Engineers across the world are pushing back against gender stereotyping and sexism in STEM using #iLookLikeAnEngineer
Isis Wenger is a full-stack engineer at OneLogin, an identity management company based in San Francisco. She describes herself as a passionate self-taught engineer and science-nerd, not to mention an extreme introvert, and so she was totally unprepared for the media-storm she would generate simply by agreeing to participate in an ad campaign for her employer.
| Isis was not the only engineer at OneLogin featured in the ad, but it was her photo which brought out the trolls. One commenter asked if ‘women in particular buy this image of what a female software engineer looks like’. Which is weird. Because that IS what a female software engineer looks like.
Others commented that she should have tried ‘a warm, friendly smile rather than a sexy smirk’ and doubted her credibility as an engineer.
|Comments like this serve to highlight, rather unpleasantly, the persistent ignorance and imbalance when it comes to women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Tracy Chou, an engineer at Pinterest, commented on this imbalance in a post back in 2013, and since then has been collating statistics on tech companies’ male:female ratios. These stats are hardly encouraging, as the vast majority of companies barely manage to muster enough female employees to make up 20% of their staff. PayPal, Pinterest and Indiegogo, for example, can each only claim 8.6%, 4.67% and 16.57% female software engineers respectively.
After seeing the comments being made about her ad, Isis wrote this post decrying ‘the sexism that plagues tech’, and by way of conclusion, she issued a call to arms to all the engineers who feel that they do ‘not fit the “cookie-cutter” mould of what people believe engineers “should look like”, asking them to post photos of themselves, alongside the hashtag #iLookLikeAnEngineer and a description of their job.
The engineering world did her proud, and within hours the STEM community had flooded Twitter with their photos.
Similar campaigns have included #DistractinglySexy, which trended in June in response to nobel laureate Tim Hunt's comments about the 'trouble with girls' in the lab, and the backlash of which led to Hunt's resignation from his post at UCL; as well as #iLookLikeAChemist, 'iLookLikeASurgeon and #iLookLikeAPhysicist.
Wenger’s viral campaign has attracted attention from across the globe and an indiegogo initiative was begun in the hopes of crowd-funding a billboard to spread the message even further. The campaign's original funding goal was $3,500, which was achieved in the first 9 hours after going live. This goal was then revised to $35,000 due to a misunderstanding regarding the cost of billboards, and this sum was exceeded on the 4th September. At the time of writing, the current total is $46,660.
Gender stereotyping and sexism are still rife within STEM fields, but this hashtag serves to show that not all engineers are white men in their fifties. Many of them are intelligent, beautiful women.