…when the handshake isn’t returned…when the answers to your questions are directed to the man in the room…when the good point you make is ignored until it is restated by your male peer…when eye contact is not made, invitations are not extended, emails are not returned, smiles are for the wrong reasons, hard work is not rewarded, …
As a woman executive in a technology field I’ve often been asked if it was harder for me to progress through my career as a woman. When I try to think of the big stories, I come up empty-handed. I was not blatantly discriminated against. No boss ever hit on me. I wasn’t asked to get the coffee or clean up the dishes in the break room. I have done well in my career. I started as an engineer and have been at the VP level at several exciting companies. Based on outward signs I’ve “made it”. But there is something not quite right about the journey that I only now am able to articulate and even now it is blurry and inconclusive.
The challenges faced by a woman in business are usually very subtle and thus are often dismissed or minimized. As a 30-year-old manager working with a Korean supplier I was surprised to find that the leaders would only talk with the men on my team. They would not shake hands with me. I had to convey my messages through the guys to get action. It was appalling and disheartening. But hey, this was another country with cultural hang-ups. It wouldn’t happen in the US…. But it did. As I rose through the ranks and engaged with other companies I realized that some men across the table did not make eye contact with me. Perhaps they answered my questions, but the answer was directed at the man in the room. At the end of the meeting there were awkward moments when I stuck my hand out with no response from the other. It was subtle. Maybe no one else saw. But I saw it and felt the impact.
The first reaction to a discriminatory snub is disbelief. That didn’t really happen, did it? I must be imagining. And then you try to write it off. It wasn’t personal. I don’t need to be bitchy about it. And then anger creeps in. What the heck. I was just dissed. Finally, you try to fix it. I’ll be more direct. I’ll call the guy on the phone. A happy ending to this kind of cycle is when I pull the offender to my side. I show him my capabilities and he comes around. He listens and I’m given respect. Ah, but the energy expended takes a toll.
Next time I’m asked if it was harder for me as a woman I plan to say yes. But the stories aren’t grand and there is nothing obvious about the slightly steeper slope that I had to climb, but it was steeper for many subtle reasons.
“I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.” Nora Ephron, screenwriter
On March 8, 1917 women in the city of St. Petersburg marched in the streets to end WWI, food shortages and the rule of czars. This International Women’s Day event was called a march for “bread and peace” and it kicked off a revolution. In 1965, March 8th was declared a national holiday in the Soviet Union, meant to recognize the heroism and selflessness of women and to celebrate the contribution made by women toward the establishment of peace and freedom. Since then the holiday has been adopted across the world and is now a day to reflect on progress made by courageous and inspiring women in all walks of life. Google’s doodle today is a montage of the many roles and the many possibilities for women. And what wonderful possibilities there are!
This year the United Nations called for Gender Equality by 2030. At the rate we are currently going we will not achieve parity across the world until 2095. We need to step it up.
Some key targets of the 2030 UN Agenda:
- By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.
- By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.
- End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
- Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
- Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
Let’s join in to support these goals and step it up to achieve gender equality. You can pledge your support here: PLEDGE SUPPORT. You don’t need to pay anything, leave an email address, sign your name. You just have to say you will participate in change.
Let us devote solid funding, courageous advocacy and unbending political will to achieving gender equality around the world. There is no greater investment in our common future. UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon
At Stanford’s recent StartX Demo Day eighteen start-up companies presented their great ideas. Of the presenters, only one was a woman. Of the businesses only two were women founded. One of the two is Maykah, founded by three Stanford grad students. They have come up with a simple toy: a buildable dollhouse complete with working circuits. The product, called Roominate, was funded to goal on Kickstarter in five days. These three women were in the minority at this startup day at Stanford but they got my full attention. I am all for “pinking up” technology.
Connecting girls to fun, techie toys is a good way to get them hooked on science at an early age. Perhaps it is as simple as connecting what girls do naturally with the technical natures of those things. My friends and I played with trolls and matchbox cars and created grand villages in the dirt with bridges and roads and houses. (Civil Engineering?) We rescued baby birds and tried to nurse them back to health. (Biology? Medicine?) And I loved to sew and cook because I could visualize something and solve problems. (Mechanical Engineering?) Little did I know that those were signs of technology attraction that would lead me to degrees in engineering and a career to go with it.
The statistics are not going in the right direction folks:
- In 2009, the percentage of undergraduate degrees from engineering schools that went to women was under 18% of the total, a 15-year low, according to the American Society of Engineering Education. It was about 21% in 2002.
- Women are more attracted to engineering disciplines such as biomedical and environmental engineering than computer science because the social aspects are higher. While 44% of environmental science majors and 37% of biomedicine majors were women in 2009, just 10.5% of computer-science graduates from engineering schools were women, according to the American Society of Electrical Engineers. This isn’t a bad thing but can’t all of the engineering disciplines have a social impact? Shouldn’t they?
- In the US, 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees were awarded to women in 2009, down from 37% in 1985.
- In the US only 3.5% of women hold a degree in Engineering or Computer Science. The percent for men is 17.8%. (2009 statistics from Catalyst)
Some are saying that this is an issue of overall lack of good STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) in early years. Others are saying that young women are seeing the lives of their mothers and not wanting to repeat that life of juggling and pressure. I say it is because we have made technology seem too “blue”. Why don’t we talk to girls about the “pink” in technology? Why don’t we describe the creative aspects and the ability to make stuff and change the world? Why don’t we explain the doors that it opens? Why can’t we weave technology into the things that girls and young women do naturally?
Do you like to put stuff together in the kitchen to make the best dessert ever? Do you even care if it turns out since the process was as fun as the outcome? Did you build houses, villages and characters as a young girl? Did you make up stories that went along with your creations? Do you visualize the future? Were you interested in the Curiosity Rover as it landed on Mars? Do you wonder if someday people could go there? Would you love to have the latest phone with all the capabilities that brings? Do your parents ask you to set up the TV to record or play a DVR? Do you love having your friends at your fingertips on Facebook and texting? Can you tolerate math as long as the teacher is good? Are you willing to learn abstract concepts if they can be connected to the real world?
Ahhh, then you are a great candidate for a career in technology.
Let’s consider how we can make technology “girly”. It isn’t all that way but there is a pink underside to it that doesn’t show itself often enough.