Whenever I tell people that I plan to pursue a career in technology, I always meet the same response: “Wow. You don’t seem like that kind of person.” Most people, when presented with the idea of a tech junkie, think of two kinds of people: a Silicon-Valley dweller with the latest iPhone in hand or a dorky programmer glued to the screen of his chunky PC. But no one ever thinks of a woman. This is because the computer science and engineering industries are not very welcoming to women, so few women seek positions in the field. Some women in technology have been leaving their positions because of the misogynistic treatment they have received from male co-workers.
I encountered the sexism in computer science and engineering first hand last summer. I participated in a collaborative internship between Harvard-Westlake and UCLA’s Smart Energy Research Center, along with another five students (three boys and two other girls). Excited to begin my work, I attended the information session where the interns received their assignments and mentors, who were currently graduate students working with SMERC. I was surprised to find that the male interns had received individual mentors who were paired based on the interests they had expressed in their application, while the female interns were grouped together and put under the authority of two researchers. When asked, we all expressed a desire to code or participate in an engineering project. A week later we were emailed that we would be writing a 120-page report to help us learn “how to work with deadlines” and to “develop teamwork skills.” When given this assignment, male interns were already coding alongside their mentors.
So why was it that we were not treated equally? The female interns were just as qualified to do the work the male interns were doing. The internship coordinator said that the assignments were not based on gender, but on other circumstances such as availability of mentors.
“I was not thinking in a sexist way, but in a way to make [the female interns] more comfortable,” the coordinator said. “I wanted each of [the interns] in the lab working on projects, but that’s not the way it ended up working out.”
Though his intentions were not based on gender, the experience I had was similar to what women in technology face daily. These scientists are equally as qualified as their male counterparts but are in a constant struggle to prove that they belong in this industry, even though they are currently a minority. Especially in the video game industry, women are shut out from opportunities open to men with equal qualifications.
Even big tech companies have this problem. Only 17 percent of Google’s technology employees are women, whereas 48 percent of the non-technology employees are female, according to the demographics on Google’s website. Facebook only has a 15 percent female technology workforce, according to its website.
It seems that this all-male regime cannot be broken, but several people are already trying to break down this gender barrier. Many organizations, such as Girls Who Code, are giving young women the opportunity to nurture a love for technology early on. This is what women must understand: You don’t have to have a Y chromosome to major in computer science or engineering. I encourage all girls and women to learn how to code in order to be a part of the revolution in this industry. Technology is the future.