Women in Tech: Having the Courage to Be Uncomfortable


Courage is the quality of spirit that enables a person to face difficulty or danger. In her Netflix special, “Brené Brown: The Call to Courage,” New York Times bestselling author and University of Houston research professor Dr. Brené Brown describes courage as a measurement of vulnerability – starting each day determined to choose courage over comfort, and then taking that conviction forward, one day at a time.

Data Science Consultant Katya Dunets shared her story of being a courageous woman in tech with Debra Christmas and Kelley Irwin, for their book, Please Stay: How Women in Tech Survive and Thrive. “As someone who is still early in their technology career, the most critical skill I have learned so far is the willingness to embrace new opportunities and not let the fear of failure hold me back from excelling in novel environments,” Katya wrote. “Over the past year, I have taken on a multitude of roles and projects that made me uncomfortable. I worked with colleagues who had years of experience over me, and I had to rapidly adapt to diverse working environments and skillsets to succeed. I am now so grateful for these periods of discomfort, as they were when I learned the most and grew both professionally and personally.”

When Courage and Vulnerability Go Hand in Hand

Katya’s story perfectly illustrates how courage and vulnerability go hand in hand (and for all of you who think “feeling vulnerable” is a weakness – it’s not.) Courage does not mean you will live without fear, but that you are willing and able to face the danger in spite of that fear. Women stand alone in many technology forums, teams, and companies. They show up, they are pioneers; they are daring and heroic and, at times, fearless.

Debra and Kelley are two women who often, on the outside, appear fearless. But, when doubt or anxiety in certain situations creeps in, they draw on their reserves of courage and conviction and plow through. That’s partly what propelled them to write their book.

Women in tech are not held back by a lack of ideas or abilities or talent. Take the time to plan when you want to, but also be willing to step out on the ledge when you need to. That’s where the real courage lies. And trust that there will be women from the “tech tribe” ready to catch you if you fall.

The Courage to Change Course

We spoke recently about the process of forging your path as women in the IT field. Career paths are seldom straight as an arrow, and at some point along the way you’ll probably come to a fork in the road. One direction leads to the status-quo, your “zone of comfort” as it were. The other is more daring. It requires a leap of faith: a change of job title, moving on from the safety of your team, maybe leaving the company altogether. These types of changes require courage. And trust us when we say you will feel very vulnerable as you venture out onto that ledge.

Glynis Pacheco, a Senior Customer Success Manager and contributor to the book, shared her story of “choosing the ledge.” She made the bold move of leaving a company and a culture she loved, and the people she enjoyed working with, when she realized she was stuck in her position with no opportunity for growth. She needed to find a company that would give her the opportunity to pursue her dream career. Glynis knew making that decision to move on, to be the newby, to go through a fresh learning curve, would be terrifying. But, if you aren’t in the right place and the culture doesn’t fit with your values, it is best to leave. Culture and leadership are incredibly important.

Her advice to young women in tech who find themselves stuck? “Become educated, be independent, and don’t wait for things to happen. Take on challenges even when they scare you. Find mentors who have skills they can teach you, pay attention, observe smart and successful people around you, and ask lots of questions. Be courageous.”

It’s a Man’s World

Let’s change that. In Please Stay: How Women in Tech Survive and Thrive, Kelley Irwin shared a relatable story about being a woman in tech, “I walked into a dinner event with 120 people at a technology conference in 2018 to find I was the only woman in the room. Fifteen percent of the conference attendees were women, but they were either not invited to this dinner or had chosen not to attend. One of my first thoughts, as I was picking up my name tag and surveying the room, was to leave. I knew that I was welcome and had all the right experience and knowledge to participate in the business conversations planned, and yet I felt uncomfortable.”

Think of the courage it takes for a woman seated at a table of male peers to speak in her own voice, to present in her own way.

As Debra Christmas recounts, “In a male-dominated field like IT, courage is essential. You will be talked over, outranked in numbers, and even expected to back down, often. You need to rise-up and deal with things head-on. Always be professional, but do not stand for bad behaviour. You need to call things out and model the right behaviour. Do not let yourself be taken advantage of, marginalized, insulted, or abused. Courage needs to be your middle name, and you need to find the strength inside yourself to stand up for your rights, speak your mind, determine how to effect change, be capable of managing conflict, not take things so personally, and not feel like you need to walk behind anyone…ever!”

Courage does not need to be loud. Courage can be and often is calm, quiet, focused, and fierce. One simple thing to keep in mind is this – women exist. We are humans. We are in technology. We are brave. We are fearless.

It is important for women to be courageous. To stand strong. And to move forward together.

Tips from the tribe:

  • Think about the absolute worst thing that could occur because of a choice you are making, and then ask yourself what the realistic potential is of this happening.
  • Find a buddy to talk to just before you must take a difficult action. Ask for a pep talk! This could be before a presentation, an important meeting with a colleague or a boss, an interview, or simply a discussion with a difficult co-worker.
  • Ask yourself how you will feel if you take on this challenge. Will you feel strong and proud?
  • Remember it is okay to feel afraid and still act. Many people feel like you do.
  • If you know what action to take, don’t hold yourself back.