Home Office Digital developer: Departmental culture is excellent for women

Written by Barbara Cassani on 22 August 2016 in Opinion

As PublicTechnology looks at diversity in public sector technology careers, Home Office developer Barbara Cassini reflects on her experiences as a female developer in both public and private sectors, saying that some offices are just better than others.

The Home Office is a good place to work as a female developer, says Barbara Cassani - Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been a woman all my life and a developer for all my working life, so I feel it’s important to acknowledge the limitations of my experience before I start to describe it.

I don’t know what it’s like to work in other lines of work and I don’t know what it’s like to be male – let alone a male developer. So the comparisons I draw in this blogpost are based only on what I’ve observed and how I’ve interpreted those observations.

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Finding that first developer job

These days, being a woman can be an advantage when looking for work as a developer as diversity in the workforce is now often encouraged.

I can recall a time, however, when recruiters would use the fact that there was a female developer in the team as a recruitment incentive. Unfortunately, rather than the diverse workforce being extolled to attract applicants, ads often boasted ‘beautiful junior female developers’ in the list of perks.

During the early stage of my career as a developer, I found that being a woman didn’t make a huge difference in how I was treated.

The initial challenge was adjusting to a culture that was overwhelmingly geared towards interests typically perceived as male. I found my new co-workers were more likely to discuss shoot ‘em ups and meet outside of work to play football than do anything more gender-neutral.

One server repair woman I worked with told me that she was afraid of losing her femininity. I understand her fear and can see that this is due to the culture and environment she’s working in.

Learning to speak up and dealing with the testosterone cloud

A thing that was difficult for me, until I became a more senior developer, was having the confidence to speak up. I always assumed that others knew more than me and that if I disagreed I’d probably be wrong.

So I tended to keep quiet and if I saw an issue someone else hadn’t spotted, or if I didn’t understand something that the others seemed to, I just kept it to myself.

Mid-career, I had a rather long stint working in the finance sector and I found the environment cut-throat and menacing. A lack of assertion wouldn’t get you anywhere – even for the male developers. I had to build my confidence and become more assertive. In doing so I learnt that others aren’t always right.

It was an important lesson. There’s no shame in asking questions. It’s OK to not know something. It’s OK to make mistakes and it’s totally OK to point out someone else’s mistakes. None of this makes you a bad developer. It makes you a better one.

Moreover, in some teams, the boys program and the girls design and write css, or test. Don’t let anyone convince you for a split second that this is how it should be.

There are no feminine or masculine tasks in a developer role. If you want to, then delve into databases, dev-op tasks and anything else you encounter.

Until women stop being a minority among developers, they’ll always be the object of unspoken micro discrimination. They’ll be the "others" in relation to the dominant culture and may feel excluded by the perceived career-enhancing male bonding going on around them.

Fixing this issue shouldn’t be the burden of the women themselves. But unfortunately, it is not something that is going to be addressed overnight and, until we can enjoy a new gender-neutral environment, we must learn to cope with the situation.

We need to reclaim our position and not be afraid to ‘sound shrill’ or ‘be considered difficult’ – comments frequently thrown at women. We’re at work to produce good code as part of a team, not to win a popularity contest.

Some offices are better than others

Developers, male or female, are in demand. And that’s a fact worth remembering. If your environment is truly horrible, dominated by uncouth ‘brogrammers’, or abusive colleagues, then why not leave?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that everywhere is the same. Some offices are wonderful oases, grounded on mutual understanding and constructive approaches to working together. Others, however, are unspeakably bad. If you find yourself in a bad office, look elsewhere.

The culture in a dev team is usually established from the top down. The boss hires the staff based on their competency and trustworthiness. The decisions are often congenial too, meaning the boss may be more likely to employ someone who is more like them.

The Home Office is one of the good offices. The culture is excellent and there’s space to grow and be oneself, regardless of gender and level of seniority.

Good management ensures friendly and rational operations, which promotes productivity and wellbeing for both female and male developers alike.

The perks of being a developer

Being a developer is great. It pays well, it gives you independence and is a job that’s often very fun and mentally stimulating.

Once a certain level of seniority has been reached, you may get hired ahead of your identically qualified male peers. You’ll learn to stand up for yourself, become more aware of gender stereotyping and how to tackle it.

About the author

Barbara Cassani is a developer at the Home Office. A version of this blogpost first appeared on the Home Office Digital blog.

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