Women on H4 visas may slowly be changing the American tech industry, which has been a male bastion.
By Sujata Tibrewala
In my close to a decade of living and working in the United States, I have noticed that tech leadership has traditionally been a male bastion. When I was starting out as a tech professional in the Bay Area, I was baffled to find that mostly middle-aged men were leading the game during board meetings, important presentations and seminars.
Though a growing number of women has now become important cogs in the tech wheel, the gender disparity still remains. Even today, we see only a handful of women in top positions in the industry. It remains particularly unnerving to see such low numbers because I know there are so many educated, accomplished women out there who are not being given a fair chance. And yes, in my experience I have noticed that many of them are migrant women often on dependent or H4 visas.
The H4 EAD, which allows some spouses who are on dependent visas to work, has been getting so much bad rap lately that it is becoming almost impossible for many on H4 EADs to find suitable jobs – that is when many of these women, and, in many cases, men as well, are totally deserving of the positions they are applying for.
While I do not imply that everyone on H4 EAD is an extraordinary candidate, many of them do deserve a fair chance to be considered and this whole negativity is only thwarting their already limited chances.
While many presume that foreign women are taking away local jobs, here’s what I need to tell everyone — there are not many local American women who are vying for tech jobs. And yes, they must be encouraged and mentored to take up more STEM-related courses at school and college levels to add to the women workforce in tech.
But currently, so many women who have qualifications and experience in these fields must be considered and not just discriminated because they are not yet American citizens.
I am also an organizer of an Intel-sponsored “Meet Up” group, “Out of the Box Network Developers in Santa Clara,” where we do “tech talks,” recognize outstanding developers and create a community fostering tech developers. But since it is a niche field, the number of women participating are relatively low. During engineering meet-ups I have noticed that if there are 70 or 80 men, there are only 2 or 3 women.
But interestingly, now a growing number of women developers, mostly women of color, are coming to the fore. We see a lot of Asians, East Europeans and even Iranian women who are rising up in the tech world, further establishing that a lot of immigrants in America possess the skill to balance the skewed gender disparity in tech world.
What people need to know is that H4 EAD just gives a permission to find work. To go out there, put themselves in the job market, fight the competition and secure a job is totally the responsibility of an individual. And the struggle to find a foothold is real.
While many women find my position inspiring and ask me how I got where I am today, let me tell you my struggle was real, just like many, many other women. I came to the US on a dependent visa, too. I am engineer from IIT Kharagpur and have master’s in electrical engineering from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. I had successful career as a team lead in CISCO back in Bangalore, India, prior to coming here.
Once here, I found myself struggling to find a job. In Chicago, where my husband was posted, I began applying for jobs, but would not find jobs matching up to my experience. Disappointed, I began looking for simple coding jobs even though I am a network software developer – a very niche and specialized field. But still I found little luck.
I decided to shift to Bay Area with my daughter, while my husband was still in Chicago, to increase my chances of finding work, but all I got was small consulting jobs. Employers were more concerned about my job gap than my capabilities.
So, yes, to begin my career, once again in America, I had to start from the level of a fresh college graduate despite having a decade-long promising career. After working in many roles and many years, I finally got a company that offered to convert my dependent L2 visa to an H-1B. But to get there was a long, arduous journey.
And this is the story of many other women, too. It is important for everyone to know that while women themselves do compromise a bit on their careers when they choose to come with their spouses, the Trump administration’s effort to put an end to their careers legally is not justified.
I had to spend years doing consulting jobs, surviving on a small salary and bringing up my daughter in the expensive Bay Area, somehow to revive my career. I had to work twice as hard as many men. And every woman who tries to return to work force knows that a great challenge lies ahead of her. To curtail even that chance to get there is unfair and unethical.
I am also a part of a diversity inclusion team at Intel, where we have a number of goals. While our internal goal is to ensure diversity, what happens is that while many women start, their careers span like a pyramid. Many continue dropping out for personal, family, or even visa-related reasons. Thus, only a precious few are able to reach the top.
The effort of the administration should be to nurture this talent and make them fruitful for the better future of America. Sadly, taking away their right of work adds to frustration, which in many cases, leads to them simply leaving America for more promising lands to re-start their careers.
There is a rising number of women with talent and they need to be mentored. At our annual SVEC banquet this year, where we give education awards for STEM to high school students, three out of four students selected after a rigorous process were girls. And that to me is a ray of sunshine for the future of women in tech in the US.
In the end, I would quote Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask my brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
And that sums up the plight of many women struck by the unfair visa laws of the land.
(Sujata Tibrewala is an Intel community development manager and technology evangelist who defines programs to ensure that the network developer ecosystem works together toward a common goal: to drive SDN/NFV adoption in the industry using open source network software ingredients.)