To be honest, I had never really stopped and taken the time to appreciate how difficult things are for women working in technology. I mean, I had always attended co-ed schools and mixed with the opposite gender. But as I got older and more involved with technology, the demographic slowly but steadily changed. It started in high school, when we were gradually empowered to self-select our fields of study. For me, my timetable became increasingly littered with mathematics, physics and chemistry, while fewer and fewer girls shared the same courses.
Initially the change was so subtle, I am embarrassed to say I didn’t even notice. In fact, the gender disparity in the sciences only became apparent on my first day at university. I was crammed into a lecture theatre overflowing with several hundred young minds eager to become mechanical, mechatronic, aeronautical and aerospace engineers. How many woman shared these ambitions? So few they could almost be counted on one hand - six.
I’m ashamed to say that a younger me simply accepted the gender stereotype: girls are more interested in the arts, health, and the humanities, while boys are into maths, science and engineering. This was so profoundly and utterly ingrained in my psyche that it took a life changing event for me to really appreciate how flawed my thinking was at the time.
About nine months ago I became the father to a little girl, lovingly nicknamed ‘The Kins’. Almost instantly, society began to bombard her with images and objects, aiming her away from science and technology and towards those more traditional ‘female’ vocations. It takes considerable effort to keep the gaggle of plastic toys at bay: dolls with pink hair brushes, purple vacuum cleaners and pastel-coloured tea sets. Some days I come home and it looks like a drunken unicorn has stumbled in and vomited all over the place.
I realised that our society had somehow managed to create an environment that didn’t do much to encourage women to take an interest in science, technology, engineering or maths. I realised that those six young women in my university class, who had managed to make their way into a lecture theatre filled with other hopeful engineers, were probably the most remarkable of all of us. The guys had it easy: we were actively encouraged by society into these pursuits, and nobody blinked an eye when we walked into that lecture theatre. The women on the other hand? They were so deeply interested in engineering they were able to ignore social norms and doggedly pursue a career that was alien to most of their female peers.
So to all the women working in technology - the programmers, the engineers, the scientists, the mathematicians - all of you. I can’t thank you enough. You are spearheading a modern woman’s liberation movement. Sure, you are not burning bras or adopting the iconography that popularised the movement in the 60’s. Instead, despite the horror stories, you’re out at conferences and actively engaging with male dominated communities. You build amazing things, and are actively creating an environment that will make it just that little bit easier for other women to follow you into the industry.
I understand that The Kins is likely to be fascinated by areas that are completely foreign to me: strange music, strange movies, strange interests. I guess that means as The Kins gets older I am going to need to try and wrap my head around rugby, interpretive dance, Iggle Piggle or whatever else she finds fascinating. But the fact that it will be just that little bit easier for her to consider a career in technology? I can’t thank you enough.
Dad, Maker, Software Engineer.
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