Breastfeeding Women Who Code
In a departure from the usual fashion magazine fare, the latest issue of Glamour features two articles about the tech industry: "Secrets of Silicon Valley (That Only Women Know)" and "35 Women Under 35 Who Are Changing the Tech Industry."
I particularly enjoyed the "Secrets" article, although some of the secrets definitely aren't really secrets. For example: "When it comes to dating, the odds are good...but the goods are odd" and "The sexism is real."
But it was great to see women and the tech industry discussed in a fashion magazine, especially since I had just sent a video about my iBook, Lean On and Lead, Mothering and Work in the 21st Century Economy to RailsBridge Hawaii: Hear Me RoR!, a free opportunity for women to learn programming.
Lean On and Lead was a fit for the event because it's a high-tech project, utilizing the Apple iBooks platform to present current and comprehensive data and information in a next-gen interactive format. It's also a fit because it includes deeply personal interviews with twenty-six working parents and women, many of whom are mothers in STEM fields.
In the ibook, parents provide candid accounts of their day-to-day challenges balancing work and family life. Not surprisingly, their options and choices depend on their specific jobs and levels of success. Yet they share many common experiences, and without exception, are invested in supporting other women and parents.
In fact, one of my interviews is with Dana Ledyard, who was featured in the Glamour article about women under 35. In Lean On and Lead, she discusses balancing life with a toddler and her job as Managing Director of Girls Who Code:
“When I was consulting part-time, it felt more manageable for my life, but it was not furthering my career in a meaningful way. Now that I’m in a more career focused job, I feel more professionally fulfilled, but life feels more hectic! I’m very glad to be fortunate enough to have the resources to pay for outside help. It makes a huge difference when it comes to having choices -- but when it comes to truly balancing raising a family with professional careers, it doesn’t seem like a real solution. As a matter of fact, part of my commitment to supporting young women learning to code relates to the opportunities that computer fields offer women to work from home and to work at the level that they want, but in a high-paying field.”
I understand why Glamour focused on younger women in the tech industry, but as a working mom, I’m less interested in pieces about dating opportunities than I am in articles about childcare options. (I was particularly pleased to see that the RailsBridge Hawaii organizers provided child care for their event.)
And though Dana may be one of the few young women with a child in the article, the women featured will not be under thirty-five forever and will likely want to have families while continuing to pursue their careers.
Which shouldn't be as hard as it is.
Sharon Wienbar, Managing Director and Partner, Scale Venture Partners, California:
“…When it comes to participating in the workforce and making a contribution, women in particular need to get a running start. I mentor young women and always encourage them to push hard early in their careers, so that if they choose to take a break, whenever that is, they have made it clear to those they work with that they are indispensable. The longer they are able to pursue their careers aggressively, the better their options will be later on…I think the big question that anyone trying to balance work and family life has to answer for him or herself is: how do I contribute at a high level and raise a family in accordance with my value system?”
Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, Oregon:
“Because I strongly believe that family-friendly policies are good for employees and the company, Palo Alto Software provides the same flexibility to everyone who works for us. We offer three months maternity leave, ten weeks of it paid through short-term disability insurance. We also offer flexibility to nursing mothers who are bonding with their babies, and five or six babies have come into the office so far. Mothers bring a pack-n-play where the babies can sleep, and use baby monitors when they’re in meetings. Depending on the mother’s preference, some have come back to work within a few weeks, others later, and many have had their babies with them until the children were as old as seven months.
“In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg describes a time when she would leave her office at 5pm to be with her family, but leave the office light on and write emails in the evening from home so no one knew what time she left work. That’s not how it should be. If women with influence are open about how they combine family and work, they can help change how the workplace views working parents and their children.”
Emily Haines-Swatek, Teacher and Career Technology Coordinator, Maui:
“I really enjoy my job and working with the kids. I now work about forty hours each week. Before my son was born, I worked closer to sixty — without extra pay…My husband can leave his job on Friday and go back Monday, without bringing his work home. I think my work is more of a calling for me so I want to do things like take the kids to robotics tournaments on a Saturday — and I’m glad that it is really meaningful to me. And it is important to me to feel like I’m making a difference.
"One year, two of my female students got full scholarships to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock…It’s always hard, though, for Maui kids to go to the mainland to go to school…It’s a big change, geographically and culturally, and then on top of that, they had the additional challenges that women in math and science face. I ended up communicating with both of them a lot for the four years they were going to school — and counseling them to basically hang in there. And they did, both graduating with degrees in information science…[O]ne who was ambivalent about Arkansas ended up settling there and getting a job in her field and plans to go back to graduate school. And the other just recently got hired as a programmer here on Maui…It feels really good to be a part of that.”
And yes, mothers in tech have lots of breastfeeding stories:
“[Once I had my baby,] I was also committed to breastfeeding, which meant toting my breast pump all over Silicon Valley and trying to time the drive and interview with my pumping needs. Once I arrived at the interview, if there wasn’t enough time to find a bathroom, then pump, get back to my truck to store the milk, and then back inside in time for the interview to start, I would find myself pumping in the backseat of the truck or in the handicapped stall of a major tech company.”-- Dana Ledyard
“[B]ecause I am the only female engineer in the engineering department, and the only mother of young children, family issues have not been a priority at my workplace… When it came to breastfeeding, I brought a pump to work, but because of the nature of my workplace, it was hard to maintain a nursing schedule. It was difficult for me to tell my male coworkers and bosses that I needed to take a pump break in the middle of a meeting or even a conversation. As a result, my milk production decreased quickly, and I only nursed my baby for five months.” -- Lala Zhang, Engineer, California
“I never considered reducing work after my kids were born, as I loved my job and also was the main earner at home. I did focus on being able to nurse both girls until they were at least six months old, and thankfully, I was able to take four months leave with both girls. I then planned my days very carefully so that when I returned to work I could continue nursing, though that also involved pumping."-- Sharon Wienbar
As the Glamour "Secrets" piece makes clear, there is plenty of sexism in tech, even before the motherhood penalty comes into play. And it starts in college. Although women outnumber men in higher education by 4:3, the percentage of computer science degrees earned by women has declined by half over the last twenty-five years -- down to 15%. The unbalanced gender ratio in academia contributes to the unbalanced ratio in the industry and consequently, the prevalence of the brogrammer culture. Clearly we need to improve the climate in academia and encourage young women to study science, math, and technology because women deserve equal access to the most lucrative jobs in our economy. (Why Title IX is not just about sports, and I’m sure Patsy Mink would agree.)
But as a society, the real reason we need to commit to supporting more women in tech fields is that we need them.
If conventional wisdom is to be believed, the US desperately needs more qualified workers in STEM industries. Considering that women have not just been outpacing men in college attendance, but also in degree attainment, supporting women (and mothers) in technology will increase the pool of smart, motivated, and qualified computer science workers dramatically.
Are these the kinds of conversations that we should be having in the nation’s major fashion magazines? If we want more opportunities for women and mothers, then yes, I believe we definitely should.
Read a sample of Lean On and Lead or download the full publication.