What it was like for me as a woman to work in the IT sector

Shaira Mohan
Shaira MohanMay 30, 2017 | 16:03

What it was like for me as a woman to work in the IT sector

It is only now, a good five years since I started working in the information technology sector, that I have reconciled myself to the "attention" that emanates like a room freshener when I enter a client meeting room with my male colleagues.

The transition from severe indignation, often even rage to the current state of amusement and acceptance has been enlightening. A cynic in me that I never knew I harboured till a few years ago has risen and been tamed over the years to only observe and refrain from a verbal diarrhoea of feminist outrage - an education that the facial expressions have also undergone over the years and have now graduated to a poker-faced distinction. It has been a proud achievement.


But it wasn't an easy journey. I still remember my first inner volcano erupting during one of my novel meetings with a potential client in the UAE on one of my first overseas trips - our head office being in the erstwhile "Gurgaon". As I strode into his office along with my male colleagues, this particular gentleman doled out a once-over so fervent, I am confident he could have put the hard work of the blessed security officers at American airports to shame.

Condescension evidently being his forte, he proceeded to deride not just me but also the work we do and the launch of our new product that we were trying to pitch to him with an equal measure of enthusiasm.

In another instance, a gentleman decided to blindfold himself to my existence altogether. Photo: thewomanintheroom

I soon found my blood beginning to boil and he seemed to be basking in the glory of it. I found myself in a verbal sparring match with this spiteful man even after the meeting had officially concluded. My senior colleague had to bail me out of the situation in an amicable intervention and I found myself seething as we walked to the car, while he smiled and reminded me that there were many more where he came from.


It was true. That, I suspect, was the day the transition process inconspicuously started. Because since that day I have never been enraged to that extent, though the condescension and stares continue.

Being the only female member of a team in the tech world means that the stares never end. It is only that the reasons for them and the intensity may vary from meeting to meeting.

At a recent meeting, I was rendered quite amused by a gentleman who found it very difficult to meet my eyes for over two seconds while I addressed him.

It was as if any sort of tech jargon in our niche industry that was stumbling out of my mouth - an apple in a basket of oranges as far as he was evidently concerned - was a thing of great mystery and rather disconcerting in some inexplicable way. My poker face was back to being centre stage while my inner cynic giggled again.

I rambled on while he chose to return the volley of his responses to the net of colleagues sitting next to me. I was quite sure I had won the match. But he seemed to have conceded the game.


An even more recent incident took the cake in another one of our meetings where a gentleman decided to blindfold himself to my existence altogether and proceeded to shake hands with my male colleague upon entering the meeting room and then strode purposefully to his seat while not even glancing towards me or my outstretched hand. I was standing right there.

In their bleak defence, however, I will say that in some meeting rooms the perception of my being seems to be improving, even if it is just because of my increasing attendance in front of the same audience, in some cases.

While being a woman is admittedly not without its advantages in many instances in the business world and I have often had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of a fast-tracked document or an expedited purchase order, for example, the lens that women are still viewed with today, in many parts of the world, is akin to pre-conceived ideas of more menial roles that apparently befit our gender.

The silver lining in this cloud for my fellow sisters about to venture into this "big, bad, man's world" is that it is empowering. Yes, you heard me. Embrace it. With a dwindling prior confidence that I managed to nurture and build over the years with the help of the inspiring work and words of my colleagues - both men and women, I have managed to pave an inroad for myself that is slowly but surely commanding respect and making others step aside to accommodate all of my feminine being within the vessel of their one-sided comfort zone.

I see unfolding before my eyes a slow paradigm shift in some circles where the room is less infused with the misogynistic aura of condescension, allowing respect on account of common work being undertaken. Many other rooms, however, still seem to have a long way to go.

But the show as they say, must go on and so must we. Powering through, after all, is the only way to success. And for everything else, ignorance is always bliss!

Last updated: May 30, 2017 | 16:16
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