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Karolina Szczur

⚠️ Trigger warning: the narrative includes mentions of harassment and depiction or discussion of discriminatory attitudes or actions. If at any point you feel uncomfortable with the content, please stop reading and take care of yourself ❤️

I’m a CIS, white woman almost in her thirties, born in Eastern Europe. I’ve been lucky to receive all levels of education including university alongside a high-quality English course (I probably wouldn’t be writing this otherwise as English is not my primary language and public education leaves a lot to wish for). Objectively speaking life has been quite easy. I acknowledge my privilege. Still, I’m a member of an underrepresented group in the technology industry.

I’ve been in tech for over 12 years. I’ve started small in junior, but hands-on, multidisciplinary roles. I wasn’t sure why male co-workers sometimes asked to make them coffee or tend to various office duties that obviously weren’t my job. I’ve assumed it’s better to make friends than enemies. Casually, a sexist remark would fly my way. I shrugged at the worrisome status quo. I didn’t know any better what to do about it anyway.

Years went by, and I significantly levelled up my expertise. I’ve started periodically publishing articles on high-traffic tech websites. I contributed to a few Open Source projects with either code or design mentorship. I’ve spoken at many conferences. Heck, I’ve co-organised 12 high-quality events, bringing thousands of people together. I worked very hard.

Despite the efforts, my career progression was nowhere near I wanted it to be (or a white male equivalent of myself would end up being). I moved through jobs with a relatively fast turnover — one or two years on average, usually refusing to accept complete inability to get a raise or level up despite flawless performance reviews from peers and managers. I’ve consistently seen white men being offered promotions, I should have gotten. I’ve been passed on roles while not being offered a fair chance to apply because a hiring guy who didn’t know me at all condescendingly felt like I had to spend time “doing some research” on the field of my expertise (and a role I’ve held and succeeded at in the past). I was forced to prove myself on a daily basis to a much higher degree than my male counterparts.

In worse cases I was escaping harassment .The latter resulted in thousands spent on therapy. It still haunts me to this day. As much as I feel a strong urge to write about it in detail not only as a warning to fellow women but also another eye-opener to those who believe supervisors or peers cannot be capable of abuse I’m horrified of the possible repercussions it would have on my career.

I’m afraid of abusers publicly shaming, turning it against me and winning. Like many other stories of women, this one will have to stay untold.

With experience, my awareness of inequality, bias, sexism and unfairness has risen significantly. As my community and industry reach progressed, I couldn’t stay silent and passive. I started openly speaking up about those issues. Challenging companies, conferences and individuals to do better and live by their words and supposed beliefs.

That’s when I first time encountered public and private harassment from strangers. Tweets and emails citing I was a stupid bitch, wishful harm and death threats became the norm every time I questioned the status quo. Sadly, it became a given in activism.

So far I had one long-term job that I felt completely safe, valued, supported, rewarded and challenged. One job. My friends from &yet, a small consultancy in Washington State, United States will continue to be a standard I hold against others. I’m yet to find a match. I find it worrisome that a little organisation without a massive budget cared so much more than tech giants. In some ways, it made me somewhat sceptical about companies vocal about their values. I just couldn’t see anyone living up to them.

In my career my opinions were suddenly invalid compared to sometimes inexperienced men, whose expertise seemed more valuable to managers. I’ve been tone policed. I’ve been told to “chill out”. Over and over I was undermined through micro-aggressions and direct unfairness, sexism and stereotyping. Fellow women whispered their similar stories to me explicitly saying they’re afraid of saying it in public.

Multiple times I anonymously advocated for them. I’ve tried to fight their fights with my influence. I persisted through quiet, behind the scenes battles for inclusive events through banning harassers, abusive behaviour and acting on Code of Conduct violations. Conferences that I wasn’t even a part of but they needed help in addressing these concerns, and I couldn’t say no to creating a better community for all of us. The amount of emotional, non-paid labour slowly begun to reach its peak. I’ve paid the price for feminism and activism multiple times. I’ve paid in tears, stress, therapy bills, neglecting personal projects, not advancing my career and negatively affecting my personal life. I had to do it for myself and others out there.

Women hold only 25% of tech jobs, whereas a staggeringly low 1% and 3% constitute for Latinas and Black women. Even fewer are found in software engineering or technical leadership. (Women in Tech: The Facts)

Women are fleeing the tech industry where unfairness seems to be far more pronounced than elsewhere. Where sexual harassment and unwanted attention often goes unreported, let alone faces repercussions. While Diversity and Inclusion initiatives appear to be on the rise, sometimes they end up being a PR and marketing stint rather than anything else. So many still fail to acknowledge and believe the surfacing stories of women.

This isn’t a tabloid-controversial story. I kept it general to protect myself but still paint a fairly comprehensive picture of what a woman can face in the tech industry. There are more accounts of women out there. If you’re not a member of an underrepresented group, I strongly urge you to seek them out, read them and ask yourself why is this happening and how you can be a better ally. Because no matter your reach, you can have a positive impact. Believe the stories.