It’s a chicken and egg situation.
It’s difficult to get more women interested in working in tech without clear role models. But it’s hard to create more role models without getting girls interested in technology careers in the first place.
Of course, there are a lot of women who already work in tech, providing girls with examples of what they can achieve in this exciting industry.
The only problem is getting enough of these female role models into the public eye and in front of girls on a regular basis.
Given that only 17% of professionals – fewer than one in five people – within the sector are female, it’s not surprising that the names and faces which become synonymous with technology are often male.
A wave of inspiration
So how do we provide a platform for women in tech to be recognised, and known, for their work? One way in which we’ve tried to do so is by creating a Wall of Inspiration.
This is a page on our site dedicated to highlighting women who are working in technology, by including information about what jobs they do, where they work and how they got into tech in the first place.
We launched this, as part of our overall Next Tech Girls initiative, in January 2016, knowing that it would take some time to gain momentum. That’s why we’re delighted to say that we’ve recently passed the 100 profile benchmark. There are now more than 100 women in tech featured on our Wall of Inspiration.
Still early days
As far as we’re concerned, we’re still in the early stages of this project. After all, at the time of writing (December 2016), we’re only just approaching the one year mark. This means there’s still a long way to go.
There are a lot of talented women who aren’t yet included on the Wall of Inspiration – women who we’d love to feature. We want to create a page that features thousands, rather than hundreds, of women in technology.
By building a platform that’s substantial and detailed, we can create something that really inspires girls and shows them how relevant tech is to them. We can provide them with female role models who’ve built successful careers in technology, while dispelling the myth that the sector is only for men.
This is important at a time when (relatable) role models seem more necessary than ever.
The need for a real role model
The United Nations (UN) was recently criticised for appointing Wonder Woman – the fictional superhero – as an ‘honorary ambassador’ to promote gender equality. However, in the wake of the controversy that was generated by this announcement, the organisation quickly reversed its decision.
While this may seem somewhat comical at first, it does raise some important questions about what makes a role model, and what the role of a role model is.
Is it a good idea to use a fictional character when trying to inspire millions of girls and women around the world? Why did the UN – an influential, global organisation – feel the need to use a character as a role model, rather a real, successful businesswoman or entrepreneur? Should we even be reading that much into the UN’s initial decision (and subsequent U-turn) to make Wonder Woman an international role model, when there’s so much real work to be done in the fight for equality?
While the above issues are subjective, what seems clear is the fact that role models play a crucial in inspiring others, and inspiring social change. However, what’s less clear – and less defined – is what a ‘suitable’ role model is.
Slate magazine, in its article about the UN’s decision, stated that “in this age of improving representation, people aren’t content to settle for imperfect role models, and maybe they shouldn’t have to.”
Perfection vs. relatability
While we agree that people shouldn’t have to “settle” for role models who aren’t inspirational, it also seems unfair and unrealistic to suggest that they need to be perfect. Especially given the fact that perfection is an unachievable ideal. We shouldn’t be comparing inspirational women to fictional superheroes. We also shouldn’t expect real role models to be perfect.
If anything, a role model who’s truly relatable is much more relevant. A person who has worked hard to achieve success, and a figure that a young person can aspire to follow and become, is better than someone who is perfect and infallible.
This is something that Katia Beauchamp, Birchbox co-founder, recently alluded to in a Guardian article. Speaking about the gender imbalance in technology, she said: “The lack of women in tech is due to many factors. Honestly, I think it starts early [during childhood]. When a woman is growing up, it’s important the people around her tell her what could be possible, and that she has role models to look up to. A critical part is believing it’s possible.”
This ‘belief’ that something is possible stems from having realistic expectations, and believing that they really do belong in the technology industry.