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”?