As a professional writer, I normally remain objective and impartial – it’s part of the job. But not today. This article hits close to home, because I’ve also witnessed sexism in my profession. But before I tell my experience, let’s begin with a truly brave story about Isis Wenger, her movement about women in the tech industry, and some kickass female engineers working hard to shut down sexism all over the nation.
The American Association of University Women defines workplace sexual harassment as any, “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” Seems pretty straightforward right? But in today’s world, it’s not.
According to an article in Cosmopolitan (via Huffington Post) by Michelle Ruiz and Lauren Ahn, “Sexual harassment hasn’t gone away — it’s just taken on new forms.” The article goes on to say, “Unlike workplace sexual harassment portrayed in films and pop culture that represent it as overtly aggressive, sexual harassment at work isn’t always easy to spot. It can be a sexual comment in a meeting or even an insinuating Facebook message.”
Engineer Isis Wenger emphasizes this exact issue very poignantly in a short essay for Medium. She candidly discusses her experience as a woman working in the technology industry and in her post she highlights some of the examples of sexism that permeates the industry. Wenger comments, “I’ve had men throw dollar bills at me in a professional office (by an employee who works at that company, during work hours). And even though she believes that these men responsible for the unfavorable behavior are inherently not “bad people,” she does state, “there is a significant lack of empathy and insight towards recognizing that their “playful/harmless” behavior is responsible for making others inappropriately uncomfortable.”
Wenger is featured in a recruiting ad at her current job at OneLogin where she works as a full-stack engineer. The picture has attracted some attention and not all of it is positive. She wrote about these reactions in her Medium post, “You May Have Seen My Face On Bart.” Wenger passionately states,
“As for the comments about the ad… Is it so unheard of that I genuinely care about my teammates? Some people think I’m not making “the right face”. Others think that this is unbelievable as to what “female engineers look like”. News flash: this isn’t by any means an attempt to label “what female engineers look like.” This is literally just ME, an example of ONE engineer at OneLogin. The ad is supposed to be authentic. My words, my face, and as far as I am concerned it is.”
Due to the overwhelming feedback on the post – Wenger started a powerful twitter campaign #ILookLikeAnEngineer that recruited participation from thousands of engineers of all genders, ages, and backgrounds. The campaign reads:
“Do you feel passionately about helping spread awareness about tech gender diversity?”
“Do you not fit the “cookie-cutter mold” of what people believe engineers “should look like?”
“If you answered yes to any of these questions I invite you to help spread the word and help us redefine “what an engineer should look like.” #iLookLikeAnEngineer.”
Wenger states, “I’m just a human, and I prefer to keep my life simple/reserved. In fact, if you knew me you would probably know that being famous is one of my biggest nightmares; seriously right up there with falling into a portal potty. But it blows my mind that my fully-clothed smiling face with uncrushed hair and minimal makeup on a white wall is seemingly more controversial in some communities than this simply because of my gender.”
In response to her Medium essay, other brave female engineers have been tweeting their thoughts with her hashtag, shattering stereotypes and demonstrating the true diversity of engineers. Take a look at some of the pics and posts from the #ILookLikeAnEngineer Twitter campaign:
The stories have become such a source of inspiration for so many people that now Wenger is developing a team to create www.ilooklikeanengineer.com, a safe platform for anyone to continue to share stories relating to diversity issues in technology. In addition they’ve started an Indiegogo campaign to put up at least one billboard in San Francisco celebrating the diversity that was shown in the #ILookLikeAnEngineer posts. If you feel so inclined, show some support and become a part of the national conversation.
On a personal note, I’d like to finish discussing the experience I’ve seen regarding sexism in my industry. When I first started freelance writing years ago, I was a ghostwriter for different companies and magazines; a few were business publications. I tried pitching pieces highlighting new movements in business and technology featuring interviews with women inventors, makers, and entrepreneurs. More than one editor (male and female) actually told me in more or less the same way, “That kind of story won’t connect with readers, it’s not interesting enough.” Or, “can you get additional quotes from the head of the company?” I told them, “She is the head of the company.”
But when I pitched ideas covering similar topics and interviews about male entrepreneurs – most ideas were quickly considered. You could argue that maybe some ideas were better than others – but when several story pitches about women in technology get shut down very quickly – it’s not just a conflict in creative ideas. Fast forward, I get to call the shots now and pick and choose to write for magazines/websites that are open to showcasing amazing people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or race, who are making a real contribution in the world of technology. And thanks to editors like Jen Woo, I get to write important pieces like this, because she believes in great stories, technology and innovators – period.