Returner Stories: Sarah Steinhoefel

Jun 11th, 2019

There is nothing to stop a woman doing the tech roles, other than the boxes we are placed in. The sooner the industry realises that then the better it will be for all in it.

Autumn 2019 will see the publication of first of it's kind research into women returners and the technology industry. The research commissioned by Tech Returners and undertaken by University of Manchester Business School will identify the numbers of women who have left and returned to the technology sector and importantly the reasons why they haven't returned.

Returner Stories shares the experiences of the women who make up the statistics. In this edition we hear from Sarah and how she's made her way in what she still considers to be a 'man's world'

I have worked in technology pretty much all my adult life. The thought that I would leave was something that had never crossed my mind!

When I was younger, I wanted to be an architect. But I didn’t want to settle for just being able to design a great building. I had a burning desire to understand how buildings were created from the ground up. That is when I first encountered the prejudice which would eventually see me leave my technology career too. I went to see the head of building services, who told me as a girl, it would not be a good idea for me to be doing a building studies course. After that, I dropped into a computer studies course. At nineteen, I had no interest in computers or how they worked. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.

In a group of around twenty, there were just two women. Me and a girl who’d come over to the UK to study and learn English. Most of the lecturers were ok, the odd couple seemed to have an issue. I was slowly starting to learn that this was how it was if you wanted to be a woman in a man’s world. When you’re younger this doesn’t seem to be such an issue, you have more resilience. As time goes on, the fight becomes harder.

By the time I had started my IT career in 1999, I was getting used to being the only woman in the room. I worked for a big multi-national software house, as a technical analyst. Daily, I spoke to various different people from IT directors to guys on the shop floor. I lost count of the number of people who questioned if I actually was a technical analyst? This coupled, with an increasingly stressful culture, lead to a decline in my health.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety all my adult life. For the first twelve years of my career I was able to cope, but then the stress got worse, to the point of burnout. Part of the issue was that my immediate management had no idea how to deal with someone with stress. In various back to work interviews I ended up being more stressed due to the cyclical conversations which I was having. Having to explain and justify how you feel is never easy is it?

I left after just over eighteen years, vowing never to go back to a big corporate or toxic environment. I now work as a self-employed web designer and content creator. The content side does seem to have more women, but web design is definitely a male space. I don’t know why I am surprised by this!

If I am honest, I don’t think that the tech industry is as inclusive as it makes out to be. Often companies cite that they have a balanced workforce. If you drill down, they may be a tech company with a balance of men and women, but the tech roles are still very much male dominated. There is no reason for the tech industry to be so biased. There is nothing to stop a woman doing the tech roles, other than the boxes we are placed in. The sooner the industry realises that then the better it will be for all in it.

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