The Invisibility Cloak Is Off—for Women in Tech

Shows such as Bull, Mr. Robot, and Orphan Black represent supercool women as techies.

by Marilyn Nagel

Women are in the minority in senior roles in every industry and are even less represented in STEM fields. Further, women’s progress in STEM fields is not as swift as in others, such as law or finance. Men are almost 2.5 times more
likely to graduate with a STEM degree as are women. And since STEM graduates are among the most sought-after, they have an easier time finding a job and earning more money.

But times are changing, and I believe several factors will prompt more women to go into careers in tech. In addition, those already in tech are becoming more visible as they rise through the ranks.

Media Role Models: Several years ago, I was chatting with some diversity colleagues about how to encourage more women to go into technology careers beyond supporting groups like Girls Who Code or Black Girls Code. We came up with the idea of creating a TV show with a team of stylish women engineers. Our rationale was that young women need to see themselves in a profession where it is cool to be a geek. We all worked in corporate roles so didn’t pursue the idea, but others did. Shows such as Bull, Mr. Robot, and Orphan Black present supercool women as techies. Hidden Figures didn’t just enlighten us about history; it inspired young black women to know that they can succeed in math and science. Although changing belief systems through the media takes time, we should not underestimate its power. As you watch movies and TV shows, notice the shift.

Women Supporting Women: In the past, a woman in power at a large tech company might say something like, “I don’t want to be singled out for being a woman lest people think that is why I got the job, and because then I’ll be given every young woman to mentor.” The reaction was understandable, but these senior-level women then became inaccessible and unavailable as spokespeople for how they made it to the top. They were viewed as being harder on other women, and unwilling to support other women and help pull them into the senior ranks. They thought it was a zero-sum game and didn’t want to risk their seat at the table.

That’s no longer true! Women are stepping into their power and taking off that invisibility cloak in favor of speaking up for women in the workplace. Perhaps #MeToo or the 2018 Year of the Woman is the reason. Or perhaps there are enough women in leadership now and no one woman feels she must “own” gender equality in her company. Or, as I believe, women have come to appreciate the special value they get in the sisterhood of women, a community that enhances their career and other aspects of life, and they now proudly assert their place in it. DW

Marilyn Nagel, CLO of SAMI game-based micro-learning, is a frequent blogger and contributor to publications on women’s development and diversity.

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