By Audrey Quinn
Posting in Cities
The career-versus-family conundrum covers up deeper issues for women in the workplace says this tech industry maven.
A new phrase lit up the Twitter-verse this month when Kara Rota, a rising presence in the New York City tech scene, posted the query: “How do we mentor girls in a post-'having it all' world?”
I tracked down Ms. Rota, Director of Editorial & Partnerships for Cookstr and board member of Girls in Tech NYC, for an interview near her Tribeca office.
Her Twitter comment referenced the conversation struck this summer by Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlantic article on the struggle for women to balance careers and family.
Ms. Rota says her generation of career women needs to address issues beyond that particular struggle.
“I think that the assumption is that women have made so many corporate achievements that now it's all about, 'Women are holding themselves back by still wanting to have babies,'” she told me over coffee. “I think that conversation artificially puts the onus back on women to just figure it out. That's really ignorant of the amount of structural change that still needs to happen.”
Here are some of the advances she'd like to see to foster women in her own industry. The technology sector has perhaps the most obvious gender gap of any progressive field.
Acknowledge the need for work-life balance
“I think we really have to change what it means to work full time, on a really fundamental level,” Ms. Rota says. That goes beyond just making time for parenting, she says, but whatever else is central to employee's lives.
For her it's not about making jobs easier, but creating a culture of trust in how a worker carves out her hours. When it comes to spending time not at work, she says, “The 'why' has to be taken out of it. When you leave the office and you have to give a 'because,' that's an excuse.” Instilling more flexible work hours would make tech careers more appealing to individuals, both male and female, who are wary of sacrificing all other pursuits in the name of their job.
Teach more girls how to code
Ms. Rota sees the shortage of women with technical skills as one of the greatest roadblocks to equality in the tech industry. Here's a recent report from Forbes:
According to Reuters, 30% of the 450 American tech executives polled said their IT groups have no women at all in management positions. What’s more, when the same group of executives was asked whether women were underrepresented, roughly one half said no.
“There's this psychological block for many women with coding,” she says, “I think a lot of it is just cultural.” But once that skill is mastered, she says, it opens countless other doors in terms of programming, management, and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Plus, she sees deeper implications of knowing how to code. “I think that having skills that are extremely marketable puts you in a position of power. Anything that drives self-esteem and confidence especially in young women is really vital right now.”
Present tech as a creative industry
“There are all kinds of jobs in tech that fit the sociable, creative strengths we typically associate with women,” Ms. Rota says. She names user interface design as an example.
“Selling technology as a creative enterprise could help interest the next generation of workers. All of us like to build things and see that to fruition, it's such human nature. Whether that's making dinner or building a house, there's so much reward in that. And I think that's why many people want to become [web] developers, to build something beautiful.”
Ms. Rota says that many young women entering tech struggle with self-advocacy. “'How do I speak up for myself in a way that's proactive?'” she remembers wondering. “How do I ask for a raise, how do I ask for a proper title?'” Acknowledging such uncertainties can feel even more dis-empowering, she says, and that's where having a mentor can mean all the difference for advancing your career.
Especially at start-ups, she says. Ms. Rota says she's been extremely fortunate in her career at Cookstr, but for many young workers, “When you're working at a start-up you have to make sacrifices at the expense of the company.” She says a mentor can help young women in tech recognize which equities are worth asking for.
We may be post this summer's can-women-have-it-all discussion, but with due attention to issues such as these raised by Ms. Rota, I'd like to believe professional women are truly just pre-'having it all.'
Photo: Kara Rota at a recent Girls in Tech event
Sep 16, 2012
We all have our dreams and goals. Hopefully they're a blend of great relationships, a decent roof over our heads and a couple bucks in the bank. Now all we see is people wanting stuff. Are they happier? Loads of debt they'll never pay off. Constant stress over how they'll pay for stuff they never needed but wanted. Invest in things that give us long term enjoyment. A home we really can afford. A car we're willing to drive for a decade or longer and relationships that can last a lifetime. Now that's what I call having it all. Too bad this value died decades ago. Most people have debt - just make sure the debt doesn't own you/us/me.
My neighborhood has very few greedy people. In fact, it is almost a utopia. We do not need gates, security guards, etc etc adlib. Everyone knows everyone else, even their name. Most folks are either retired or have a job doing something useful. None I know went in over their heads.Our homes are older, small, but well kept. The homes were built on the sandy, rugged soil not suitable for cultivation. The community was founded in 1686. That is a long time for an "ownership society" to exist. We must be doing something right. The people who got bailed out generally live in "gated" communities, would not give their neighbor the time of day, and trade shares for a living. They bought during a period of relatively low rates and went in over their heads. Bernanke reset rates at zero to save them. Some of the millionaire bankers got outright grants from the government (that is-us).These are the people I'm talking about, not the people they took advantage of. Sorry, I must have miscommunicated something. When I first bought a home Paul Volcker was fed chairman. He slew the inflation dragon. More recently he assisted the Obama Administration in stopping the big banks from investing in hedge funds and other risky investments. He was head of the President's Economic Advisory Board for 3 years ending his term in 2011. I suggest a return in Volcker's direction to limit overconsumption and enhance sustainability. It does not benefit me to have an overinflated house value. All that does is raises property taxes and insurance costs. The young and un/underemployed would be better off if they were able to afford food, clothing, and shelter. Lowering interest rates to encourage borrowing to buy something worth less than its value when interest rates inevitably rise is extremely dangerous. A job that pays worthless paper is worse than no job. No job is worse than a job that actually pays wages which can be saved and used later. We need to focus on sustainable employment. The current economic environment is not sustainable in the long term. You cannot print your way out of a monetary crisis. Sometimes a little deflation is a good thing. The initial pain is more than compensated for by the later rewards. I would like to end this diatribe by noting the great website on recipes Ms Rota is involved in running. It has some very helpful information. Seems to me some young women are really capable of having it all, even nowadays. "You go, Ms Kara Rota!"
I never "had it all". I never wanted to "have it all". All I wanted in life was to live within my means and save enough so I could invest in safe investments and live out my retirement in peace and security. Now that I have supposedly achieved my goals the federal reserve decides to lower interest rates to zero to bail out those who lived outside their means trying to "have it all". I and any others "in my boat" are now paying for the irresponsible ones. It is ironic, they had me coming with an 8% mortgage, now that its paid off(by me) I get 0% on my savings account. Either this or gamble in the markets (check out 1972, 1980, 2000, and 2008 to see what rewards this can get you. The federal reserve got me coming and going. If you want to rein in unbridled development and wasteful spending, raise rates so our youth have an incentive to "save for a rainy day".Saving limits consumption which benefits the whole world.
There are tens of millions of Americans who would welcome that dilemma; but there are no jobs. Being creative with technology usually means fewer employment opportunities.
When do we start moving beyond platitudes and get down to the hard details? Work/life balance is an issue for most people because they think "balance" is a 50/50 proposition. The reality is that most everyone decides for themselves (intentionally or not) what that balance is. How much of yourself do you want to give to work, how much to your personal life. The balance that seems perfectly reasonable to one person is unreasonable to someone else. The expectation that corporations, governments, or any other entity is somehow supposed to provide each of us with a work environment that exactly suits our personal view of "balance" is ridiculous, and really nothing more than an excuse for our not figuring it out for ourselves. I find this to be a pervasive attitude (about many things) in our society today - a highly ego-centric worldview that assumes organizations must accommodate our individual desires and perceived needs.
I agree with the idea that tech careers, and all of STEM for that matter, should be presented as a creative field, as well as a one requiring logic and reasoning. As a female mathematician (in training, I'm still an undergrad) I fail to understand how logic and creativity some how became diametrically opposed ideas, but that's another issue altogether. My greater concern is why are sooooooooooooooo many people turned off by the idea of careers and academic fields that are traditionally associated with strong logic and reasoning abilities. This aversion is shared by men and women alike, though it does seem to be particularly acute in the majority of the latter. It's a bit frightening to me when I hear people almost bragging about how poor their math skills are, as if they were trying to distance themselves from a group of undesirable people, people who have become undesirable precisely *because* they have those skills. This is appalling! Some of the coolest, most interesting people I've ever met, including my S/O, are folks who are great at logic, science, and math. I just can't understand why folks run for the hills when you start waving a bit of calculus or involved algebra around. On the other hand, leaving my math notes out and open on the table at school does tend to ensure that if I have to get up and leave my stuff for a few minutes, no one touches it. I've actually watched people look at my things, and then screw up their faces as if they smelled something truly unpleasant, and give my work space a wide berth. Raw mathematics as a security system, who knew?
I think "having it all" was a myth. I've seen a lot of people become very disappointed with their lives because they fell for the idea of something that never existed, and simply was not possible in the real world.
'Acknowledge the need for work-life balance âI think we really have to change what it means to work full time, on a really fundamental level,â Ms. Rota says. That goes beyond just making time for parenting, she says, but whatever else is central to employeeâs lives.' Too many people sacrifice the joy of a nurturing home life for a successful career. The key to having it all, for women and men, is finding that balance. A wise friend recently reminded me to work to live, donât live to work.
" . . . to bail out those who lived outside their means trying to "have it all". I and any others "in my boat" are now paying for the irresponsible ones." It wasn't your greedy neighbors who have taken advantage of you, but policy-makers and profit-takers. "Such a country would be more stable, Bush argued, and more prosperous. 'America is a stronger country every single time a family moves into a home of their own,' he said in October 2004. To achieve his vision, Bush pushed new policies encouraging homeownership, like the 'zero-down-payment initiative,' which was much as it soundsâa government-sponsored program that allowed people to get mortgages without a down payment. More exotic mortgages followed, including ones with no monthly payments for the first two years. Other mortgages required no documentation other than the say-so of the borrower. Absurd though these all were, they paled in comparison to the financial innovations that grew out of the mortgagesâderivatives built on other derivatives, packaged and repackaged until no one could identify what they contained and how much they were, in fact, worth." http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/10/10/end-of-the-ownership-society.html
...by the very people who swore that they wouldn't raise your taxes. Instead, they're just printing money so the government can spend it without actually having anyone held responsible for doing so. While they pay lip service to wanting to tax the 1%, they're literally stealing from the 99%. And they'll get away with it because most people will never understand how it really happened.
I hadn't truly considered that before - by saying we need to hype technical careers as creative, we're in a way saying that purely logic/reasoning pursuits are somehow less than. I'm not sure why that bias exists, but I'll be careful to be mindful of it in my own reporting.
I think we're seeing a 'having it all' backlash. Women are saying, let's put aside focus on the need to perfectly balance careers and babies, and bring to light more tangible issues that make workplaces inhospitable.
The social engineering policy makers just made it possible for your neighbors to exercise their greed with such abandon.