I wish that I had known the powerful, the embedded, intricate weaving of stereotypes into the fabric of the world of technology. It is very hard for women professionals to understand these barriers because they are so invisible and so illogical. Stereotypes affect every area of life; they provide short cuts to enable everyday life to function. Life would be impossible if we had to rationally assess every situation we confronted.
I have come to believe that there is no industry, especially in Canada and the United States, because of the centuries of stereotypes about the suitable roles of men and women, more designed (unintentionally) for women to fail in than technology.
Understand that even when organizations, and many of your male colleagues, want you to succeed, gender based stereotypes work against those efforts because they are invisible. For example, the way meetings have always been conducted are embedded with gender preference; or the humour among men that has traditionally made work life bearable can be poison to women.
The most powerful stereotype, which has been honed in Canada and the United States, is that success in technology requires logic, objectivity and aggression; and these are qualities subconsciously thought to be possessed only by men. Women, regardless of whether they have a professional degree or not, according to society, do not possess these qualities. This means that there is an unconscious belief that you cannot be trusted to be logical when the really big problems occur; that your views are not objective because your tone of speech and the inflection of your words, all sound very “emotional”; and if you are aggressive, you will be labelled as “unfeminine” or worse.
However, when you understand that the discomfort you feel or the conflicts you experience are probably not a result of any inability but rather the barriers to inclusion that stereotypes create, you can begin to tackle those barriers: become knowledgeable about these barriers; read the books written by women who have gone before you; be engaged in women’s professional support networks; find mentors and sponsors; and commit to navigating the obstacles.
Your presence in technology is changing the gender order; it represents a desire for equity, even if reality is somewhat different. I often asked myself, and many professional women now ask me “why do I have to put up with this?” or “why me?” when the challenges seem overwhelming. After all this isn’t what you learned in school.
When you feel like giving up, remember your presence in technology does have power, like a butterfly wing, that seems so small, even invisible; but which can affect the weather currents, that then change the agricultural growing season which then can affect the economy. A butterfly wing can change everything.
On this National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, SWE TO honours the memory of the 14 female engineering students who were murdered at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal on December 6th, 1989 by an act of gender-based violence. We also commemorate the missing and murdered Aboriginal women, the trans-women and each and every woman in Ontario and across the world whose lives have been (and are still being) harmed or lost to gender-based violence. Each and everyone of us have the opportunity and the responsibility to stand up against misogyny, sexism, and hate.. It is time to create and foster the culture of respect. It is time to take action.