Why there aren’t more women in technology and entrepreneurship, and what we can do about it
Guest Blog by ELP Graduate Student Vicki Powell – Mechanical Engineering – College of Engineering – Class of 2017
If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ll have noticed stories of workplace sexism being uncovered. We are pointing to these toxic workplace cultures and blaming them for propagating the unequal representation of women in tech and entrepreneurship.
While I agree with this theory, I think the problem starts much earlier in life than that.
I, like many others, am on the “growth mindset” bandwagon. I believe the reason we are where we are, doing what we are doing, is largely due to the combinations of experiences which we have used to develop our own version of reality.
Your own personal “reality-bubble,” if you will.
I believe very little of that reality is due to any kind of intrinsic notions of what it should be like, and more to do with the accumulation of interactions and observations that have generated this bubble of understanding that you live in.
We make decisions and take action based solely on the information that we can retrieve from this bubble. It’s almost like, to you, the information outside that bubble does not exist. You can’t draw on information when you make decisions if you’ve never been exposed to it.
We far too often assume that our bubbles and versions of reality are much more similar than they actually are, and that our understanding of certain concepts is universal. Which is just not true.
Think about the set of experiences we generate for our young children, especially girls, around technology and entrepreneurship.
We offer them TV shows and movies with grossly disproportionate numbers of male heroes.
We read them books about white men making discoveries.
We laugh at jokes in front of them about how women “belong in the kitchen.”
We respond to their career aspirations with, “that isn’t a job for a lady.”
We give them dolls that they need to groom, while we give boys things to build and trucks to drive.
We tell them to stop being “bossy.” (Like seriously, we are literally telling them to be less “boss” like, and then asking why we don’t have more female bosses??)
We often generate a reality for girls that situates their role in society as one that doesn’t belong in tech and entrepreneurship, and for boys, a reality that does.
How can we really be shocked when we look at females’ career decisions. The only information that they can draw upon when choosing their path is from a set that has grown to contain a lot of reasons not to be in technology and entrepreneurship.
So what can we do about this?
We need to create more positive content and storylines around women in technology. There are a lot of great examples of this, but we need more. We need it on big and small scales, and we need everyone to take part.
The one thing that you can do right now is to STOP making jokes that demean women.
I’m going to say it again, because I think it is important. Jokes about women “belonging in the kitchen” or that “blonde girls are dumb” are building up a negative reality around who they are and what they mean to you, and, to society. Just stop making those jokes. If you hear someone that does, call them out. If you don’t feel you can call them out in person, write them a note.
We need you to continue talking to the young people around you (not just girls) about the amazing things women in our society are doing, and how important it is to have more women and minorities leading companies and working in technology.
While interning in San Francisco this summer, I’ve heard many stories from incredible women about defining experiences they have had that prove to me what I already knew, this behavior doesn’t stop as you get older. We will continue to have reasons given to us for why we shouldn’t be where we are.
Technology and entrepreneurship are shaping our future. There are going to be huge challenges that we need to overcome, and problems of complexities we can’t conceive. To solve them, we need everyone at the table.
To all the women out there, keep being “boss”- like, because we can, and will be, whatever we want to be, and anyone that says otherwise better get out of the way.
Vicki Powell — Mechanical Engineering Student interning at a biomechanical tech startup.