The 71%Featured

In the afternoons, I run in Prospect Park. Two or three days a week, I tie up my laces and hit the pavement, taking the long loop between the trees. About two-thirds of the way in, there’s a water fountain I stop at before cutting through an abandoned strip of asphalt off the main path, leading me back home. It’s empty, isolated, and for a hundred and twenty seconds, two to three times a week, I’m alone, masked by the veil of trees and the disconcerting sound of silence. I slide off my headphones and let them rest along my neck. The road is uphill so I increase my speed, my legs burning and heart racing, the beeping of the pedometer quickening with every tread. As I count my strides—one, two, three, four—I am suddenly aware of my solitude. My muscles go steely and I turn around to look behind me. An apt metaphor for being a woman in tech. We sprint forward, smiles on our faces, empowered to meet the day. But there’s an edge to it, a little piece of us that never feels quite right, always running uphill and pausing periodically to see who's chasing us. I’m one of the lucky ones. I love my job. It’s an energy I can’t quite describe, but one that is palpable. A stream of positivity from our headquarters in San Francisco, coursing through Slack channels and Zoom links, popping up in swag packs on my doorstep, making its way through my laptop and straight into my home office in Brooklyn. There’s a sense of community amongst my colleagues and an aligned attitude toward collaborative success. But more than that—and this is what I really want to stress—there’s a recognition that we’re human. We have lives outside of work and individual values. A boss once even reminded us in a meeting to breathe, to meditate, to not take things too seriously. In this Silicon Valley macrocosm, it can be a challenge to find that kind of acknowledgment, and I’m proud to work for a company that embodies those ideals. It hasn’t always been that way for me. Once upon a time, I remember going to an office I dreaded. I’d tense whenever I walked through the door, white knuckles clinging to the bottom of my chair, nails sunk into the seat cushion, jaw locked in place like a deadbolt. In fact, there’s a plaque in my bedroom that reads Feminist With A To-Do List. It used to be on my desk there, but then I got nervous. I was afraid that the same boss who’d roll his eyes when I talked about leadership, who once told me I was being “emotional and dramatic,” would see it and penalize me. Feminist With A To-Do List would end up being Feminist Without-A-Job, so I took it home and hid it away because those are the lessons we, as women, learn: self-preservation. No one talks about gaslighting in a work environment. We talk about it in personal relationships or with people in our families, but when a leader uses the same tactics to convince an employee that their feelings are invalid or that their identity makes them an outsider, we don’t address that. “It’s a paycheck,” you hear. “Things will get better,” people say to you. “Maybe you’re not a culture fit.” And you start to feel irrational. You question the validity of your own voice. Gaslit by leadership becomes gaslit by the collective. At this particular past job, there was tension. My work ethic wasn’t in question, neither was my initiative or teamwork; I was a top performer. But the impetus was that my values weren’t aligned with theirs. There were conversations happening behind closed doors about me—that much I could tell—but their rulings were never made clear. Was I too bossy? Too loud? Did I talk too much about things I cared about? Did my emotional attachments get in the way of my professionalism? I’d excused myself to the bathroom on more than one occasion to cry, silently reprimanding the girl in the mirror with black tears rolling down her cheeks like mud. I started adjusting. It was little things at first, the tone in my voice, the tenor of it. Agreeable women were softer. They didn’t take charge the way I did. I tried mimicking their cadence, hoping that by doing so, it would in some way hide my defects. When that didn’t work, I stopped speaking up entirely. When something was done incorrectly, I’d nod my head and bite my tongue—that’s who they want, I thought, someone to boost their ego and allow the error to go unnoticed. Towards the end of that job, I felt myself darken. I was an outsider, ostracized for being “wrong”. I began refusing projects I’d once taken on, now afraid my personality would bleed into the outcome. I stopped trusting people, people I once thought to be friends. We often mention the silent sacrifice of fitting in, but ignore the specificity of it. I won’t tell you the rest, not that you shouldn’t know, and honestly, they probably have a different perspective. But when you’re gaslit by leaders you trust, self-preservation becomes a shield. You don’t even realize the weight of the steel you’re gripping onto, and then all of a sudden you’re drowning, desperate to break free. I made a thousand small concessions. Softer voice. Wider smile. I was shut down so often that the few times I tried to speak up, my emotions would catch fire and erupt, so instead I buried my feelings deep down and said nothing. I found myself competing with other women in the office, and they with me—women I cherished, women I envied—because there wasn’t enough room at the top for all of us and they made sure we knew it. I’d let things slide. Small things, things the men in my life would tell me didn’t matter. So he wrote something dirty on the whiteboard? He was just being funny. So he rolls his eyes everytime you talk? Is that really something you want to escalate? Small concessions lead to bigger ones. Chinks in your armor lead to breaks. I once read that 64% of women face microaggressions in the workplace, like being asked if they’re hormonal or being told to smile more. 36% of women have had their judgement questioned in their own areas of expertise, while 31% have had to provide more evidence than their male counterparts of competency. I’ve been in that boat. I’ve been targeted, more than once, for being too emotional or not emotional enough. For being too loud and too aggressive, and in the same breath, I was called too soft and too compliant. I’ve been one of the 29% of women who believe their gender is an obstacle to advancement. I sometimes wonder how differently I might have turned out if I’d have been born a man. Maybe my conversations with other people would have been less about self-preservation and more about our collective advancement. Maybe I’d have been richer or more accomplished; maybe I’d be a CEO. But instead, today, being the woman I am, I find myself obsessing. The way I said something, the sentence I used, my tone or inflection, whether my outfit is too professional or not professional enough. There’s a constant monologue going on inside my head when I’m talking to other people. I wonder if they like me or if I sound smart enough or if they’re taking me seriously. I find myself apologizing all the time. It slides out like an afterthought, without permission, flashing in the air as a reminder of my meekness. To correct it, I over extend the other way. Strange how those things linger. Even writing this now, I wonder is this something I should publish? Will someone in my network read this article and discount me?But I want to be clear. I am a strong, valuable, impressive woman that works hard to elevate my environment. I’m an asset to any company, and no one gets to strip that knowledge away from me. If you’re a woman in a workplace, and that workplace discredits you or makes you feel in some way less than, I. See. You. It’s a scary, uncomfortable place to be. I realize that I speak from a place of privilege—that I was able to leave my job and take time off to reassess, to find a new community I love—and not everyone is granted that gift. But if you can, find a new job that validates you. If you can’t, uncover your allies. There are beautiful, kind, brilliant people in this world that want to see you succeed. Many of them are other women. Many of them are other men. Let them help you. Seek out their advice. Write to me.I’m proud to be a woman in tech, because as hard as it is sometimes, it’s given me a badge to wear—one of honor—the same way New Yorkers wear this city. And microaggressions or not, bad jobs or great ones, three-mile runs in Prospect Park where I look over my shoulder or keep my eyes straight ahead, it’s a constant reminder that I exist. I belong. And no matter what you do to me, I’ll survive it. Chelsea M. Carney is a writer and Customer Success Manager living in Brooklyn, New York. She attends The New School in Manhattan as part of their Riggio Honors Writing program where she studies both literature and diversity as it relates to revenue in business. Her work has led to exciting opportunities that include a company IPO, Director and VP titles, and helping to found a women-focused employee resource group. When she's not working, you can find her camped out in her living room guzzling coffee, writing novels, and binging far too much television.Twitter: @CMCarney_AsadaInstagram: @carney_asada31LinkedIn:
Thank you for sharing this story Chelsea, there was so much that resonated with me and it is so inspiring and validating to hear another woman step up with their experiences and see your journey in finding your strength. Sending you a DM!
Thank you so much for writing to me @teresaman! I'm so glad it resonated - though also, obviously, a little sad about it too. We're in this together and if you ever need anyone to talk to, I'm here.
Omg Chelsea, this is me in some parts on some days and I am sure many women would resonate with this.. So well put! reading it I feel like I need to take a run and focus on what could come next. I am very glad that you are at a place that makes you happy, fulfilled and where your true self is appreciated. Thank you once again for sharing, looks like a excerpt from my diary.