Do I Have To Lean In?

Lately I’ve been thinking about what’ll happen when I reach financial independence.

Right now I’m working in a particularly white, male-dominated area of tech. In my group there are over a hundred technologists. At the age of twenty-six, I am the most senior woman of the group. There used to be quite a few women in just-under-C-level roles, but they all left en masse after no women ended up in the C-suite. No minorities either, for what it’s worth.

I have been told that this year, our incoming college graduates have been recruited 50-50 men and women, which is good. In hiring committees, I’ve come across my fair share of cringe-worthy moments. Like when my colleague remarked that an American-born Asian candidate needed to improve his English skills. Or when another defended hiring a candidate that was dismissive and sexist to the administrative staff. There have been times I was the deciding vote between hiring a qualified female or minority candidate or not.

I’m at the point in my career where the youngest new hires see me as a mentor. A couple of them even thought I was a mom (still reeling from that one). They ask my advice. I put them up for promotions. I am now apparently “old.”

I have enough seniority to affect some influence in my department. And if I decided to lean my career, I could probably increase it. In this area that really needs more diversity, I can continue to push bit by bit for change.

The problem is: I don’t identify strongly with my current field. Nor with tech in general. I don’t know if it’s just not a fit or if the culture has worn me down, but when I hit financial independence I plan to leave tech. I may even go before then.

That means around the peak of my career I’ll be throwing away any hard-earned influence I have. And that feels uncomfortable. Shouldn’t I be making spaces for women and minorities? Don’t I have a moral imperative to suck it up, put on my activist hat, stick it out (maybe even past FIRE) and pave the way? Even if I don’t like it.

I imagine I’ll be able to assuage my guilt of leaving after FIRE. I only have so much life and labor and I want to spend as much of it as I can doing things that bring me joy. Even so, there’s more I could be doing now while I’m here to increase my sphere of influence. I could stomp out my burnout, go corporate, get ambitious for those promotions. If I really push myself, in the next eight or nine years I’m still working, I could leave a real legacy behind me. But do I have the energy to do it?

What do you think? Are you a minority in your field? Is there a moral imperative for those who can to “lean in”?

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11 thoughts on “Do I Have To Lean In?

  1. Minority by sex, but not by race. My current employer is small and so I don’t have the mentor-for-junior-women thing going on because a) most of the people are STILL older than me b) the young ones i work with now are male. On the flip side, most of my mentors are men, but I do very much look up to the successful women leaders. On one project, my lead is a fabulously impressive woman, and I kind of idolize her. 🙂 She also clearly is an advocate for other women.

    Do what you can while you are there, but I don’t think there is any obligation to stick out a career you don’t enjoy just for the sake of women in general.

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    1. That’s cool one of your leads is a woman! All my mentors this far have been men, but they’ve been really great especially about calling out clients and colleagues when they are being sexist and making sure my voice/opinion is heard.

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  2. I am also a female working in a male dominated field. In my department at work we have about a dozen people, and I am the only female. I have some female friends from school that are really good about promoting women in our field, but I am not that ambitious, and would hope that my quality of work speaks for itself? I am very lucky that I don’t feel I have ever been discriminated against at my work place. In fact, some of my managers and higher-ups have suggested that I mentor or meet with some of the younger females that have applied to our place for work, or that work in other departments… I sometimes feel guilty about not doing more, but part of me wonders if that guilt is not just a sign of the overall issue. Do any of the guys that I work with feel guilt about not supporting or promoting females enough in our line of work? I doubt it…

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  3. Maybe I’m being an idealist but if everyone treated the people around them with kindness and respect in general, we would have less sexism and less racism. No, I don’t think you need to be a vanguard of feminism. You’re not selfish for having your own personal goals. I’d encourage you to do what is right fair and kind when you have the opportunity to do so and maybe others in your workplace will be inspired to do the same.

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    1. I think it is true that one should model “good” behavior for others to follow. That said, I think doing what is “kind” and “respectful” is not always enough, because what is understood as “kind” and “respectful” varies and sometimes means one should go along and get along with a systematically biased status quo.

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  4. I’ve always felt a sense of obligation and “duty” in various ways since I started law school, to do pro bono, to do a fair amount of work on diversity issues at law school, etc. It’s something that’s a real part of the profession, though not something everyone buys into. Pro bono work is strongly encouraged and seen as something that’s part of the tenets of professional responsibility, for instance. Because I think diversity in the field is important that sense of duty certainly extends to an obligation to consciously “do more” for women and POC students, job candidates, and fellow attorneys.

    A lot of law firm partners might think of their management practices as entirely neutral, but I’ve seen it play out (at a firm with very good diversity numbers for the profession) as white male associates (even when they’re actually the minority in the class year by a large margin) consistently getting more and better work while most of the minorities and women are low on hours and projects. I hear enough anecdotes from very different firms to think it’s an universal problem.

    There’s a chance I may end up pursuing certain types of jobs because of a sense of duty to possibly be one of a tiny handful of Asian American attorneys who do x. (The numbers for Asian Americans in particular really are so small that one individual would make a big difference… Those types of jobs would be ones that I enjoy, but generally be public service-type jobs that come with larger workloads and significantly less pay than some of my other options.)

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    1. I think the value of pro bono work in law is something to be admired and I wish other industries would take notice. Folks at our company have tried to start up pro bono programs every once and a while, but nothing has gotten enough institutional backing to stick.

      I imagine as an Asian American, any direction you go in your career, there will be a lot of room to bring diversity and make an impact. I’ve seen the “neutral” management practices play out at my firm too, and I really believe the only way to level the field is to have more diverse management in addition to a more diverse incoming cohort.

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  5. Just discovered your blog (via a Gai Shan Life) & excited to read it. I feel like I wrote this post. I’m planning on leaving my job in 2018. Which, creates a bunch of guilt on many dimensions, but one is the fact that I’m on a high performance trajectory & would be getting up to a very senior level (external equivalent of VP) if I stayed for the year. And, I don’t want it. I just don’t. I’m also in tech, and don’t feel connected to what I do. My team is actually quite diverse, both gender & race. My manager is a woman. However, we report in through a larger organization that is . . . not at all diverse. I’m in an industry where I”m often the only woman in a room, with 25 other people. Depending on which country I’m in, I’m always mistaken as the assistant to my actual direct employee.

    I get a lot of flack from a few of my female mentors when I discuss not wanting the next promotion. The expectation is, that if you are on the trajectory & you have the support, you go for it. Opting out is not an acceptable option.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by!

      I’m sorry you’ve been getting flak for not wanting to stay on and get promoted in your field. It can definitely be hard when peers expect you to “take one for the team” as it were.

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  6. Female minority, yes. I think I need to personally lean in to the highest degree I can tolerate and still enjoy work, because I am the breadwinner, and want kids soon. I’ve never considered the race aspect of it … that is probably secondary for me. I think where race, and class, comes in for me is just having been raised in quite a different environment than the majority white middle class types you find in digital marketing.

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