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Women And Technology: Time To Stop Dressing Things Up

Growing up, all you want to do is be yourself. But what if being yourself is not lady-like?

By Jess Hill, Application Support Analyst, Marval

 

Every Friday at work we have a dress down day and you will find me in jeans and some geeky game/anime/tech referencing t-shirt. Unless I shop online on dedicated geek t-shirt sites I have to go to the men’s department to find them! I don’t understand it, I love my super heroes, FPS games, RPGs and anime/manga just as much as my male friends and colleagues. In fact, a lot of my techy colleagues believe me to be far geekier than them. So why, in an age where women are accepting their inner geeks, can we not walk to the women’s section of a store and find a dress with Iron Man’s power core or a top with a Destiny or Call of Duty reference?

In a controversial and much commented move, major retailer John Lewis announced recently it will no longer have separate sections for boys and girls in stores, while their own-label children’s garments will be labelled as “unisex”. They also decided to launch clothes like the good old pretty dress or the girly top featuring spaceships and dinosaurs. Cool!

Just like most girls, I grew up in a world full of stereotypical burdens. Not in my family, I have to say. My parents never employed gender stereotypes to stop me from doing what I loved to do, playing with any toy I liked or wearing the clothes I preferred. In fact, they raised me to believe that I can do anything I set my mind to. But the stereotypes were all around: on TV, at school, at local stores, at the park, in the society; you know, those disapproving glances and poisonous comments that demotivate any curious girl from trying new things, exploring new interests and being herself.

In this world, most school girls decide that STEM subjects are not among their favourite ones; young women avoid pursuing a career in science or technology and turn to more “feminine” jobs: nurse, carer, administrative assistant. Great career choices of course, but are women genuinely NOT interested in technology, or is the gender stereotype influencing their decisions? I suspect it’s the latter. We grow up listening to so much suppressing information that we forget it’s actually OK to try new things, explore new interests and hobbies, be different - be ourselves.

Being a woman in technology myself, I know this industry offers careers that can be both creative and intriguing. It’s full of personal development opportunities – you never stop learning, because technologies never stop evolving! In many cases, it offers good work / life balance too. I believe that many women could have a fulfilling career in IT and there are plenty of options: in development, computer engineering, IT support, web design, etc.

John Lewis set a great example by highlighting the obvious: it’s OK to be ourselves and make our own choices, even if the world around us thinks otherwise. It doesn’t really matter if little girls will go for the dinosaur feature instead of the flower print for their dress. The important thing is that they are given a choice.

The IT industry should stop dressing things up and making excuses, and accept its share of responsibility. We need to become more inviting and more open, both as professionals and as organizations. We need to work harder on demolishing gender stereotypes and reposition IT for what it is: an industry where women will be given a choice.

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