“I was frustrated when I went to tech events,” Shannon Turner wrote recently for Women in Tech. “I’d be one of the only women in the room and felt outnumbered and intimidated. Worse, most of the men would talk down to me and not take me seriously.
“In talking to the few other women at these events, I realized I wasn’t alone …”
So she began offering free coding classes to women. In about a year, what started with four women around a kitchen table has grown to nearly a thousand participants in the nonprofit Hear Me Code.
There are all sorts of women out there like Turner, echoing the concerns that Isis Wenger raised about stereotypes in the tech industry. Wenger, a 22-year-old platform engineer, lit up the Internet early this week when she posted a photo of herself with the hashtag #Ilooklikeanengineer. That sparked almost 64 million conversations on Twitter and Instagram by the end of Wednesday, according to Pixlee.
The weird imbalance in the number of women in certain math, science, technology and engineering fields is well documented; the nonprofit Girls Who Code, for example, cites that nearly three-quarters of middle-school girls are interested in those subjects but less than half of 1 percent choose computer science as a college major.
On social media, on college campuses and around the tables at tech start-ups, people have been talking about how best to combat those stereotypes.
Now Wenger is building a Web site to keep the momentum, and another one already popped up, with photos of rocket scientists, sorority sisters posing in white dresses, pink wigs and all sorts of stereotype-crushing pics.
Colleges including Cal Tech and MIT quickly encouraged graduates and faculty to join in Wenger’s #Ilooklikeanengineer wave. The Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth noted, with pride, that nearly half of its students are women.
The University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering, the National Academy of Engineering, and — wait for it — “MacGyver” creator Lee Zlotoff are holding a contest designed to confront that gender gap. “The goal of the program was developing the first great television show with a female engineer lead and is based off the notion that media shapes perceptions of science and technology for women,” a spokesman explained. Nearly all of those roles on TV have been played by men.
Emily Rasowsky created the Women in Tech campaign to tell people’s stories to inspire others to follow their lead. “It’s not just coding and engineering,” she said. “It’s all kinds of people with all kinds of skills. … There are so many amazing women, making amazing changes, the entrepreneurs in the tech space,” yet many still felt they had to prove themselves, she said.
“I first said hello to a computer when 10 years old,” Zainab Ghadiyali wrote for the Women in Tech campaign. “My mom enrolled me in a programming class to keep me busy and out of trouble during a summer. It was love at first sight. I loved how I could instruct the machine to do something, and it did it. From then, computers become my passion . . . but not career. I thought engineering/programming wasn’t for me. I bought the stereotype often presented for people in those careers and figured I wanted something which involved working with people. …”
And the conversation continued online: