The Inconvenient Truth: Women in Tech Are Hard on Women in Tech

The hardest conflicts to overcome are often between other women on your team. It's time for that to change.

The lovely gif above, by illustrator Libby Vanderploeg, has been cycling around social media for a while now. Titled "Lift Each Other Up," the single scene shows women lifting each other up, higher and higher, to presumably phenomenal levels of success and self-actualization.

It's beautiful. Aspirational. And according to Billy Cina, a longtime tech marketing expert and CEO of Marketing Envy, it is not what happens between women in tech.

Women in tech who have long careers are "warriors, survivors and a rare breed," Cina wrote recently at "But this is not only due to some men taunting and sexually harassing some women on a daily basis. It's about time women faced an inconvenient truth about the immense impact of our behavior toward one another before pointing the finger at the likely culprit: men!"

How women box each other out at work

In general, Cina notes, women make up about 20 percent of a company's tech-related workforce, and only five percent make it to the upper echelons of leadership. When Cina started out as a junior marcom flunkie, the numbers were a bit lower. As she fought her way up the ladder of power, she was often one of just a few women in the room, or the only one.

She experienced extra scrutiny from her bosses, being in the minority, but Cina didn't feel the brunt of sexism, harassment or gender-based wage gaps.

Instead, "the hardest conflicts to overcome were those between other women on the team or female bosses who clearly felt threatened," she wrote. The common conflict scenarios included:

  • Counter-mentoring a female junior so that she would not get a promotion.
  • Obsessive and subjective scrutiny over every single idea raised or work plan.
  • Ensuring mistakes made were broadcast, with the female culprit named.
  • Fury and jealousy over personal communication or so-called favoritism between the CEO (male) and other women on the team.
  • Ensuring after-work drinks with "the guys" were a closed circle, upon invite only.

The dominant narrative Cina saw was one of scarcity. Think Sigourney Weaver and Melanie Griffith in "Working Girl." Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in "All About Eve." Women in tech believed — from experience or unexamined organizational culture — that there was limited attention and success to be had for women in tech, and they guarded it jealously. By Cina's account, they still believe this.

Sisters, let's do it for ourselves

Cina doesn't entirely discount the reality of male privilege and institutionalized gender nonsense, though based on her personal experience and, she states, some research, she also doesn't put much stock in it.

Rather, she wants women (and men) in tech, from HR staff to c-suite execs to startup founders, to take the action they can right now to make "equal pay, diversity, share of voice and a non-alienating work environment principles" part of tech workplaces.

She has innovative, rational, doable ideas. But a question remains: who is going to push for this action? How will women (and men) in tech organize and support each other to push against entrenched, destructive behavior? Who is going to be so tired of working under jealousy and scarcity that they stop waiting for things to change and just change them?

Cina might say that it's entirely up to women in tech.

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