The glass ceiling. It’s an on-going conversation that’s loaded with history and politics. There is no single solution for a topic so intertwined with accessibility, the economy, and the politics of institutions such as education.
The concern with the glass ceiling in the 21st century seems to be narrowed down to a specific industry in a specific area: Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley is home to many tech companies such as Google, Apple, and Netflix. This is a place fosters innovation and creativity, but is also known for being a ‘boys club’. Why is there a lack of women in the tech industry? A segment from Monday’s Fox Business was aired where British economist journalist Stuart Varney asked:
“Is there something with the female brain that is a deterrent for getting on board with tech… is there?”
Can you guess which is ‘male’ and ‘female’? (Click to expand image)
Even though Varney recognized that this was an extremely “politically incorrect” statement, he fails to recognize how offensive this statement is. This was an example of essentialism, whereby Varney alluded to the fact that there are innate differences between men and women. I’m not sure where the scientific proof is which states that men and women’s brains function differently, to a point where there is something unattractive of a woman’s brain. But I’m pretty sure this research doesn’t exist.
The issue is not with the female brain. Rather, it is an issue of the social factors that deter or make it unwelcoming for women in the tech industry. The Daily Beast published an article titled, “Dating Woes for Women in Tech”. The piece was based on an interview with Jean Yang, one of two women in her Harvard undergrad class with a degree in computer science, was advised not to accept a prestigious position in MIT’s Ph.D. program. Some of the reasons included: MIT is a place for antisocial male nerds, Yang didn’t look like a scientist, and she wasn’t “geeky” enough.
Simply put, Yang just didn’t look the part. The stereotypes of people in the tech industry continued to affect Yang outside her studies. She even admitted:
“I’ve definitely felt that I’ve had to downplay my femininity – and romantic desirability – in professional settings”
Sheldon is often confused by Amy’s ‘sudden need’ for romance
It seems that one of the ways women can compete in industries dominated by men is to downplay their femininity and desirability. They have to walk the walk to talk the talk. This is also replayed in the relationship between Sheldon and Amy in the popular television series The Big Bang Theory. Their emotional unavailability is often used for humour in the show. Oftentimes, Amy reveals a yearn for romance from Sheldon, yet he does not notice because he has come to accept her as a reputable scientist: someone who does not need such ‘feelings’. This then creates a tension in their relationship, as Amy struggles to find her place between being a colleague and girlfriend to Sheldon.
The underlying message reinforces the fact that women just can’t have it all. If they want to be respected for their intelligence, they must abandon their femininity and adopt masculinity. But if women want romance, they must play up their femininity and dumb down their ‘lady brain’. This is very much an experience that many women have endured, such as Nicole Sullivan, who reveals in her blog “Women in Technology”:
That guy only wants to work with you because he wants to sleep with you. None of your ideas are that interesting, I’m just saying, don’t get mad, it is the only possible explanation.
Sullivan also shares her experience in meeting other ‘girl geeks’ for support. Conferences and gatherings celebrating women in tech is a great way to make the industry more welcoming. Women in tech stand out because they are a visible minority. We need to look towards eliminating sexism in the tech industry in order to women to be represented by their work, not their body.
As a university student, I value my education and know that the skills I am learning now will be assets I will use and reuse throughout my career. My university experience is also shaped by my colleagues: discussions and ideas take place on a daily basis that challenge my ‘lady brain’ to think outside the box.
What are some ways YOU use your ‘lady brain’ to challenge gender norms and sexism? Join the conversation, click here to Tweet using #ladybrains.