In my twenties, I thought I would someday become a lawyer. Having interned for U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and then working as a public policy analyst for the Nevada state legislature, a career in law seemed likely. That all changed when I met a family friend of my husband’s named Jennifer. 

Jennifer was a highly successful executive at Microsoft. Meeting her was a revelation and encouraged me to pursue a career path in tech like hers. Something about Jennifer being a woman and looking like me helped me visualize my being there. If Jennifer could do it, I could, too. That thought spurred me to pursue a Master of Science in Human-Centered Design and Engineering from the University of Washington.

Eventually, I landed a job in the Bay Area, the place to be as an ambitious, young tech worker. Red flags started appearing almost immediately, but I dismissed them, distracted by the lavish perks and high paychecks that came with working in Big Tech. I also believed my employers were primarily driven by a desire to change the world for the better, as I was so often told. How could such altruistic organizations be engaging in nefarious acts?

Tech-industry scars

Over a decade flew by, and with time, it became harder to ignore the issues: instances of gender-based pay and leveling discrepancies, sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and parental discrimination were adding up and severely impacting my career trajectory. The exhaustion of trying to constantly walk on what felt like a tightrope in navigating being a woman in tech was also wearing on me. I was somehow always too assertive yet not assertive enough, too casual in my appearance or not presentable enough, too emotional and yet somehow not attuned enough to the emotions of my coworkers. The list goes on.

I thought for a period of time that surely no other woman could have experienced so many workplace hardships. From the countless people who have reached out following my story going public—involving me being pushed out of Google and eventually suing the company over pregnancy discrimination—I learned that many minority and marginalized workers from the tech industry have scars similar to my own from what so often plays out as accumulating paper cuts caused by workplace misconduct. I wasn’t alone in my intersecting experiences.

After turning 40, it also became apparent that age discrimination would likely be another challenge in coming years. Acknowledged by many as an open secret in the tech industry, age discrimination was an especially scary risk with two young children at home to care for. 

The terminal factor in my decision to retire from tech work was experiencing Google spending what likely added up to millions of dollars fighting my pregnancy discrimination lawsuit. Despite promises to change its broken system of handling reports of sexual harassment and discrimination in recent years, the company, in my view, chose to act like many companies do in spending big money to cover up misconduct. 

About two years ago, Google reached a settlement in my case. With my lawsuit against the tech giant concluded, my days of drinking the corporate Kool-Aid are over; I can no longer overlook the issues I was once able to easily ignore. The contrast between how many tech companies talk about diversity and inclusion and how they act internally has left me permanently jaded.

It’s also been unsettling to observe tech companies in the past two years pursuing mass layoffs despite record profits, I believe in part to silence a growing trend of tech workers mobilizing. This includes the slashing of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) departments, which are important stewards of ensuring diverse workforces within the industry. 

Moving on

Of course, the tech industry as a whole isn’t bad, and there are many former and current tech workers worldwide leading important initiatives to drive increased inclusivity within tech and other industries. This includes, for example, Sarah Johal and Vivianne Castillo. Inspired by her experiences as a mom working in Big Tech, Johal founded CareSprint to champion inclusive workplaces for parents and caregivers. Castillo, motivated by her experiences with microaggressions and gaslighting as a Black woman in tech, founded HmntyCntrd, a company offering resources to cultivate trauma-informed, care-centered teams and organizational structures. 

Johal and Castillo are, for me, role models who highlight how future generations of tech workers can drive meaningful change within tech and other industries. I’m hopeful that needed reform will continue to emerge through the important work of people like them. 

That said, especially as a mother and woman approaching middle age, I personally can no longer work within an industry that I feel, more often than not, has been too slow to innovate in terms of fostering inclusive work environments. With the continued hardships I know I’d encounter, remaining in tech is too financially and emotionally risky.

So here I am, joining the 50% of women in tech roles who leave the industry by the time they’re 35 years old. This fall, I’m returning to my initial career goal of starting law school to help fill what I observed as a gap in the number of employment attorneys fighting for the rights of employees. While I sometimes feel guilty about removing myself from being someone else’s Jennifer from within the walls of tech, Jennifers come from all career paths and roles, as someone once pointed out to me. I look forward to combining my past work experiences and future learnings as an incoming law school student to advocate for inclusive work environments from outside the walls of tech.

Chelsey Glasson is a Seattle mom of two and author of Black Box: A Pregnancy Discrimination Memoir

More must-read commentary published by Fortune:

  • Reddit’s former CEO: Here’s why I left Big Tech—and used the skills it taught me to save the planet instead 
  • Glassdoor CEO: ‘Anonymous posts will always stay anonymous’
  • Billionaire Brad Jacobs: Meditation, thought experiments, and cognitive behavior therapy helped me succeed—and can do the same for you
  • Match Group CEO: Dating apps are the best place to find love, no matter what you see on TikTok

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

Subscribe to the new Fortune CEO Weekly Europe newsletter to get corner office insights on the biggest business stories in Europe. Sign up for free.

Source link