What an engineer looks like is usually a lot less important than what they build. But today the Twitter hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer blew up as women in engineering put down their motherboards and picked up their selfie sticks in an attempt to challenge sexist misconceptions about women in tech.
Software engineer Isis Wenger came up with the idea, after a billboard she appeared on for her employer OneLogin drew a response she didn’t expect. That ad, one of several the company put up around San Francisco, features a photo of Wenger and the quote: “My team is great. Everyone is smart, creative and hilarious.”
Not exactly controversial, right? Wrong.
As Wenger writes on Medium (and as you can see in some of the comments to the right), she’s received a lot of attention as a result, including comments from men suggesting that she should be smiling more (gaaaaaaaaah), and that because she’s a young, conventionally attractive woman, the ad will only appear “to dudes”. One guy even questioned whether women would really believe that software engineers look like Wenger. Except… they do.
Not the majority of them, of course. In the U.S, only 11% of engineers are women. Here in the UK, it’s even worse – estimates range from 4% to a (still completely demoralising) 7%. It’s tricky encouraging women into the profession given that, as Wenger admits, we’re too often treated as ornaments or afterthoughts (she’s had colleagues throw money at her because that’s how you relate to women in the workplace, apparently). But only by changing the ratio are male-dominated workplaces ever going to become more female-friendly.
And those numbers are unlikely to grow unless girls and young women interested in STEM careers feel like it’s a realistic option for them. That’s where #ILookLikeAnEngineer comes in:
Seeing real-life examples of women working in engineering, especially women who are members of other marginalised groups (including people of colour, LGBTQ women, disabled women, and older women) provides more evidence that it can be done than any recruitment poster, no matter how feminist. Even better, it shows sexist fools they have no idea what they’re talking about. Again.
Some of the women who’ve taken part are designing software for American schools:
— Coraline Ada Ehmke (@CoralineAda) August 4, 2015
Others were coding before we even really knew what “coding” meant:
— Marcos Caceres 🔥 (@marcosc) August 4, 2015
Some are extra-smiley:
— Pamela Assogba (@pam_yam) August 4, 2015
And one collects big hats that look like food (our favourite).
— Cordelia (@cordeliadillon) August 4, 2015
Anyone can look like an engineer, as it turns out.