Is “Women In Tech” Still Relevant?

I recently read this post about the lack of female representation in virtual reality. A few of the points from the post stuck out to me.

  • “Women often take supporting roles within [start-ups].”
  • “VR offers us a fresh start. As a society, we don’t need to bring the baggage of the past with us…” (not like other computer stereotyped industries).

The first point made me stop for a second. I joined Doghead Simulations (a VR startup) in about its 8th week of infancy. I became the 4th co-founder of the company by significantly contributing to the success of the company. I may not have created the VR startup all by myself but I did take on a large amount of risk by leaving my comfortable, corporate job to join it. I think these two factors showed my fellow co-founders I was serious and believed in the startup which led to my ideas being treated with respect.

My CEO reached out and found me an awesome mentor; a woman who started her own company as well. He did this not because he thought, as one of the only women in the company, I needed a mentor, but because he believes everyone should have someone they can talk to and learn from outside of the company.

One of our social media writers, tracked down social media hashtags like #womeninvr, #womenintech, and Facebook groups for women in tech for me so that I could be part of a community of fellow women in VR. He didn’t do this just for me or just because I’m a woman. He found meetups and groups for the other co-founders to get involved in the VR community too. Sure, I could have done this myself but it means so much more to have my colleagues reach out to me in this way.

When we pitched at Immerse in Seattle, I was the only woman of the companies selected to pitch. I heard interesting feedback on this. I was told that it was good for us that I was the only woman on stage because it made our company stand out more. When I rebutted that it was sad there weren’t more women on stage, I was told that “it’s better this way” because we are easier to remember – and this was told to me by another woman!

Honestly, being one of the only women in the room or on stage has been the norm for me for so long that I don’t really think about it. I just go along with the flow and do my thing. Sometimes I fit in as “one of the guys” and other times I may be one of those “bossy women” but in the end, it’s about the team I am on and the goals we set out to accomplish.

Starting from my first elective in 8th grade (web design) to programming in high school, through pursuing a MIS major in college, to my career path now, I have been one of the few and often one of the only women in the room.

girl-power2

In college, I assisted my computer science professor’s robotics summer camp for girls. We challenged the girls to build and program Lego robots. The robots had to overcome different challenges we created. We also went on field trips to the nearby factories to see how robots were used in real life. I, along with the girls, was fascinated by what the women and men in those plants had to say about robotics and manufacturing.

In college, I was part of SAM-I (Society for the Advancement of Management and International Business) and was elected to a leadership position in the group. We participated in a business case competition against other college chapters in Washington DC. Our group consisted of four guys, one other girl, and me. I don’t think that we felt different, out-numbered, or alone as one of the only women presenting at the national case study conference. We were all one team and went to kick serious business butt.

SAMI cropped.png
Representing GVSU at the SAM-I national case competition in 2010.

I think those experiences subconsciously led me to manufacturing execution systems, business technology, and where I am today.

All we can do is keep encouraging diversity in the industry. I can agree with the post on the point that, “education and visibility are two ways in which progression can be made, as the first stepping stones towards greater representation.” We need to be careful not to focus on “diversity for diversity’s sake” but on making a point that this industry is open to all.

One of the ways we can do this is with the message of education and inclusion. We need not just educate in the classrooms but of the industry itself and opportunities within it for people of all curiosities. There is more to tech than straight up programming. You can be a woman in tech without needing to know all the 1s and 0s. In this way, we can put a new spin on a stereotyped industry.