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 really 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 really 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 also took on a signficant amout of risk by leaving my comfortable, corporate job to be in the startup. I think these two factors showed my fellow co-founders I was serious and believed in the startup which lead to my ideas being treated with co-founder level 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.

Our social media marketer, Tony, 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 for me in this way.

When we pitched at Immerse in Seattle, I was the only woman of the companies selected to pitch that was on stage. 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 my 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 with my computer science professors’ robotics summer camp girls where we challenged them to build and program Lego robots. These robots would have to overcome different challenges we created. We also went on field trips to the near by factories to see how robots were used in real life. Although I was supposed to be there as a role model for the girls, I 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. Here I can agree with the post on this point that, “education and visibility are two ways 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.

9 thoughts on “Is “Women In Tech” Still Relevant?

  1. I really empathize with your mix of experiences – particularly on feeling like being the lone female makes you memorable. I have been in many army bases filled with middle aged dudes, and I felt like an alien dropped down from another universe! But I was certainly remembered.

    I think it is so amazing that you got into programming as early as you did. I wish that more women did that. And your achievements since are remarkable. You should feel so proud not as a woman, but a human. (But yes ok, also as a woman in a field lacking diversity, you should feel extra proud.)

    Please keep up more posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joy, thank you so much for your kind words! It’s so good to hear from another awesome tech lady whose faced similar scenarios. I know we’ll conquer any social challenges together.

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  2. Great post Lily! I totally agree with you that education and visibility will bring more girls and women naturally to tech and that’s where we should lead. Sometimes I feel that companies want to reach their gender equality goals in very forced ways (I know of stories about this) and that’s not the way to go. Having a more open culture where diversity and respect is valued will naturally bring more women to these areas and someday there will be plenty of us in tech conferences where usually only men used to be 🙂 keep going! I will be reading for advice on manufacturing, my PhD is related to a manufacturing problem which is quite a recent area for me. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Stem cell manufacturing 🙂 I’m calculating costs of production and finding a way to assess viability of different projects (economically and societally) and I’m programming a computational tool for this. The learning curve has been so steep since I come from Biomedical Engineering and we don’t have much contact with manufacturing processes during the courses 😉

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