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I'm a Woman in Tech, and I Don't Feel Like I've Been Held Back at All

Is it harder for women to get into science and technolo...

Is it harder for women to get into science and technology? originally appeared on Quora: the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Claudia Perlich, Chief Scientist at Dstillery, Adjunct Professor at NYU, on Quora:

Is it harder for women to get into science and technology? In my personal experience I would say no; in fact, there were clear advantages to being a woman when operating in the male-majority tech field. People have often pointed to admission being biased in favor of women. In fact, I dislike this type of inequality. I can see its benefit, but I also hate the implied suggestion that the women would in fact not have made it otherwise, and are therefore not quite as good as the men. Here is an excerpt from an interview I gave on this topic in 2014:

"But then about one year ago I was asked to be the general co-chair of one of the biggest and most well-established data science conferences in the world: SIGKDD 2014 (KDD). I was the only woman on the committee. It became clear that the decision to select me was in no small part driven by my being a woman. On the one hand, I was pleased that meant that some men take the matter of gender equality seriously, but on the other, I felt cheated because I can never be sure whether I truly earned it."

So when it comes to favoring women because they are a minority, I have mixed feelings at best.

My general observation is that being a woman has likely helped my career more than it has hurt it. I have rarely met anybody who made me feel that my qualifications were in doubt because of my gender. I've never sought out female role models in data science, nor bemoaned their scarcity, as I never worried for a moment that my gender should limit my ability or accomplishments.

In fact, there is one potentially huge upside to being a woman playing a man's game: people remember you. You stand out in a crowd that is typically ninety percent men. I go to conferences and many men seem to know me, even when I cannot recall their faces, let alone names. The reality is that we are memorable, and being remembered is very helpful.

How do we make a mark for our ability and not just for the fact that we are female?

Being memorable can be a double-edged sword. A not-so-recent gender study showed that when male subjects are watching the news, they can very well recall the good-looking female presenter, but they cannot recall anything she said. When it comes to the attractive male presenter, however, they may not recall the color of his tie, but they do recall recent developments in the conflict in the Middle East. It's not that they truly believe that the female presenter is less qualified reading a piece of news, but simply that biology is against us, and the subconscious gets in the way.

So here is the conundrum faced by women in male dominated-businesses: How do we make a mark for our ability and not just for the fact that we are female? And how do we make sure that we are called to the stage for the substance of our thinking rather than our gender?

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