Dear Tech World,
The lack of women in technology fields is a serious and ongoing problem. Almost daily there is some study or review pointing out the lack of women in tech, the lack of women entering STEM fields in college, or some variation on the theme. It seems like companies and colleges are starting to realize this and as a reaction have started some kind of “cutesy” attempt to rectify the situation. Half-baked attempts to “girlify” women in tech with pink, cutesy nicknames like, “web diva,” and other similar attempts have been popping up all over this country.
It hasn’t worked and it’s not hard to see why. It would be just as insulting if all men in the technology fields had to be surrounded by blue, given “honey-do lists” instead of task lists, and called, “computer boys.” I would be horrified if I came to a new workplace and found my cube or desk decorated in “typical Latina” fashion. It’s not embracing differences, it’s insulting and focuses on only one aspect of a person’s background rather than his or her suitability for the job.
Enticing women to tech isn’t about making it “diva-fied” or “girlification.” Instead, you have to work on why most people get into technology and science in the first place. They are there because there is a challenge, a puzzle, that intrigues them and makes them want to look at the bigger picture: to solve, to fix, to improve. People, whether they come from a background in management, computer science, or even liberal arts that have passion, a yearning to learn how and why, and an unquenchable thirst to solve problems are what make great engineers. Reducing women in tech from engineers to “web divas” pushes us into superficial territory and marginalizes our skills and contributions. Instead of looking up to women in tech as problem-solvers and visionaries we get looked down upon as interlopers far from home.
Women are not all the same. We don’t all want pink and flowers and glitter. We don’t all think the same. We aren’t one dimensional creatures who will be drawn to the tech world because someone sent us a flier with pretty purple letters and butterflies. We don’t all enter the tech world the same way and any strategy that relies on all women being alike is doomed to fail.
My first hardware hack was pulling the internals on an Chromebook and replacing them to make a lightweight Linux laptop. Telling me that I need to be a “tech diva” just because I happen to also bake cookies and like ponies is going to put you on my bad side and disincentivize me from talking to you. I want to learn, to push myself, and be part of a group of like-minded technologists, not to be a diva or some pink avenger appointed by a focus group. I got into tech because it appealed to me in a way that many fields do not. I like taking things apart, I like figuring out how to put them back together in interesting ways, and most importantly I am not alone.
To make things worse many people have responded to the lack of women in technology by stating that women aren’t interested in tech or that they think differently than men as if it were some sort of issue. Instead of presenting this as a problem it should be celebrated as a strength every bit the equal of their male counterparts! This is a field of problem solving and fresh perspectives are always a good idea. Thinking outside of the box, whether workflow box or gender box, is something that promotes new ideas and new solutions, something we should all be striving for. Being able to bounce ideas off of someone who thinks differently than you can improve your ideas, show you weaknesses and strengths that you weren’t aware of and provide valuable feedback that you might not otherwise receive.
If you want women to come to the field then do something that really entices them as equals. Play up the idea of the tech “world” as full of puzzles in need of solving, that there is a whole world to explore. Embrace our differences but don’t resort to making it all rainbow and glitter. Differences in backgrounds that are focused on as strengths rather than weaknesses fosters respect and communication which results in both better solutions and better companies. Focus on what brings people together instead of telling them how they’re different. Including women as equals and making the tech field approachable instead of “pink” will go a long way towards rectifying the lack of women in the industry. And leave the damn glitter at home.