As a Digital Designer, am I a 'Woman in Tech'?

Liz Hamburger
  • 27/06/2019
  • 9 min read

While browsing Twitter and looking at conference topics, we found that the conversation surrounding being a 'Woman in Tech' is a popular—and controversial—one. We’ve spoken a lot about the topic here at Inktrap, but our recent conversations have turned into the question; What does it really mean to be a Woman in Tech? and How does one know if they are considered to be one? Below, two of our Product Designers, Rachel and Liz, discuss their thoughts on whether they are Women in Tech.

“I don’t feel like I am, but I’m not entirely sure why not.” — Rachel, a Product Designer at Inktrap

Part 1: Rachel's view

First things first; defining yourself with labels is something completely personal, and others can’t label you as someone or something that you don’t feel 100% comfortable with. I appreciate my colleagues referring to me as “a Woman in Tech” and my peers saying “you’re a woman, you design websites and apps, so of course, you’re a Woman in Tech”, but just because others tell me I am, doesn’t mean I identify as one. I started to wonder — why do I feel so disconnected from this label?

So what is the definition of a Woman in Tech?

Well, there doesn’t seem to be one. At least nowhere that I can find. For me, this is the start of the issue — I don’t really know what a Woman in Tech is, and therefore how on earth am I supposed to know if I can, or should, identify as one?

Is it because of the work I do?

On the surface, it seems to stem from the job I do, as it feels mostly like a creative role. I lean more towards the UI side of digital design and often take a side-step into illustration and animation, making me feel like more of an arty person than a techy person. Yes, I do see how that seems like a bit of an oxymoron as I literally design websites and apps for a living, and surely websites and apps are tech?!

But that’s not how I look at it. If I Google the definition of “technology”, I’m presented with this —

Just look at that, obviously, that isn’t the work I do! I’m a designer, I don’t apply “scientific knowledge for practical purposes” or deal with “engineering or applied sciences” in my day-to-day job. But I might be reading into this too much. Are computers technological equipment? Is my mobile phone? Maybe it’s because I’m on that strange cusp of not-90's-enough-to-be-a-Millenial but not-teen-enough-to-be-Gen-Z. I just don’t really view computers and mobiles as “machinery and equipment” and I don’t really view websites or apps as “technology”.

In this day and age, computers and the internet don’t neccesarily fit the above definition of technology anymore—they’re basic tools like a pen or notepad, which were once cutting-edge technology. Every child in every family has an iPad and 100's of apps to play with (I might be exaggerating, but you see my point!). If I were designing UI for VR or for voice, I would probably consider myself a Woman in Tech more, because that seems more techish. I just don’t think websites and apps are tech anymore...

Is it because of the company I work for?

Following on from this, I wonder if the company I work for is impacting my resonance with the title Woman in Tech. I work for an agency, not a startup or tech giant. I can’t exactly explain why, as we work with platforms offering legal, financial and business services, but I simply don’t feel like the work I do is tech. Inktrap is a design and development agency, I would never describe us as a “tech company”, though perhaps if I worked somewhere that I would give this label—Google or Apple, for example—I would feel more comfortable with the label.

Is it because of how I got to where I am now?

In the same way as I wonder if it’s the company I am part of, I also wonder if my journey to my current job has influenced my opinion of my professional self. I’ve never studied a subject I would describe as “in tech”. In my GCSEs I probably got closest, studying ICT (which comprised of emails, advanced Google searches and lots and lots of Excel spreadsheets). As I got a little older, I studied Maths and Physics at A-Level—still not quite subjects that I would necessarily describe as “tech”.

When I went to university I studied a course which had a very techy-sounding title, Visual Effects and Motion Graphics, but that was still very creative. We did a little bit of coding and CGI, but that was never really my thing—I was always more enthusiastic about keyframe animation, graphic design and playing around with cameras. None of this stuff I was doing felt tech, it always felt way more creative. I had friends who studied Computer Science and they were doing stuff with data and AI and boy, now they were the tech people, but no, not me! I was the arty girl with the pink hair and the tattoos.

Back to the lack of definition

When researching for writing this article I tried to find other people’s stories of identifying as a Woman in Tech and most of these articles seemed to confirm my own doubts. They were all from women who were web developers or engineers. When reading these experiences I was amazed and proud of these women and thought to myself “I’m not a Woman in Tech — I can’t take the title away from these women who have learned such sophisticated stuff and gone through struggles of working in such a male-dominated job”. Feeling like more of an arty person, I don’t feel like I want to take the spotlight away from the women who, in my mind, really deserve the title of Woman in Tech.

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, or maybe I’ve taken this title to be something far more serious than it is. For me, and for now, I’m happy being a Woman in Design — I’ll leave the title of Woman in Tech to those who are happy and confident to claim it as their own.

“If I had to make the choice, then I would define myself as a Woman in Tech.” — Liz, another Product Designer at Inktrap

Part 2: Liz's view

I wholeheartedly agree with Rachel with regards to labels, though for me my issue is being called a Woman in Tech. I much prefer being called a Female in Tech or just a Person in Tech.

The definition of tech has changed

With regards to identifying as a Person in Tech, I think the term tech and what it encompasses has changed dramatically over the last 5 or so years and it is no longer a term that is dominated by those who code or are seen as engineers.

I feel that tech has broadened its horizons and design is now a significant part of that. My role at Inktrap is to design systems, structures and platforms, this kind of design requires the use of data whether that is face to face interviews with users or analytics gathered from Google.

For example, if we have a site that we wish to increase the engagement of, or perhaps identify why users are dropping off a specific point of the site we then look to the data and analytics to make a logical and information-driven decision as to how we can make an improvement. To me, this is a more technical skill and workflow rather than just design.

It’s about the industry, not just the role

I believe that the term tech refers to the industry rather than my specific role. The clients that I work with are usually start-ups or medium-sized companies but one thing that they all have in common is that their business is online and in the digital space. They do not sell physical products or services. They are purely platforms and digital systems. Therefore, I believe I am a Woman in Tech as that is what I design for. For example, if technology didn’t exist my job as a Digital Product Designer literally wouldn’t exist.

Not only is my role in tech-reliant on the kind of products I work with, but also because the products I design for I have to have some kind of technical knowledge so that I understand the way the code works to a certain extent and what advantages and restrictions that the code has on the designs. All the technical knowledge about HTML/CSS and Content Management Systems I’ve gained over the last few years has allowed me to create work that is not only great for the user but also great for the developers I work with to build. Without this knowledge, I literally wouldn’t be able to do my job.

As women, we shy away from saying how important we are

I agree there is a lot out there about Women in Tech being those who code, and that can make female digital designers not feel as worthy of this title. However, I believe we also play an important role within this tech space and by women who work in design, project management, UX etc. not to have this association with the Women in Tech title actually prevents more women from coming into the industry.

I want more women to see how diverse a career in tech can be and it doesn’t need to be just coding. You can do a variety of jobs and it isn’t just the classic engineering role that most people associate Women in Tech to be. Also, as women, we need to stop downplaying our achievements and the importance of our roles. All women, regardless of how much coding or technical knowledge you may have, are just as valid to have the title as a Women in Tech.

The work we all do is important. We all need each other and by being more vocal about our association to the title, I believe the industry will become a level playing field for women in a male-dominated industry.

Do you consider yourself to be a Woman in Tech? If you’ve got any feedback we’d love to hear from you — please leave a comment here, or drop us a line on Twitter. We’re @InktrapDesign.

Note: The opinions we’ve expressed here are our own, only meant to explain why we define ourselves as we do, and not tell others how they must define themselves. This article is written to spark a discussion between the team and those in the tech industry.