Discover more from chai latte
on feeling small
finally voicing my real and raw experiences as a 21 year old south asian woman in tech.
I feel small. And it’s not because I’m 4’11. But it’s because I’ve been in environments that make me feel small.
I have a few examples of times I felt this way. I was told to give up more of my slides for a pitch presentation because my voice was “too soft” and I wouldn’t be confident enough to draw in an audience. I was constantly tested instead of being communicated with. I was expected to go forward with other people’s ideas, without any opportunity to contribute any of my own. I was told that I was just dating a guy because he helped me with my homework. I was told I only got into conferences, fellowships, scholarships, or jobs, just because I was a girl. When I work with other men in meetings, them only giving eye contact with the other men in the room. Sometimes in group conversations, it’s hard to even get a word in.
It almost feels patronizing in a way to constantly be treated that I’m less than or small, instead of acknowledging what qualities I can bring to the table. I think especially for women and POC, they have to do 10x the work to prove they’re legit, whereas others are just respected.
Other times I’ve felt small were when I was in an introduction call and people popcorned someone to go next, I was always the last person to go. People weren’t bothered to try to say my name. People would tell me how to say my name before I can even tell them myself, stripping away the one piece of identity that is true to me.
And I stopped talking about this for a while. I thought I made it to the hard part. I’m already studying engineering at university, and already had a good mix of great big tech and startup internships. My engineering program is 50% women. So why do I still feel like something’s missing?
Now, when I’m starting to diverge into paths in start-ups, venture capital, and getting into special fellowships/hackathons or programs for young builders in the space, I’m increasingly seeing the disparity in tech, and the isolation that comes with it. The higher up you go in the field and the more ambitious you go, the worse it gets.
People talk about why we don’t have enough women co-founders, or women working at start-ups. I think a lot of this is part of the reason why.
So what do I do about it now?
I choose to hold those people who don’t make me feel small close to my heart. I’m very intentional with the people I work with and spend time with now. I need to get better at confrontation, but whenever I find myself in these environments again, I’m going to see how I can remove myself and facilitate spaces more conducive to my growth, instead of losing a part of myself to appease other people.
I stopped caring about accomplishments, projects, and other accolades of people. I remember how people make me feel more than anything else.
A lot of other things, I’m still working on. Culturally, it’s always been hard bringing up these feelings in conversation. I don’t want to be pitied or feel less than because of who I am, but I am asking for basic respect. If you’ve gone through the same and you’ve figured some of it out, I’d love to talk to you.
I also want to give a big thank you to those who are incredibly kind and thoughtful about facilitating these spaces - you know who you are!
I do want to acknowledge the privilege I have in writing this piece - I know there are others, especially from other backgrounds who have had experiences far worse than mine, and face barriers even getting to the industry in the first place. I also do not want this piece to generalize experiences for all women, as this is only what I’ve experienced. I’m sharing this because I feel like this isn’t talked about enough and hope sharing my story will encourage others to do the same.