In this post, I reflect on the isolation I felt when I first started working in IT.
ISOLATION | One is the loneliest number…
When I first started my job, I felt incredibly lonely at work and I didn’t realize why until months had gone by and I realized that I was the only woman at my site. My datacenter operations team is comprised of roughly 10% women, from what I have been told. As far as I know, there are only four women total in the Dallas area — we have several sites spread around the metroplex, so this is a VERY small amount of women! A result of this is that it can be isolating to work as a woman in IT.
In different work settings, most of my friends would be coworkers or classmates, but when I first started this job, I was a college dropout (though I’m back in classes and finishing up my degree now 😊), so I already lost one source of social interaction. When I first started the job, I think a lot of my coworkers didn’t know how to act around me – I was the first woman to work the overnights shift with them, I was fairly quiet, I was a quick learner, and I didn’t shy away from physical work. Pretty much – I didn’t fit any specific stereotype of “girl in IT” so they didn’t know how to treat me. I also didn’t want to be “that kind of girl” who would report people to HR, shame people for their sense of humour, fuss about profanity and cursing, or expect special treatment. That’s just not me. I didn’t necessarily want to be “one of the boys”, but I didn’t want to be excluded for being a girl. It was my first time to work a corporate job — I just wanted to do well and fit in!
In short, I didn’t impose myself on them because I didn’t want to disrupt the group dynamic. I remember quietly listening in on conversations and jokes from my cubicle, sitting alone in the office during group smoke breaks (the time where everyone went outside and got to know each other), and feeling an increasing sense of loneliness every time I remained mute. Also worth noting, I worked the overnights shift for nearly a year, which made it incredibly hard to spend time with any friends or family. I would have had to sacrifice sleep just to satisfy my social cravings, so that compounded how lonely and tired I felt.
However, the situation at work improved drastically with time as I got to know my coworkers, and even more when I changed from the overnights shift to the evenings shift. I was able to spend time with friends and family in the mornings before work! Also, my coworkers on the evenings shift were around the same age as me and we had more in common, so we ended up talking more! Balance was restored in my personal life, and I still consider many of those coworkers to be good friends.
Since then, I have transferred to a new site in downtown Dallas, where my manager and another coworker are women, and I’m also a university student again, so I’m surrounded by plenty of female energy and I don’t feel so lonely anymore. In the end, it just took some time to figure out how I best fit in at work.
My advice to any young woman starting out in her career is to reach out to others.
Insert yourself into the work dynamic, be friendly, and take the time to get to know your coworkers. When I first started out, I put a candy bowl on my desk and coworkers came by to grab a piece of candy, say hello, then carry on with their day. It was a nice way to start learning faces and get to know people!
Even if you are introverted, it’s always good to know that you have at least one coworker you get along with. You don’t need to have a “work wife”, but at the very least, try to find someone who you can talk to every so often!