Will the promise of being in a “sexy, hot” field attract more kids to tech?

Posted by gminks in women in tech | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Here is the tweet that started it:

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That twitter conversation was sparked by this Details article about the so-called Playboys of Tech (my daughter calls these sorts of guys hipsters…). Chrissie was annoyed that there are never any articles about hipster tech women.

But that sentiment of that tweet – that somehow typical tech women are not gorgeous and hot – really rubbed me the wrong way. It led to a conversation about how maybe if we made the tech field look hot and exciting and sexy we could attract more girls to the field.

Of course my friend Dave Spencer had to jump in and say that it’s important to make the field look cool for boys too. He gave the example of the nerds in Jurassic Park. Of course he’s right, we need to make the tech field attractive to kids of all genders. But does attractive always have to equal sexy and hot?Jurassic Park

I have two kids. One is 21, and one is 19. I never pointed to examples of cool, sexy people doing any type of job. I encouraged them to do what really interests them deep down. Neither one of them is interested in tech like I am. Both of them have quite the technical aptitude, but it’s just not what they love to do. It looks like one is going to be an author. The other one is in his sophomore year at college pursuing a communications degree, and his dearest dream is to be a comic book author. I hope he can find a way to do that.

I have two nieces who are teenagers. The amount of sexy, hotness that they are inundated with is incredibly amazing. Both are very brand conscious. I think one is way more boy-crazy than the other, but that may just be because she is very shy. They are both math whizzes. So when I see them, I try not to reinforce what the media tells them everyday: be a cute girl, get the hot guy.

I ask them what they are into, how their grades are, what they are going to do in the summer, ask them about how they are going to do all the things that really truly interest them. I try to be the good aunt and try to illuminate the path to womanhood by reminding them to think about who they are inside. Their parents are great about that too, keeping them proud about being so dang smart at math.

I have to wonder where the math gene came from, because I don’t have it. Probably they both got it from their moms, not my brothers. 🙂

They are both very cute, they will turn into beautiful women. This is a given. But how do we help them turn themselves into strong women who don’t rely on how people respond to their outer beauty for their self-esteem?

Instead of holding up superficial things to foster their interests, I think instead we should be fostering their minds, reminding them it’s important to be smart and investigate what really interests them. There are several places that already offer support for this:

  • The Education group (my group!) at EMC sponsors a Summer STAR program each summer. It is designed to show teenagers what they need to think about to succeed in business.
  • The Systers groups have been around for a long time with the goal of supporting technical women in business.
  • The Anita Borg Institute has a charter to connect women in technology. I love their focus:
    “We are women technologists. We use technology to connect our communities. We create technology because it is who we are — intelligent, creative and driven. We lead with compassion and a belief in inclusion. We develop competitive products and find solutions to problems that impact our lives, our nation, our world. Together, through the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI), we are inventing a better future. Working with men that believe in our mission, we are changing the world for women and technology.”
    They sponsor the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women and Computing, which actually starts today. Maybe this conference needs a little more attention, so it drowns out the silly hipster geekboy article?

What do you think? Do you think promoting the tech field as someplace where all the “hot” and “sexy” people work will accomplish the goal of getting more kids to want to be in tech?

— I edited this to add the link to the Summer Star Program. gmm

One Response to Will the promise of being in a “sexy, hot” field attract more kids to tech?

  1. Dave says:

    Insightful and interesting as always!

    If I assume that my daughter is more likely to be influenced by someone she wants to look like, I’d like to level the playing field. She will be inundated with imagery of attractive athletes, lawyers, journalists, and entertainers. Will she also see attractive scientists, mathematicians, programmers, and gearheads?

    For me, this isn’t about promoting any field as a place where “all the cool kids go” but simply pointing out that cool kids do go there. You can question whether it’s a good idea to perpetuate the idea that you should judge people by their looks, but the truth is these are the standards teenagers judge themselves and their peers by. It’s hard enough to get kids to care about academics — I’d rather not fight the uphill battle against the stereotypes at the same time.

    When I brought up Jurassic Park, I was specifically thinking of the character of Dennis Nedry, whose portrayal did more damage to the image of the male computer programmer than anybody I can remember. If I had a son, I would be glad that he could see images of “hip” software guys to counter that image, even if I didn’t want him to be that “hip” . Why should it be any different for our daughters?

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