Spending most of my time with men is a by product of a career in product management and business. It is so much a part of my life that I simply forget that in many women’s lives and in some cultures this is an unusual experience. And then something happens to remind me that I’m not always ‘one of the guys‘ as Colin put it once.
One morning I thought it would be warm. Instead of jeans, I pulled on a shortish black skirt, flowered top, black sweater and short black boots. The net effect was casual, but professional, and definitely feminine. However, that day I was working at Hacker Dojo. Hacker Dojo is home to very small developers – almost exclusively men. The uniform is jeans and t-shirt. Think of a frat house built into large ex-office space.
Seeking coffee, I left the meeting room and turned the corner into a space where several men are talking on a couple of couches – and the conversation stops. Think of a movie scene when a cop walks into a biker bar. Since this is Silicon Valley they quickly realize that they shouldn’t stare and the conversation starts back up quickly. But not before I do a double take. This feels personal and I can’t work out why until I realize that I’ve spent the last 25+ years being ‘one of the guys’. It was the only strategy that seemed to work when I was studying engineering, then later as an engineer.
It continued to work as I spent most of my professional life surrounded by men. Yes, I wore heels so that I wouldn’t be too short next to the guys, but wore minimal makeup and by and large avoided overtly sexy clothing. I kept to this strategy through 3 pregnancies, planning meetings galore, business plan presentations, and business meetings.
And in one moment, my cover was blown: yes, I’m a woman. Worse, I felt like a girl – a girlie, girl. For a moment, I felt vulnerable. However, practice has it’s purpose. In a moment, I smiled, verging on a laugh, and strode past hitting my heels hard on the ground. This reassures the guys on the sofa. They go back to their work and I go back to my pretense.