Anarghya Vardhana
February 16, 2015 7:54 am

As a 21-year-old soon-to-be Stanford graduate and soon-to-be Google employee I was eager to spend my hard-earned tutoring money on a brand-new work wardrobe. I raided J.Crew and Banana Republic, stocking up on pencil skirts, cashmere sweaters, statement jewelry, and bowed kitten heels. My days of college sweatpants were over and a recently discovered fashionable self was itching to emerge.

Alas, I arrived at Google and immediately felt out of place in a sea of jeans and hoodies. I defied the normcore a few times and arrived at work peplum skirts and wedge sandals but despised the stares and the perplexed questioning, “why are you dressed up?”

I boxed my “girly” outfits into plastic bins and surrendered to jeans, v-necks, and sweatshirts with a bland grey flag.

I left Google a few years later and went from working with mostly guys to working with all guys.

As a female product manager on an all-male team I adopted an even stricter uniform. Dangly earrings swang their way out of my life. My curly hair was wound into tight buns. I rarely wore makeup other than the occasional lip gloss. Levi’s, a t-shirt (probably a free one that I got at a tech event), an American Apparel hoodie, and Chucks became my daily outfit. I even ditched my Marc Jacobs tote for a Jansport backpack, which, believe it or not, I stole from my 16 year-old male cousin. 

I harmlessly blended in, I was safe. I downplayed my femininity to be “one of the boys”. This made men feel less intimidated by my differences. I hid myself and protected them from who I really was (a female imposter in an all male industry).

It was not until Marissa Mayer’s Vogue photoshoot (Vogue, the real deal!) that I even considered dusting off the lacy skeletons in my closet. Here was tech’s most powerful woman laying upside down in drool-worthy ankle strap heels and a gorgeous form-fitting sheath dress.

Vogue and Marissa did four things for me that day.

  1. They showed me a previously unseen side of women in tech, an angle that was beautiful, elegant, graceful, sophisticated, and even sexy, WHILE STILL BEING INTELLIGENT, COMPETENT, AND A TOTAL BADASS

  2. They made me feel a lot less lost and alone in a sea of men and gave me a sense of female solidarity

  3. They emboldened me to be a WOMAN in tech rather than a chameleon in tech

  4. They encouraged me to walk into work the next day not in a flower print dress, but skinny jeans and a blazer (it was a start!)

I started small. Nail polish here. Hoops there. Sneaker wedges here. Cashmere there.

Some may chastise me for fixating on superficial equity between men and women in the workplace. After all, I should astound the men with my intellect rather than earning their respect by masking my differences. But it was more than that. I was treated differently because of my appearance, and therefore I hid it. Embracing my physicality and even enhancing it was my act of defiance. This was my colorful and creative way of sticking a middle finger in the air and saying that me and my paisley were here to stay.

I am rejecting the expectation of fitting in. I no longer fear my differences. I am empowered to think and look differently from my peers. I will roar, and it will be beautiful.

(Image , via)