BetterUp Front End Engineer Seema Shariat shares her experience and tips for unmuting the voices of women and underrepresented groups at work.
By Seema Shariat
Back in 2017, I was in a sprint planning meeting at my previous job, when something happened that I couldn't forget. A colleague of mine that one might describe as “reserved” had had enough.
Slamming her fists on the conference table, she interrupted a dev who was halfway into a spiel about rapid prototyping, yelling, "No, it doesn’t work like that!” The room went silent, but inside, I was ecstatic.
My colleague had done something that all the women on the engineering team had wanted but had never felt comfortable doing: going off mute.
I'm an extrovert, and I like to talk. I’m also a woman of color, so I am intentional in ensuring that my voice is heard. In my experience as a frontend developer, I've seen how sharing ideas leads to creativity, better solutions, and a stronger team whose work yields stronger results.
I’ve spent a few years in bi-weekly grooming, planning, and retros where the voices of myself and every woman in attendance become muted. Whether conscious or subconscious, the silencing was gradual. I used to think that this was just the way things are and that it would always be this way.
Only when I joined BetterUp a few years ago did I realize that it doesn't always have to be this way.
For the women who spend most of their working hours speaking to a machine, for the women who find themselves apprehensive when sharing inputs, asking questions, or showcasing their work, and for the women who feel like they're the alone in a sea of monotony – to all of you: there is hope.
Here are a few things to consider.
Finding a new job with a truly supportive work environment is anything but easy. And it may be difficult to decipher during an interview whether or not you’ll be heard on the job. But these interviews might be the best time to test the waters.
Elaborate on engineering concepts you feel passionate about – it’s okay to ramble! And when you do, make sure that your interviewer is listening and reflecting back to you things you’ve said with an open mind. If someone is going to truly value you and your views, they will listen.
In your workplace
During my first engineering team meeting at BetterUp, I remember speaking up, expecting to be interrupted. But to my surprise, I was encouraged to elaborate. I realized that unless I tried, I would never know for sure whether my workplace fosters or harms the growth of its underrepresented members.
Furthermore, ask yourself the following questions when measuring whether you have sufficient opportunities to speak up: Is the culture of your workplace reinforcing your verbal communication skills? Are you evolving in your ability to speak with confidence, transfer knowledge to others?
Finally, and most importantly, encourage other women you work with to speak up, early and often. We must support one another to make our collective voices heard.
If you still find yourself kept on mute, you might consider a different workplace.
About the author
Seema is a 2-time cancer survivor and woman of color. She enjoys writing code to make positive impacts in the world. She also enjoys hiking, barre, and making electronic music.