Being The Only Woman On The Team

Posted: April 10, 2012

I am an IT Networking professional. I got into this field about 8 years ago, when I was trying to upgrade my skill-set to improve my chances of getting a job after the IT crash of 2000. I enrolled in a Cisco Networking certification course and was one of the three women in the entire class of 30. By the time the course ended, I was the only woman left in the group.

That did not bother me. I’m used to that. In college, in the early 90’s, I was one of the 10 girls in our Electronics/Computer Sc. batch of 70+. Then I was one of three in a batch of 24 during Grad school.

It has remained that way even after I started working. On my current job, I am the only woman in my team. I meet a lot of women who are in Software Development but am yet to meet a woman who is in IT/Networking support and administration. I am used to things being this way and never gave it a second thought.

There have been stray comments from people, from time to time, that have made me wonder if anyone SHOULD be surprised by that. The first time was when I had been hired for a temporary weekend project that involved moving all equipment from one floor of a bank to another in the same building. The recruiter had hired about 70 support technicians for the project and I was one of them. I was supposed to report for work at 5 pm on a Friday. When I did,  the project leader stopped speaking and the whole room fell silent for a couple of seconds – I was the only woman on that entire team!

It must say something for my self-esteem because that did not faze me at all and it was business as usual for me during the rest of the project. But later that evening one of the technicians asked me if it bothered me at all to be the only woman in the whole team. I told him that it didn’t and, after all these years (7.5 to be exact) still haven’t been able to figure out why it should have.

The second incident that comes to my mind was when I was working as the network administrator at my previous job. It was a small company so I also performed the tasks of user and desktop support and once, while helping a user resolve an issue, I had to call the tech support of another company. After I had identified myself and gave him the reason I was calling, the first words out of the agent’s mouth were “Are you really a network administrator? Are there really women in your field?” I was surprised by the question, to say the least.

I mean, yes there aren’t many of us out there but you CAN find us in most professions on this earth – even in network administration! I am surprised there aren’t MORE of us but that is a rant for another day. It strikes me as odd if, in today’s day and age, someone expresses wonder at seeing a woman working in a field that has traditionally been considered a “man’s arena”. It is also sad because this attitude trickles down to affect impressionable girls like my daughters who think it is odd for a woman to be in a field that is generally populated by men only. I have to work really hard to make my daughters realize that it is okay to be “the only one” in any situation when you are confident of yourself.

In my current team I have sometimes had to struggle to prove that I can also do what the men can – specially when it involves carrying boxes of equipment. I almost had to fight childishly to be “allowed” to carry servers on a location that we temporarily moved to, last year. Thankfully, my coworkers grew used to it after an initial period of uneasiness watching me carry heavy boxes and equipment right beside them. I like it when, even now, one of them rushes to open the door for me as I head out with four laptop boxes balanced in my hands – I’d do the same for them.

Being the only woman on the team has, so far, been a bland experience for me. I mean, there are no men falling over themselves to impress me. I don’t get brownie points just for being a woman who’s trying to do a “man’s job”. (For the record, I am not. I am doing MY job – a job that I am fully qualified for and was hired to do) I enjoy working with the men I work with now. We get along well, we can give the rowdiest crowd a run for its money when we are in the mood for it, we fight, we make up, we help each other and we make a great team.

Have you ever worked in a team/profession where you were the only woman, or one of the very few? How did you handle it? Did you enjoy it or did it make you self-conscious?

 

Cee

Cee Kay is a mother of two girls, a networking professional, a cooking enthusiast and

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Comments

11 Comments


  1. It’s not that big a deal nowadays. I’ve been working for almost 3 years now and have mostly been the only female in the team. I worked for 2 years with a car manufacturer for setting up a new plant. I had an office job but often had to step into the shop floors too, sometimes even working till late evenings. There were initial stares and comments behind my back but after watching me every single day, I guess people just got used to my existence. Currently I am working with another factory and I’m the only female executive in the whole plant! Every new place is welcomes me with the same cycle, initial wonderment and stares, the ice breaking, resistance and then back to business. I’ve learnt one thing: if you’re bold and excellent at your work, life becomes easier slightly. But then I’ve only 3 years of corporate life behind me so far.

    • Even with “just” 3 years of corporate experience, you seem to have the right idea 🙂 Being bold (I would say “confident”) and excellent at your work helps you gain other people’s respect. Kudos to you!

  2. I used to be a researcher and yes, I have worked in teams where I was only Indian and also a woman! I must say, I had to face awkward situations on a few occasion but most of the time it was fun!

  3. I’ve actually mostly worked in teams with a pretty high ration of women to men, so I don’t have any personal experience of this. But I do feel it would bother me at least a little to be the only woman on a team or one of very few. I tend to make friends faster with women than with men, and while one could say the office is not the place to make friends, you do spend a lot of the time there.

    • I think since we spend so much time at work, it is normal to make friends there. I have made a few very good ones and I have carried those relationships into my personal life. It hasn’t been bad actually.

  4. I read this half-way through before I looked at the author’s name. 🙂 You’re amazing, Cee Kay.

    Thoughts on why there are so few women in your field? Is it because of the perception it’s a male-dominated area or the heavy lifting or late hours, or something else?

    • Unmana, I think there is a combination of factors at work here – it has been a male dominated field so far, the hours can be tough because you have to be available 24/7 in a Network Administrator’s position and there isn’t too much awareness about the options available. My entry into this field wasn’t a conscious decision – I was looking for something to boost my skill set and this was the course that matched my requirements in terms of being a technology course and having suitable timings when the classes we offered 😀 Once I got in, I realized that I had studied the basics in grad school and enjoyed the subject a lot. I found I have a natural aptitude for this field so I stuck around.

      The timings can be rigorous and anyone in this field, man or woman, would need a lot of support from family/spouse. I have been lucky that I have full support from my husband so I never had to worry about working off-business hours. I once even pulled an all-nighter during the second trimester of my pregnancy, upgrading a phone system. My first project, where I was the only woman in a team of 70, was a night project – I worked from 5 pm to 8 am, Friday through Sunday. The client needed the work to be done during off-business hours.

      The nature of this field is such that you HAVE to expect a lot of off-hours work. That might be another reason women don’t prefer it.

  5. Pingback: Women in corporate India

  6. Hi Cee Kay,
    I feel so nice and communicated well to your situation.I am a Unix sysadmin and I am only one woman in my entire team(offsite plus onsite).
    I feel sometimes secluded because of my gender , and to make situation worse I am from some other part of India placed here.So culturally and language wise I am different from all the male colleges.Can you imagine my plight.

    initially there were hiccups of blending in.My manager keeps on asking what are my future plan? It gives a feeling whether he wanted make sure being a woman do I even want to continue in this field at all.Some other team member will advice me in Godly manner that I should have opt for a lecturer job as I hold one Master in Science degree.
    and i see advices pouring in from all directions regarding how difficult it is being a woman to be in support job blah blah.But on the contrary no body would help me by swapping a shift ( we work in 24/7 shift) or taking my share of on call support on weekend.
    It is like both way and so contradicting.As a woman you are not fit for our (men) job, and if you stepped out for this then lets see how you do it.

    I am so glad to read your article, it is like after a long time i got one like minded buddy.Please share your email or if you are in face book tell me.

    • Hi Rashmi! I am sorry I did not see your comment earlier. It would be nice if I could get a notification of comments posted to my posts. (Hint, hint Aparna :P)

      Rashmi you can email me at gettingtherenow at gmail dot com. I would love to chat with you.

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