25+-Year #Autistic tech veteran – completely left out of the #WomenInSTEM movement

three human figures in the background with one solitary figure in frontHa – that title sounds like a personal profile… maybe on a bulletin board or forum… Funny. It sounds a little sad. A little upset. Too much? Whatever. At least, it’s true.

So, there’s all this amazing new movement on fostering the inclusion and career growth of #WomenInSTEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine. It’s so encouraging. And it’s great for the soul, to see it taking shape and maturing.

Back in 1992, when I got into high tech, women were few and far between, and when I went into web development full-time, there were even fewer in that space. Of course, there have always been women in computing (women were “computers” before the machines came along). And there have always been at least some women in science and engineering. But not nearly as many as men.

Once upon a time, it didn’t actually bother me. I’ve always been gender-non-conforming, and it was a relief to be able to work in an environment where my gender wasn’t made much of. If anything, it was downplayed. And that was partly my doing. Because the whole highly gendered “woman” thing has always been… well, problematic for me. And I just didn’t want to be bothered with classically gendered man-and-woman stuff.

I just wanted to code. I just wanted to build cool stuff and launch it and see the world change as a result.

These days, there’s increasing focus on including more women in the STEM space, and that’s great. I’m in the tech space, so I’ll talk about that portion of the whole STEM thing. There are meetups, hackathons, trainings, networking events, code-and-coffee sessions, and so forth. There’s a lot of activity going on, getting young women connected with each other and with the tech world. It’s awesome.

And I would love to participate. I would love to go to these events, network, connect with other women — especially younger women who may be waffling about whether or not to bother with tech… or who are grappling with a particularly sticky algorithmic conundrum and the could use an “old salt” to bounce ideas off.

The thing is, that’s just not gonna happen. Not in person, anyway. Not even online, really. ‘Cause I’m tired. I wrote earlier about how I’m fully employed, and I’ve been that way for about 30 years. Yeah, it’s been good. But I’m also exhausted. And in pain. All the time. To the point of disability, really. To the point of desperation, some days. The fatigue never really goes away, it just subsides and lurks in the background, till I either collapse or get a good night’s rest and manage to put it out of my mind.

All of my effectiveness and advancement has come at a steep price for me, as well as my family. I basically “leave it all on the field” each day. And when I’m done for the workday, I’m done.  Over and out. I’ve also got a handful of personal projects I’ve got going, and they get the majority of my “extra” energy (first thing in the morning before things “heat up” for me, and then on weekends and any parts of vacation days I may have).

The idea of dragging myself into a nearby city (or even town) to go to an evening meetup or coding session, let alone networking with total strangers, whom I have to make an extra effort to relate to… yeah, I just don’t have the discretionary time and energy for that. Even if something happens on the weekends, it’s rare that I have the discretionary energy to do that. I need my downtime — very much so. If I don’t rest enough on weekends, I suffer for it the following week. And so does everyone around me.

I’ve found a fine balance between keeping up with the rigors of everyday life, the responsibilities of my full-time job, being the primary carer for my partner, as well as volunteering on a town government board, attending a couple of autism support groups a month, and keeping myself healthy. And yeah, I do feel left out and excluded by the whole #WomenInSTEM thing. Because it seems to be only for young-ish, able-bodied, luxuriously time-rich women, who have the resources (time, energy, money, interpersonal support) to network and do this stuff.

Me? I can’t even imagine what it’s like to go to monthly meetups — or even quarterly — or just pick up and go to a hackathon on a moment’s notice, if it sounds cool and fun to attend. A lot of things sound cool and fun to attend, but I haven’t got the ability to do so.

I need to plan ahead of time. I need to make arrangements for my responsibilities — both for myself (so I’m confident they’re met) and for those I’m serving. I’m not complaining, I’m just observing.

And it’s kind of a shame.

Of course, I could do something online, I suppose. I could start a blog about my coding experiences, talk about different approaches, talk about the most effective ways to work with tech guys, when you’re the only woman in the vicinity. I could talk about all kinds of harassment, all kinds of positive experiences, lessons learned, and so forth.

But again – Time. Energy. These things take both, and I’ve already got my hands full.

It’s not for myself, that I’m most concerned. It’s actually for the others I could benefit, but never will because I’ve wrung myself out for the cause in the past 8 hours. Me? I’ll be fine. I’m perfectly happy doing my thing. But I’ve been in the technical trenches since the early 1990s, and I’ve got a wealth of knowledge and an eagerness to share it. Others could definitely benefit from it, I’m convinced.

Except the #WomenInSTEM movement is not totally accessible for someone like me. If anything, it’s just a bit exclusionary, as it presumes the ability (physical, economic, time-based) to join in the movement, just like all those other smiling women I see on my Twitter feed. I’m happy for them.

Well, it’s not really my concern, if the movement doesn’t have room for someone like me. The thing is, I don’t think I’m the only one. I’m sure there are other autistic tech women — or older caregiving women who are bogged down with domestic responsibilities — who are in the same boat as I. And we’ve got a sh*t-ton of experience that others could benefit from.

If they could get to us.

If they even knew we existed.

But they can’t.

And they mostly don’t.

So… it’s their loss.

And for that, I’m sad. 😦

Ah, well. Back to work.

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3 thoughts on “25+-Year #Autistic tech veteran – completely left out of the #WomenInSTEM movement

  1. OMG are you me? I, for one, would LOVE to read a blog post on how to deal with an overabundance of dudes as an autistic woman in tech. I’ve been in the industry since the 90s and it still feels like a club that I can’t join.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. VisualVox

      That being said, let me get on that. I was feeling sorry for myself, and I completely overlooked the fact that there’s nothing to prevent me from speaking up from my little corner of the world. And frankly, the chances of other people (who are exactly like me) finding me are better online — than in the outside world where things get so… loud, conflicting, and … complicated.

      Let me see what I can do. I’ve got the whole weekend to figure it out 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Also, I am colossally aware of how much work takes out of you. I went to a three-day conference two weeks ago, and then last week had four days of all-day meetings with a consultant and a group of coworkers to ramp up a new implementation of a thing. I spent the weekend curled up in a ball on the sofa and watching Dr Who for hours on end, speaking to no one, not leaving the house, barely verbal.

    So, no rush on a blog post. Just know you are not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

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