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/