As a counselor now, one of the groups of people I work with is women in tech. My undergraduate degree was in mathematics, and in studying in a STEM field, I was often one of only a few women in the room. Through my personal and professional experiences, I’ve put together a few mental health tips.
1. Recognize Discrimination
Think for a minute about overt discrimination versus covert discrimination. The overt discrimination takes the form of someone telling you that you are inadequate in some way because you are a woman. It sucks, but it’s out there. You can report it to HR, perhaps have some recourse.
It’s often said that the covert discrimination is more difficult to handle. Did they just call me emotional because I’m upset that they missed that deadline? Or was that a hint that I’m emotional because I’m a woman and they’re insinuating that women are overly emotional? The covert discrimination often takes the form of microaggressions, sometimes thinly veiled but often very ambiguous. Maybe you don’t get assigned to the project you wanted, and you have a hunch that it’s because of your gender, but you have no proof. You sense that you are treated differently – talked to differently, looked at differently, or not included the same way in office discussions or social events, but how can you tell if it’s just in your mind?
When you are having one of these experiences, try to take an internal pause. Ask yourself if this would be happening if you were not a woman. Recognize the discrimination; see that it’s not about you personally, but about society’s views and internalized lessons about women and rigid gender roles. As a woman in tech, you’re already breaking out of the prescribed role.
This tip is merely to recognize it. Perhaps surprisingly, this step can be empowering in itself. But realize you don’t have to act now, or even at all. Recognize it to take it out of the personal, to take back power over it.
2. Build Your Support Network
You want a group of people in your life who are willing to listen, give encouragement, and offer advice when needed. Support networks are important for everyone, but for women working in the tech field, it’s especially helpful for dealing with unique issues like discrimination and high-pressure stress.
Make a list of trusted friends, family members, or colleagues. When you are feeling down about a situation, reach out to a few people on your list. Have people who will listen to you in a way that you feel understood. You are not alone. Many women find people of all genders can be part of that strong support system. Many women also find having at least one woman in tech as a role model and supporter is extremely helpful. There are many support groups available online, either social, professional mentoring, or counseling. Your personal counselor can also be part of your support network.
Sometimes we reach out to people within our support network only when we have problems. This can lead to weak relationships that feel one-sided. Make an effort to contact people in your support network regularly. Check in about your work as well as theirs, even when everything is going well.
3. Remember Self-Care
When you get busy, self-care is the usually first thing to go. But when you make time to do the things that make you feel great, you feel better about yourself and your career. What is self-care? It depends on you! Some people yearn for a morning jog. Don't like jogging? Don't do it! Find something you truly enjoy. If you've got some money to spend, treat yourself to a massage or a night out. But self care doesn't have to cost any money; it can be as simple as walking around the block after lunch each day.
Start small. Take inventory of your personal habits, and choose one or two things to increase in your life. Perhaps you spend more time on hobbies, eat more foods that make you feel energized, get more fresh air, or get your body moving more. One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they try to change 10 things at once, keep at it for a week or two, and then go back into their old habits. Once you make a change, practice it until it becomes a habit. Most people say this takes about 6 weeks, but it also depends on you.
Don’t get discouraged if you get busy again and self care goes out the window again. We all need constant reminders to take better care of ourselves. Be patient with yourself and realize that it takes consistent redirected effort. Just recommit and start again tomorrow. Or better yet, later today. You’re worth it!
4. Focus on What You Want
When the little things are getting you down, it’s sometimes helpful to re-focus on your overall goals, both short term and long term. Write them down. Talk to people about them. Figure out what exactly you want and make it known. Often people get carried away with focusing on what they don’t want, spending too much time and energy out of focus. When you’re planning your next move, ask yourself if it will get you closer to what you want.
5. Add Some Humor
Laughter is sometimes the best medicine! Have you seen this video? Why can’t girls code?
For more information on women in tech, check out these resources: