You know that saying “never judge a book by it’s cover”? Apparently some people were never taught that or are just clueless as to how to put it into practice.
You have probably heard this story floating around on the internet, as it did go viral thanks to a trending hashtag and a very pissed off young woman who was sick of falling prey to stereotypes. This story is about a woman in tech who was basically told she doesn’t fit the archetype of what an engineer would look and was therefore trolled after being featured in her company’s marketing materials.
This story is not only frustrating due to the awful way society likes to stereotype women, but because despite all the news about major tech companies and Silicon Valley giants being committed to diversity, it is still not enough because the general public are STILL having a hard time buying that a pretty young woman would ever work in this “man’s world”.
Companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Linkedin have released their diversity reports over the past few years and shown similar dismal results when it came to hiring women and minorities not just in general, but in positions of leadership and specific tech roles. Pinterest have taken this issue one step further by announcing they have set diversity quotas which they hope to achieve in 2016. They plan to have at least 30% women, 8% minorities and non-engineering underrepresented ethnic minority new hires up to 12%. Yeah we know, those numbers aren’t exactly aspirational, but perhaps it is a start.
According to a study by the American Association of University Women, only 25% of tech jobs in the United States are held by women. For the majority of big tech companies like the aforementioned the presence of women hovers around the 30% mark, but when it comes to tech and leadership positions the number is halved.
While there are many initiatives and grass roots campaigns taking place at the time of writing, not only in the US but across the world, the fact remains we still have a long way to go until women are seen as a normal and large part of the tech industry.
So when Isis Anchalee Wenger, a software engineer based in San Francisco working for a company called OneLogin agreed to be part of her employer’s campaign to find new recruits, she didn’t anticipate being trolled by so many naysayers, yet she probably should’ve expected it if we’re going by the numbers.
OneLogin posted this image on their Facebook page and it got an intense flurry of comments from people claiming there is no way someone like her looks like an engineer.
“If their intention is to attract more women then it would have been a better to choose a picture with a warm, friendly smile rather than a sexy smirk. (sic),” said one comment.
Another called it a weird attempt to attract more women and didn’t think it was remotely plausible..if women in particular buy this image of what a female software engineer looks like.”
In response to people’s ludicrous claims on her appearance, Isis wrote a blog post on Medium, shutting down critics who think it’s ok to judge people on their looks, and furthermore, stereotype women in jobs and roles according to their looks.
“I’m pretty blown away at the amount of attention my ad particularly has received…it has received both positive and negative attention. Some of the responses warm my heart while others I consider to be kind of shocking. I didn’t want or ask for any of this attention, but if I can use this to put a spotlight on gender issues in tech I consider that to be at least one win. The reality is that most people are well intentioned but genuinely blind to a lot of the crap that those who do not identify as male have to deal with,” she writes.
She went on to divulge some of the sexist behavior toward her in the work place by some of her male colleagues, including having dollar bills thrown at her then being told it was just “harmless” fun. Isis had some choice words about this.
“This industry’s culture fosters an unconscious lack of sensitivity towards those who do not fit a certain mold. I’m sure that every other women and non-male identifying person in this field has a long list of mild to extreme personal offenses that they’ve just had to tolerate,” she said.
In response to the outrage caused by her mere female presence in a tech world which apparently doesn’t belong to women who look like her, she started a movement. She launched a website called I Look Like An Engineer and is asking more people who have had experiences like her to share their story. The hashtag #Ilooklikeanengineer started trending on twitter and so many women shared images of themselves using the hashtag to drive the point home.
In an interview with Tech Crunch after her newfound fame, Isis says this hashtag belongs to all those who feel alienated for not fitting into the mold.
“#ILookLikeAnEngineer is intentionally not gender-specific. External appearances and the number of X chromosomes a person has is hardly a measure of engineering ability. My goal is to help redefine ‘what an engineer should look like’ because I think that is a step towards eliminating sub-conscious bias towards diversity in tech,” she said.
Aside from the many women joining the cause, there were a number of men who also joined in the chorus, proving just how damaging stereotypes can be for everyone!
Along with the trending hashtag and website, Isis also launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for a billboard to be erected in San Francisco to make this message as bold as it possibly can be, in a city known for its tech roots.
Isis’ efforts remind us of little Sophia Trow in the UK who was sad when she found out her favorite shoe brand didn’t make dinosaur shoes for girls, only boys which made her write a letter to Clarks demanding why they think girls aren’t interested in dinosaurs. In the end Clarks apologized and said they would revise their particular line to offer dinosaur-themed shoes for girls as well.
Her story went viral and as a result female paleontologists around the world started a trending hashtag in her honor to prove that dinosaurs and STEM careers are very much a “girl’s interest” as much as it is boys. It is examples like these in society that make us realize we still have very ingrained notions of what men and women should be in life.
It is going to take women like Isis Anchalee Wenger to speak out against these trends and start a movement with other like-minded people. If a young British school girl can influence a major brand to recognize the error of its ways with a simple hand-written letter, just think of the power we possess with social media and digital technology at our fingertips.
Thank you Isis for being part of the (albeit very slow) change happening in the tech industry. And thank you for reminding the world that engineering is not a gender specific career, and there is no one way to “look like an engineer”.