Typecasts. Stereotypes. Boxes. We’ve all made them; been placed in them; been underestimated, marginalized, disregarded as a result of them. And when it comes to women in tech, the near absence of diversity in engineering roles makes phrases like, “You don’t look like an engineer” painfully common and painfully, well, painful. In a recent ad campaign for OneLogin, one woman was reminded of just how much of a unicorn she is in her field after social media commentary informed her that she was not a realistic “image of what a female engineer looks like.” And in response to this truly ludicrous sentiment, a new hashtag is sweeping social media: #ILookLikeAnEngineer.
— Iᒪᗩᑎᗩ ᐯOᒍᑎOᐯIᑕᕼ (@Lanniiiii) August 5, 2015
Women in typically male-dominated roles are reminded of their gender in a ceaselessly frustrating cycle. Even in addressing the problem, we somehow seem to make it worse, adding the prefix “female” to a number of roles — female engineer, female doctor, female CEO — as though we somehow need an additional descriptor to remember that no, we’re not the majority in these fields.
— Lindsay Bridenbaker (@LBridenbaker) August 6, 2015
Perhaps this is why the #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign has been so effective. Without further gendering the issue, the hashtag and the resulting responses have highlighted the existence of diversity (limited as it may be) in the industry, with thousands of women posting photos of themselves and their job descriptions across various social media channels. In fact, over the course of the last week, the hashtag has appeared some 50,000 times.
— Sarah (@FenwickSpeak) August 6, 2015
As infuriating as comments were about the relatively unbelievability of a woman filling a platform engineering role at a tech company, they also present an incredible opportunity for women to finally raise their hands and attempt to stand out, rather than blending in. For so long, the ridiculous paucity of women in tech and women in engineering seems to have made the safest place for the few women who do indeed fill these roles to simply fade to the background — after all, having two X chromosomes made them stand out enough already.
— Tracy Chou (@triketora) August 4, 2015
But now, the time is ripe to be seen, to be heard, to be the new face of technology. After all, it is only with the presence of these strong female role models that the next generation of female engineers and computer scientists can be inspired. And maybe one day, we won’t have to call them female fill-in-the-blank. They’ll just be outstanding for their own merits, not their gender.