What is your personal and professional identity? How do you view yourself?
I'm Heidi Cox, a Senior Accountant at Artium, and I’m the mother of two, wife of one. I started in credit, running reports in the aluminum industry. I've been in accounting for 35 years; I love it because there are rules, and if you follow those rules, you will always get to the correct answer.
I went to school at the University of Virginia, but it wasn’t right for me at the time, so I didn't finish my degree for another 25 years. (Side note, I don’t recommend the 25-year plan to many people because nothing is as hard as getting a degree when you're working full time, a wife, a mother, and have a mortgage). Eventually, I pushed through, got my degree, and started reaching for higher-level positions.
It was quite a fight but one that has been worth it.
Tell us about the first time you became aware of your gender in the work environment.
I became aware of my gender when I worked for an aluminum manufacturer and distributor in the accounting office. There were only clerical positions, all of which were female. That divide created this unneeded and often toxic competition because it was so rare for a woman to advance above this role. I realized this dynamic through seeing our CFO treat us (most of whom had a better understanding of the workings of the business) as true subordinates, viewing us as lesser than simply because of our gender.
What are the ways you have had to change your movement throughout your career based on how your actions will be received?
Being a woman completely changes how you behave. You learn that certain behaviors or reactions will cause you not to be taken seriously, and so you alter how you act. I tried very hard not to show emotion at the office because it was seen as feminine, and your opinion would be dismissed.
I tried to be one of the guys, and it formed my personality in some ways. I remember clearly sitting in my boss’ office; we were a brass and aluminum forge making parts for guns. One of our distributors was on speakerphone about an order, and he said, “Your credit girl will not allow my shipment to come out.” I decided I was not sitting there quietly; I said, “The credit girl's name is Mrs. Cox, and the reason I am not allowing your shipment to come to you is that you haven't paid the bill.” He responded that American soldiers were being injured or killed overseas because I had not allowed these parts to go through. He told me I could take personal responsibility for that. I said, “No, I think you can because you didn’t pay your bill.”
I have bumped up against situations like that a lot. The one thing I say that guides me in these situations is, “It does not matter who is right; it matters what is right.”
In a male-dominated industry like tech, do you believe you are a representative of your gender community? If so, how do you assert your individuality?
I can honestly tell you that the only company I have ever worked for where there is no added pressure is Artium. It's the only place where I have felt like I don't have to lie if my child needs something.
I dealt with it previously where bosses would think it was ridiculous that I had to do things like getting my kids from daycare; it wasn’t ok if I had to miss a meeting because something came up where I had to be home with my children. It is ironic because they all had wives at home handling all of these things, but it never once crossed their minds that I might also have to do them for my family.
What are some actions, big or small, that you believe empower women and impact the existing disparity?
I think equalizing maternity and paternity leave has been huge. I noticed at Artium it is often celebrated when someone's kid pops into a Zoom. We don’t have to apologize for this. The atmosphere is one of care for fellow employees and an acceptance of whatever's going on. We all have stuff going on every day and we embrace that.
What is something that you specifically want people to know about gender in tech?
I altered my personality to make it in a male-dominated industry. I don't think you should do that. It was a long time ago, but some of it has stuck. I had to change who I was. I think the best thing I can tell everybody is to observe how Artium treats its people because that's the way it should be universally. An atmosphere has been created here that allows people to bring their full, authentic selves to work every day, and that's a beautiful thing.