I’ve gotten this question a couple of times now, so I thought I would sit down, take a moment, and write a post to share the “why” behind this blog. I really want to impress upon you, the reader, how important this little blog is to me, since it might not be immediately obvious.
I’ve worked for a FAANG technology company for more than ten years now. Before that, I went to school for civil engineering, earning a Master’s Degree in civil & construction engineering. I was one of about 25% of my class who presented in a femme way. Since entering technology, though, that already-low number plummeted dramatically. Ever since 2010, when I joined Amazon Business as a copywriter for Business, Industrial & Scientific Supplies, I’ve become accustomed to being the only woman in the room. I truly didn’t mind, at first. I didn’t think to question the situation that much.
Not knowing much about office jobs, I accepted behavior from my coworkers that, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t. (Before Amazon, I’d interned and contracted in engineering offices, but those tend to feel more like small or even family businesses vs big corporations.) For example, one of my early bosses would come up behind people and startle them, then laugh. Today if someone did that to me or my peers, I would give them a strange look and ask them if they thought that was funny? Maybe I would wonder out loud whether they thought they were acting in a professional manner. Usually, a funny look and not-so-rhetorical questions stop unwanted behavior pretty quickly.
I started gradually improving how I enforced boundaries for myself, and sometimes even stepped in for others around me. By 2015-2016, when I found myself in a meeting with a bunch of hardware engineers who needed my teams’ requirements for some database hardware, I was pretty good at taking-no-shit-from-people. The hardware engineering team decided, for some reason, that they didn’t need to call me by my real human name, but instead I should answer to my team’s name… even though I had reminded them several times & had asked them each time to please call me Celeste. After they called me by my team’s name in yet another group meeting, again, I politely lost my shit. I emailed their boss, told them how I had tried to fix the problem to-date, explained how I interpreted it as rather dehumanizing and why it’s a problem for a group of men to treat a woman in a sub-human fashion, and asked that the manager make it stop. After that email, suddenly I was Celeste in all of those meetings.
I may have personally learned these lessons about standing up for what’s right, being successful despite not looking like most of my peers, and finding acceptance for myself, within myself. I see my mentees and direct reports and networking contacts I meet at conferences and meetups (well, used to meet, pre-covid) struggling with, and needing to learn, the same lessons I’ve already learned. I know the coping mechanisms I’ve built will help other people out there. I have skills that other people need, and can use to better themselves and their lived experiences at work. I can share what I’ve learned in the stories on this blog.
Maybe you don’t present as femme, or you don’t identify with some under-represented group, nor anything similar – do I still want to help you succeed? Of course I do! You might not struggle exactly with the same things as I do or did at work… but I’m sure you have your own struggles – and I hope my perspective helps you out, as well. I write because I want to share my experience and help others, no matter who they are. I will admit I get more of a thrill from helping out women and femmes in technology careers, but I will never object to giving an assist to anyone else in the world. Help me understand what situation are you struggling to resolve at work? Do you have any stories of egregious discrimination while you were at work? I’d love to hear your problems and, if you’ve solved them, how you went about solving it.