailing spouse” even though at the time I was in a higher level job and made more than my spouse. As soon as I had my first child, the trend reversed.* After my second maternity leave I was actually pulled out of a outside sales role into inside sales because (true quote) “I thought you’d be happy to have more time at home with your baby.” Can you imagine someone saying that to a man with a straight face? No way in hell. Now it was in 2009 and there were many layoffs so I was lucky to be still employed but it stung.

    *One of my male mentors said that once he had kids, he was seen as less of a flight risk and also got promoted very quickly thereafter. My husband is very very talented, but his big promotions happened after having children.

    Things got a lot better once my kids were out of diapers and my spouse started working for another company. I went back into bigger commercial roles pretty quickly but it was just very odd to experience as I’ve always gotten top performer ratings. Those years when I was having children (I have 2) really did open my eyes to the assumptions people make. Before that, I was very firmly parked in the hit your metrics and everything will work out camp. For the most part, that is still true, but it does seem that in order to excel you must be extraordinary, where that isn’t always required of a guy to advance.

    We have a fair amount of female leaders where I work (in Chemicals) but they work their butts off.

    I wish my spouse made 70% more than me. He probably should with the job he’s in but he ended up going to a much smaller company. I’d love to try something else at some point as there is a limit to how high I’d want to go at a big company like mine as it really is all consuming 2 levels above me.

    • I’m glad you were so lucky for the first 10 years! My luck lasted for about three years. There was some crap in there but it was offset by good managers. I’m sorry it got worse for a while when your kids were young. Thanks for sharing your story! This year, my spouse will make 2.5x what I made back in 2016. It is nice that it keeps our savings rate strong, but I do wish the wage gap was smaller.

  9. So in summary, having children is seen as a good thing for a man, bad for a woman. Many employers assume that children will make a man buckle down at work harder to be a better breadwinner because he has more responsibility now. They assume the reverse for women….that children will detract from a woman’s work performance. Insanely unfair.

    • I’ve heard that about children – super unfair. We don’t plan to have children, so I’m less concerned, but still worry that it will affect me anyways since I’m of prime childbearing age.

  10. Sigh. I’m sorry you had to go through this. I am so glad you wrote this post, though. What an utterly important thing that needs to be said over and over until we, as a society, actually list. Thank you for that.

    • Thanks Penny! <3 I’m so glad I’m anonymous here or I never would have had the guts to actually publish this post. I hope it helps someone and I hope other women in tech are also high savers so that they have a nest egg escape hatch. I’ve appreciated the “me too” and “you’re not crazy” comments this post has brought!

  11. That sounds so, so rough. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that. I’ve only ever had slight issues with random appearance comments, which bothers me enough, so I can’t imagine what you had to go through. I’m probably going to be in academia for the long haul, in my STEM field, but I got lucky in that my department and colleagues are really great. I suppose it’s worse in industry? I have a bunch of female grad school friends who are working at the big tech companies, and never really heard them complain, but maybe I never asked…

    If you’re happier now, that’s awesome! I used to feel like you, that I had to had to work, but now I’m of the opinion that if you have the luxury, why not enjoy life a little more…

    • Thanks Jess! I still remember a manager who was on the same keel as my manager checking me out as I walked down the hallway and what can I do about it? I’m glad you found a great department – that’s really what makes it breaks the experience and honestly your entire career as the stats show. I’m not surprised your friends don’t complain. I’ve complained to some friends and they just brush it off as being normal and tell me I’m too sensitive… It’s definitely at the big tech companies – look at the big lawsuits against them in the news.

      It’s definitely weird in my head to tell myself I don’t have to work. My dad worked way past his magic number, for example, because he found work fun, until he didn’t. Life is super enjoyable this way! I’m still trying to decide if I want to try one more job (also so I can complete my MS) or whether I’m done and want to pivot entirely.

  12. Geez I’m so sorry you had to go through that! I didn’t know Tech was like that for women. That really doesn’t sound like a good work environment. Good that you are out now or at least you have a hiatus. That’s hard when you know your husband and you have same qualifications but he makes much more :(

    • Thanks friend!! <3 This was such a hard post to write, but I’m really glad I did. I believe you can find good pockets and if you’re resilient enough and have good luck early on, you’ll be fine. Once you’re senior enough, the BS gets better. It can just be so hard to get to that point. The wage gap with my husband is so hard. That caused so many tears for a while. Now I’m lucky in that we still have a great savings rate just with his income, so even if I never went back to work, we would still be FI in about three years.

  13. I’m so sorry about your experience. Sounds like the culture is terrible. I was horrified by an article on Silicone Valley Tech that painted a really stark picture for women. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t for joining in with the boys.
    I work in a female dominated field. Funnily, most of the guys get brownie points for being a dude because they’re less ‘bitchy’ and more ‘chill’.

    • Thanks, J! I can’t read the articles because then I start to feel like my bad experience wasn’t bad enough because other people have had it worse, but that doesn’t make my experience not bad enough to leave. Female dominated fields seem to have different problems. I’m glad the guys get brownie points there!

    • I’m not glad :( Male nurses get promoted faster than female nurses and get higher pay; male elementary school teachers get promoted faster and then make higher pay. There is no field in which women can win, it seems.

  14. So, so sorry this has been your experience. I work in the defense industry but social sciences and although I’ve heard some horror stories it hasn’t been as bad for me and I think the overall environment is somewhat less toxic, at least. The upside of your saving-ness and field is the ability to really save a large percentage of income but as you say if you don’t do that right out the gate things can be difficult. (And who hasn’t done stupid things with money right out the gate? Certainly not me, at least!) It’s interesting with the MeToo movement that these types of banal, everyday, grinding horror stories are getting more widespread recognition… hopefully recognition ultimately creates solution but it’s obviously intolerable for women in the field now and expecting them to shoulder the “being a token” burden for everyone else seems… rough.

    • Thanks C! I definitely worry more about the women who choose to not save a huge % of their income out of the gate. I’m glad your experience has been less toxic! I hope we can all keep talking about this and that men will start to understand too. Expecting women to take on the token burden is insane to me. It’s always the people I’ve disliked about my jobs.

  15. I’ve had many similar experiences though I’ve been in the industry for 10+ years. I guess when it didn’t get better and actually got worse as I advanced, it was pretty depressing. I also had an “accidentally sabbatical” when my job screwed me over.

    I wrote an article about it https://medium.com/@melissamcewen/i-just-dont-want-to-be-a-software-developer-anymore-a371422069a1

    And met a lot of people through it that had similar experiences. Oh and then there were the sexist and gaslighting comments I got – men saying I must have been bad at my job, sexism isn’t real. Obviously don’t listen to those.

    But even more I got comments from other women who wanted to leave and couldn’t. You’re super lucky here on that front so I say go for it! You shouldn’t have to spend 5 days a week in a place you hate if you can afford not to.

    • Thanks Melissa for sharing a bit of your story too. I enjoyed your article. I’m sorry you found it got worse as you advanced. The women wanting to leave and feeling like they can’t is why I think it’s so especially important for women to be financially savvy in their twenties! Unfortunately women don’t always get the same education about finances. I know many of my female friends in tech delight in spending the high income, just like the men do.

  16. I love the honesty of this. Too many are telling us younger women that it isn’t that bad for woman anymore. The other day a recruiter told me I’d probably encounter more issues because I’m a millennial and we have poor worl ethic. Lol .

    I’m currently enrolled in a coding bootcamp and plan to get a MS in HCI in a couple years, but I wouldn’t be shocked if I become one of these statistics. Every black/latina woman I’ve spoken to in tech has some kind of horror story. I keep telling myself if things don’t work out I can always freelance.

    • I love that you’re enrolled in a coding boot camp because coding really is awesome and fun! I hate it when people say it isn’t that bad anymore, falsely leading young women into a career field that isn’t prepared for them. I do hope it works out well for you! It can be a really rewarding career.

  17. I found your blog through Sherry of Save.Spend.Splurge. I can relate so much to your struggle working in a STEM field. I, too, work in a STEM field — technology and freelance between contracts with enterprise employers. It’s tough to keep moving forward knowing you can only go so high in an organization. That is my main reason for picking up other skills [conpywriting, content creating, marketing] and freelancing so I can become financially independent. I love my work, but the environment is enough to make me want to give up.

    Kudos to you, me, and all the other ladies working in STEM.

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