The Adventures of Women in Tech: How We Got Here and Why We Stay

Alana Karen

September 27, 2020

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Can women have meaningful careers in tech? Are diversity efforts in Silicon Valley failing? Should women avoid working for technology companies?

Inspired by women I know in tech - women with diverse backgrounds, education, and ambitions - I wrote The Adventures of Women in Tech to help answer those questions posed in countless news articles. A twenty-year tech company veteran and leader, I work to systematically replace what we think we know about women in tech with more than eighty women's stories of what it's honestly like to join, lead, and thrive in today's top technology companies. In twelve chapters filled with intimate stories, insights, and advice from women working in technology companies and start-ups, I demonstrate that we all belong in tech.

An excerpt from Chapter 7, "Life and Family", where I explore how we have a home life while pursuing a career in tech:

When you sit in rooms with women, it doesn't take long for this conversation to emerge. Whether women are married or not, have children or not, have extensive life commitments or not, whatever it is, we are never far from the topics of well-being, of balancing work and life, of sustaining high performance. While these topics are not specific to gender, many women feel they face a higher burden, a higher tax, trying to thrive at work and in life. We still bear most of the children ourselves, play a major role in running the household, and face society's expectations of taking care of others. And we bring home the bacon: 41 percent of mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families, earning at least half their total household income. And despite the joy and pride all this brings, many women are tired and seeking a better way.

When I spoke with women, I wanted to explore the different paths their personal lives took and how much of that was shaped by work. What compromises or sacrifices have they faced? Have they felt supported at work? At home? I put aside the question of "having it all" for a moment. To whatever extent I could, I wanted to understand how they were doing and how they felt. It's worth noting that this could be a whole book given how women feel about this topic, so consider this a quick tour as I seek to understand this component within the larger story of women in tech.

THE SHEER WORKLOAD Adrienne has three children and is senior in her career, and she spoke about the pull between home and work: "This dichotomy of wanting to continue on this trajectory that's maybe expected. . . . But then I've got three kids that I care about deeply and want to spend time with, and then there's myself and my husband, whom I care about deeply and want to spend time with. And so I find the struggle of how do you set a career goal that also allows for all these other things that have to happen outside of your career." She wasn't prepared for how hard having both roles would be. "I feel like I never understood - my mom certainly didn't talk about this a lot with me growing up - what it means to be not just a parent but a mom working and having a high-powered fill-in-the-blank tech job." She says this even having a husband who does a fair share of the work. "Look, I have the best husband; he probably does 60 percent of the work." She wonders: If she didn't have that, how could she handle the mental and physical load? "I can spend two hours in the evening cleaning up, and then you're expected to do all these other things at work and then thrive and lead a team or whatever it is you're doing."

While we talk about the glass ceiling and bias, the sheer workload as a barrier is often underestimated and "not talked about enough," as Adri- enne points out. Even if we improve parental leave, for example, which we should do, the expected and ongoing role we play as caretakers and childbearers continues. "I'm dealing with all these things that I think cre- ate barriers in that way." Women feel that we're responsible for the house- hold, whether the kids have enough socks, clothes, and their homework done, and men don't have to do as much. This is what makes us fantasize about having our own wives and wonder what it's like for a man who has a stay-at-home wife. Are they able to simply get dressed and come to work? While we tend to know more people with stay-at-home wives, Adrienne only knows "less than on one hand" women who have a stay-at-home husband. "That creates a whole different dynamic."

I shared with her a story of how my husband, who owns his own businesses, was staying at home with our youngest when daycare was closed for three days. I'm the one who usually takes him to daycare because it's on the way to work. That morning I got in the car. I wasn't carrying seven- teen things; I just had my bag and my cup of coffee. I sat down in the car and went straight to work without any stops. I'm going to be at work early for once, not in a rush and with a clear mind, I thought, and, For some people, this is what they always get to do.

35 Glynn, Sarah Jane. 2019. "Breadwinning Mothers Continue To Be the U.S. Norm." Center for American Progress, May 10, 2019. mothers-continue-u-s-norm/.

Alana Karen is an award-winning tech leader, author, and speaker whose work impacts many of our everyday lives. From Google Search to Ads, Fiber to Google Grants and beyond, Alana has been leading the charge to develop, scale, build and drive team and product development that has seen a rippling industry impact. Alana has spoken at conferences and summits on technology, leadership, DEI, talent and innovation. Her upcoming book, Adventures of Women in Tech: How We Got Here and Why We Stay, aggregates hundreds of stories on these topics as well. She lives with her three children, husband and two dogs in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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