How to survive as a Muslim woman in tech

Episode art for Tech Sisters. How to survive as a Muslim woman in tech

It’s a solo episode this week!

We get asked from Muslim women in tech all the time about how to survive in their careers. And from women at all points of their careers – from considering transitioning into tech to seasoned tech veterans.

In this episode, I’ll talk about why niche groups, like Tech Sisters, are essential, what’s going on with the tech pipeline, and go over some strategies to reduce the harm you might experience.

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Key Lessons from this Episode

  • Why niche groups, like Tech Sisters, are so important 4:00
  • What’s happening with the leaky pipeline 9:00
  • Techniques to reduce the harm you might experience 14:00

Transcript

As salaamu alaikum, you are listening to Tech Sisters Stories. Tech Sisters is a community that supports Muslim women in tech through storytelling and sisterhood. My name is Grace, and I get to interview the amazing women in our community.

But today’s episode, it’s just going to be me. It’s just you and me. We did an episode like this a while ago, and people seemed to like it. So here we are again!

I’m laughing because these feel really awkward for me to record. But alhamdulillah. I’m glad we get to do this.

Just one announcement before we get started. The Tech Sisters Community health survey is live. It’s very exciting. I love the results that we’re getting so far.

So, if you are a Tech Sisters member. Please, please, please, please, please. Follow the link in slack or the email that you would already have gotten. And do the survey. So that we know that Tech Sisters is serving you. We know where we’re falling short, and we’ll learn how to improve. inshAllah, that’ll be a huge help. Thank you so much.

Now. For today’s show. We’re going to be talking about how to thrive as Muslim women in tech. This is something that comes up. In the mentoring. In the membership forums. And it’s mixed in with a bunch of other issues. So it’s people who are worried that they’re looking to transition to technology, and they’re concerned if this is a safe choice. You know, cause we hear about the toxic workplaces. Especially because Muslim women typically occupy more than one marginalized identity.

 They’re worried about how I’m going to learn the skills. Because there’s no one else like me and my computer science program. Or in my bootcamp, I’m the only hijabi there. How will I network when I’m going to a conference to make personal connections, and no one else is like me. That was actually one of the reasons I started Tech Sisters. Am I going to have enough flexibility? Am I going to have enough room for advancement? What red flags do I need to look out for to avoid going into a toxic workplace? What are the things I need to look out for in the interview?

So that’s all at like the beginning of your career. When you’re looking to transition to tech or to get into it. And then there’s the midpoint. Which is where it gets, really. Really dicey. So it’s, I’m in a toxic culture. How do I get out of it? I’m tired. I’m tired of fighting to keep my place at the table.

And I feel bad mentoring juniors who are going through the same things that I went through. Nothing’s changed. There haven’t been any tenable changes.

So what this episode is going to focus on. Is, first of all, talking about why we even need. These specialized groups. Why a group like Tech Sisters or

like Muslamic Makers, like black and data or other niche groups. Why is it important?

And then the next thing, we’ll talk about the pipeline. And why this idea has been misinterpreted so much. Misrepresented and what is actually happening. And why the number of marginalized groups in tech is so bad.

And then, we’ll talk about strategies you can take to reduce harm. There’s not gonna be any. Quick fixes. There are not going to be any permanent fixes. Because I think anyone who’s been doing this for a while knows. The pace of change is glacial.

So the focus is preserving your health, preserving your mental health. So that you are less likely to burn out and give up. And quit. If that’s something that you don’t want to do.

Okay. Does that sound good? Great. I’m excited. So, yeah, let’s get into it.

So why do we even need a group for Muslim women in tech? Funny enough. I saw a tweet about this on my timeline just as I wrote the outline for today’s episode. It is something people wonder about. There are so many niche groups.

Why do we even need this? And I’ll start with a quote. Talking about the importance of feeling valued and seen. And this is by Keidra Chaney in her book invisible burnout and tech.

“For marginalized workers in tech, women, people of colour, queer and trans people, people with disabilities.

Tech burnout comes quicker and harder. It comes from existing and being pressured to thrive in a space where your presence is seen as an aberration. And your skills are perceived as suspect. It’s a burnout, not easily solved by quick fixes or even a new job. It’s triggered by your own life. The very body you inhabit.

I think what that is saying to me is that we’re going to be experiencing the stigma just by being ourselves. So we’re going to experience a certain level of pressure and difficulties.

That other people don’t experience. Just because of who we are and the spaces that we’re occupying.

It’s important to feel validated. It’s important to feel seen and heard. To know that your experience is shared. Amongst other people. That you’re not alone. And that’s why there are niche groups.

Any person that’s different from the norm of the environment that they’re in. It’s going to get worn down over time. So it’s essential to prevent that. By forming connections with the people who get you. The people who know where you’re coming from, the people who understand your background. The people who get your values and know why you want to do certain things in your life.

You don’t want to explain over and over again. Why do you wear hijab? Even though it would make things easier if you didn’t. You want to talk to people and have a support network that isn’t even asking that question because they just get it.

Right. And so now I’ll get into some diversity stats. Which. I think we all know going to be pretty bad. But always helps to talk about it just to put it out there. So I’m not going to dwell on these. So 41% of women leave technology after 10 years of experience.

That’s, you know, almost half of women. Think of all the work that you put in. Getting to tech. And getting your CS degree or teaching yourself how to code. 10 years later. Nearly half of women drop out.

Almost two-thirds of boards and more than 40% of senior leadership teams have no female representation. Just eight and a half per cent of senior tech leads are from a minority background. And. Like I mentioned earlier, minority women are at the intersection of many different identities.

It’s not unusual. That one woman can find herself. For example, in a tech company, as the only woman on her team, the only person of colour, and the only Muslim on her team. The only person who dresses the way that she does, the only person who prays. Sometimes even the only married person, the only mother.

The only immigrant. The only person from a different socio-economic background. So, subhanAllah, we’re different, so many ways over.

And so, the microaggressions that come from just one of those differences can be compounded.

And I think

That’s kind of a natural lead into why. Burnout. Happens. And it happens. Quite frequently. And consistently.

But there’s also this, the idea of the digital gap. And why it’s crucial to stay in tech. If we’re not part of being what’s developed. We’re not part of being what’s built. It’s going to be used against us, whether that’s intentional or not. And there are lots of examples. Of how technology was developed with no women or no people of colour on the team. To check the assumptions. And even if their intentions were fine. Because the bias was embedded in the code.

Those algorithms and those products that are a result of that are going to be inherently biased. Once the bias is introduced. It’s going to become, especially in AI. Once it’s introduced, it becomes self-reinforcing. The AI is going to look for the same patterns repeatedly. And something that was an unintended bias will be deeply embedded. It’s tough to get that out.

 So we talked about why this group is needed. If you’re listening to the podcast, I hope you feel it’s needed anyway. I hope you feel drawn to Tech Sisters. Our whole purpose is sharing stories and making people feel seen and validated. So I hope you get that already.

The next bit is this whole pipeline thing. We were talking about how women drop out after 10 years. Why does that happen? When companies look at their diversity stats, usually, their go-to response is that the pipeline’s broken. And that we need a lot more people funnelled into technology at early ages.

And so there’s a lot of funding for. For school programs and

And boot camps. Geared towards getting women and. Minority groups. Into technology. So that they can get started and learn how to code. So you have more bodies getting into the tech field.

But.

The toxic tech culture. The main reason people drop out of tech is not that there are not enough people going, and there are plenty of people going in. There are lots of junior developers. There are lots of people learning how to code.

But there aren’t as many senior women developers. And that’s because of this toxic culture. These stats are from a recent article. About the current wave. Of Attrition. So people are quitting. Because of the COVID pandemic, they’re looking at the motivations of why.

Also, I’m going to put all the resources and the stats that I’m using in the show notes. In this article, they’re talking about why toxic corporate culture is the main reason people drop out of tech. Culture is 10 times more critical, more driving factor than compensation. We especially see it in our field, where it’s common for it’s not unheard of. For people to get very high compensation. But the culture is. Still incredibly toxic and damaging. And it’s not worth it.

Another factor is these companies failed to promote diversity. Equality and inclusion. So DEI. They talk about it a lot. And they have published goals, but there’s no real action. There’s no tenable change. So workers feel disrespected, and there’s unethical behaviour.

And I think. That. The focus on ethics is something again. That’s going to really hit home for our audience in particular. For this career path of Muslim women. Because ethics is, are working for ethical companies. It is a big part of how people make their decisions and what they want in their careers.

We see women coming into the field. Wanting to provide for their families in a way aligned with their religious beliefs. So it’s essential to work for an ethical company that’s aligned with its values. So they feel like they don’t have to compromise their deen and spirituality.

To get work, because if that comes to that, And if they have the option and the freedom to make that choice, they’re going to leave. So there we are, back to the pipeline. So we have lots of people coming into the channel. But this toxic culture is driving people out of how does that happen? So you start in, you have lots of people funnelled?

Happy. They’ve learned how to code. They built their websites. And then the pipeline starts to leak. It starts to inform when marginalized tech workers experience workplace pressures. And these can be very demanding schedules. Really really late hours. Hostile work environments. A culture where abuse, discrimination, microaggressions, and imposter syndrome. And stereotype threats are widespread. So, somebody would come in through the pipeline and start experiencing these things in the workplace.

And leaks start to happen. So these are small leaks. And then those tiny leaks. build up over time. And then there’s a gush. When women, who become mothers, go on maternity leave. It’s much more challenging. To come back and to face that environment. While balancing being a mother at the same time.

And if you talk to somebody like we have, we’ve had on the show as well. And you can listen to the episode, Rahmat’s saying that she still has to fight for her seat at the table, that she.

Worked so hard to make her own seat. And after all of the accomplishments that she has. But, she still has to fight to keep it.

Many women feel like there’s a plodding pace of change. It feels very tiring, feels very dispiriting. Every time you encounter. Negative. Microaggression. And you complain about it, and nothing happens. And then it happens again. So that makes it really hard to continue on.

And when we look at those challenges that workplace culture. It will trigger a flight or fight response. And that’s where the leaks happen. So people who are choosing to when it’s a good choice. To get out. And then the people who stay in make a choice to fight. But fight for now. They’ll have to keep coming back and reevaluate that choice.

At regular times in their career. Not every day. Every couple of months. You have to keep making that decision. And each time you do. That’s wearing you down a little bit more each time.

If you’re in a position where you are making that choice. You’re making that choice to fight for now. Let’s get into some techniques. To help reduce harm. So that you’re not burning yourself out. You can keep going. And you’re not piling it on.

Before we get into it, just to be super clear. It’s okay to leave. That is totally valid if that’s what you want to do.

That’s absolutely fine. And we support you. It’s okay to leave. And it’s okay to feel like quitting isn’t an option. Right. And a lot of people don’t have the freedom of choice. That’s okay too. And if you need support, Tech Sisters is here for that as well.

One of the top things. To help you. Survive in tech. To help you reduce the harm. That you’re going to feel. Just by being different. In your work environment. Is to have a strong, thriving, personal network. Some people get what you’re going through.

Your people who share your values. This is what we’ve said before. People who share your values, people who. You don’t have to explain yourself around them. They just get it. And they can jump right in and help you with the problem.

And this is Tech Sisters. Right. This is what we’re all about. This is the whole purpose.

Groups like this have a strong personal network. It’s suitable for shared commiseration. It’s good for venting. But, you know, you’re not looking for a specific solution. Still, you just want to tell somebody what happened without you having to explain everything.

And without. And in safety, without worrying, that will come back and bite you.

In these groups, you’re going to get advice based on other people’s lived experiences.

So two people can experience a very similar. Micro-aggression. But the advice you get will come from a place of shared values. But from somebody who’s further down the line. And understands where this is coming from and understands the bigger picture. That’s another reason. Why mentoring is really important.

And again, it’s. It knows that you’re not alone. And that other people have gone through. We are currently going through and will go through. A very similar situation that you’re in right now. And even though. It’s not great. Knowing that so many people are experiencing a negative thing. It helps. It helps to feel that you’re not alone.

I think one of the most negative things about being. The only at work. Being the only woman, the only person of colour. The only Muslim, et cetera, et cetera.

It is when something happens. You don’t have anyone to talk to you. And you can doubt yourself. You can doubt. If that thing that happened. It was okay or not.

Another benefit of the personal network is having access to the whisper network.

The whisper network warns you about sources of harm and where they are. And this can be people places. Employers events. Anything like that. It doesn’t remove the damage. But it helps you make an informed decision about where you’re going to put your time and energy.

And it’s also essential to mention, I think, that a personal network. It’s excellent. It’s powerful. It does a lot to reduce harm. But doesn’t do everything. So if you’re able to, and if you feel like you need more specialized support than what your network can give you. Then I would encourage whoever wants to look into therapy or coaching. And it’s not available to everyone. You know, there is a stigma, there’s a cost. But, this is your mental health. This is investing in you and taking care of you.

So that you are better able to face the challenges that you’re already going through.

Yeah, it is worthwhile. If you’re able to do it if you feel like you need it. Then definitely look into it inshAllah.

Okay. We’re talking about reducing harm. We’re talking about personal networks. The next part has firm boundaries. Just by existing, as we said, it’s already hard. Why are we adding to it?

If there is something that comes up. Only say yes, if you actually want to do it.

Don’t say yes, because you feel like it. It’s going to get you a reward because it probably won’t. Don’t say yes, because you feel like people were expecting you to. They might, but it doesn’t matter.

Only say yes, if you actually want to do it, so if it makes you feel good, If it enriches you and if it makes you feel like you’re helping people. So. Like Tech Sisters. Running Tech Sisters, And I’ve heard this from other community leaders. And I’ve also read this about people who do diversity work.

It’s, you know, I’m certainly not getting paid.

And it is hard work. To do this on top of everything else that I do? But alhamdulillah, I always have the outlook that I’m doing this. I’m not expecting any reward for it. I’m always doing it with the view of helping people. Of this being a sadiqah jariyah . But, you know, I feel like I got a lot of support.

I feel like when I was getting into technology. I had so many duas that were being answered. So my intention with tech sisters. Is to be. The answer to other people’s duas. Inshallah.

So that’s where Tech Sisters is coming in. And that’s why I’m doing it.

And that’s why. Even though it is a lot of work, it sometimes gets pretty draining. I’m okay with what I’ve agreed to because it is something that I feel is important to me. If you’re presented with something, you don’t think that way.

If that is making you feel tight inside. Or if you have that funny feeling, and it’s not filling you up with joy, it’s filling you up with something else. Say no.

Diversity work is pushed on underrepresented employees who are already harmed by diversity-related issues. So, of course, it’s expected that you will do this on top of your everyday work. But, unfortunately, you’re usually not rewarded for it. And it distracts you from your professional accomplishments.

So only agree to things. Don’t take on something just because people ask you to if you want to.

We talked about personal networks. We talked about having firm boundaries, and the last bit is how to reduce harm. At work. Which is the most challenging thing to do. But it can have the most significant return on your investment.

And I think.

It helps to start off with accepting. That you’re not going to be able to change. Everybody at work. Right. You’re not going to change your work culture just by yourself. So it’s evaluating the things that are in your control to change.

Accepting the things that you can’t. And because this is Muslim, women in tech leave the rest to Allah. Right. Having peace and tranquillity and his plan. And having that carry you through. So when you identify the things that you can actually change. Then it’s like a sort of experiment. It’s like questions to ask yourself.

What do you, what do you want in your job? Is there anything you can change? What has worked for you? Or what hasn’t worked? Where do you need more data to make a decision? And the kind of changes that you might want to make. It could be changing the company you work for, the type of work you do.

Where you live. Any of these things, so working remotely might be an option.

You can also look at the size of the organization that you work for. Some people thrive in small teams, and some people really need a big company. The amount of holiday time is the amount of maternity leave. The flexibility. How much monitoring does the company do? How much time tracking you? Some people.

I think most people hate tracking their time. So, yeah, that can lead to a lot of stress at work. That’s not necessary. Your role. What, where do you want to be in the team? What do you want to be doing? You can play around with all of these things and see, and.

See if it’s something that would make an impact. What do you value? You know, what kind of life do you want to have? Where does your job fit in with that life? How would it support your dreams?

When you have an idea of what you want from those questions, you can start by trying to take action on those. And see if that leads to a change if that reduces the burnout, if that reduces the stress. If you find more happiness and fulfilment in your role.

To make these kinds of experiments possible. And. Just to add a lot more freedom into your choices. A lot more agency it’s helpful to save money. To have a fund saved up. So that you can leave a bad situation. People are stuck in bad jobs.

They’re stuck in broken. Terrible harmful situations far longer than they. Can handle it because they can’t afford to leave. It’s really typical. It’s not just at work. This is a living thing. And eventually, that will break you down.

So if you have the means to. It’s good to set some money aside. So that if things get bad, You can walk away. It could be for quitting. It could be for sustaining your family. If you get fired for being a bad culture fit. It could be a fund to start your own business and be your own boss. So, where are you going to freelancing? And that can cover the rent for a little while. So you don’t have the stress.

It could be a fund for developing new skills.

You know one of the most powerful ways. To send a message in the. Work society that we’re in. Is to remove our labour. From that particular corner of the market and build things. That is inclusive to us.

Many of you have the skillsets and the knowledge that is so in demand. That you’ve the privilege. To leave a bad workplace, to leave a bad situation. So there is no need to stick around for a long time. If it’s not serving you.

 And if you don’t see what you want. Then group together with other people and build.

Build it. The kind of change that you want. New people are coming into tech to see. If you had a rough time. When you first joined tech. Then build a company or. Be involved in building a culture. That’s going to be really inclusive and friendly. And what did you want when you were a junior developer?

Okay. So that’s all those points. So we talked about it. Why it’s essential for these niche groups? To make people feel seen and heard. So that we’re not alone. We talked about the pipeline. And why. Toxic work culture is the main reason why people are from marginalized groups. Significantly women drop out of tech at such a high rate over the midpoint and later in their career.

And we talked about ways to reduce harm. How to make it more sustainable. To thrive and technology to survive as a Muslim woman in tech. We spoke of personal networks. Which is like Tech Sisters. So having a group of people you trust and who get you gets your values. To commiserate with them to vent. And to get their advice. To hear from them. If a place is safe or not. We talked about setting your boundaries and not taking on too much.

And we talked about reducing harm at work. And making these subtle changes. Like where do you want to work? What kind of job do you want to do? And having. Means set aside to make those changes. Possible.

There’s so much more that we can go into here. There’s like spotting red flags at the interview stage. Getting over imposter syndrome, feeling more confident. We’ve talked about building inclusive places. So what would that even look like? How can we do that? That feels. Like a huge thing to say,

Maybe. Future one-off solo episode topics.

But I just want to close it by reiterating. You’re valid; what you’re going through is valid. What you’re experiencing is valid. And how you want to address what you’re going through is valid.

Tech Sisters is here to support you. So if you listen to this. And you feel that you need that personal network. That’s what we’re here for. Use Tech Sisters as that place to vent. Is that place to ask questions? Or that place to see the representation of people like you. You’re definitely not alone.

I hope this helped. Let me know. What was your favourite part of the episode? Let me know if there’s anything here that really got to you. That really went to your heart. And please remember to leave us a rating or review. If you don’t know how to do that, I have a link in the show notes.

It would really help. The show a lot. It would help more people discover the show. And it takes like five seconds. . If you’ve liked this episode. If any of the Tech Sisters episodes have impacted you positively. Please let us know. It would make me really happy for sure. And yeah, I’ll see you next week. Not by myself. I’ll have a guest next week inshAllah. So yeah. See you next time As salaamu alikum.

Links

Mid-Career Survival for People Who Don’t Want to be an Attrition Statistic When They Grow Up: Talk Transcript

Putting a Spotlight on Diversity in Tech Burnout

Surviving Is Diversity Work

‘Worrying’ lack of diversity in Britain’s tech sector, report finds

Toxic Culture Is Driving the Great Resignation

If you liked this story, be sure to check our other Tech Sisters Stories and get to know the amazing talent we have in our community.

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