A Face For STEM: Online Effort Targets Assumptions About Women In Tech

Aug 6, 2015
Originally published on August 6, 2015 9:45 am
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Over the past few days, the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer has taken off on Twitter. It's a reaction to some negative comments about how female engineers should look. Here's NPR's Sam Sanders.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Isis Anchalee is a 22-year-old woman in tech.

ISIS ANCHALEE: I am a platform engineer at a company called OneLogin.

SANDERS: The firm lost an ad campaign recently, billboards with photos of employees talking about why they like the company. Anchalee was in one of those ads, wearing a black T-shirt and glasses with brown hair down to her shoulders.

ANCHALEE: My quote was that my team is great. Everyone is smart, creative and hilarious.

SANDERS: Pretty harmless, right?

ANCHALEE: Well, I had friends that were sending me screenshots of their friends taking pictures of the ad and having their own discussions about it.

SANDERS: Anchalee says some of those discussions were not that nice.

ANCHALEE: Guys were like, I wonder what people with brains think about how plausible this actually is, that this is what female engineers would look like.

SANDERS: Another guy said the campaign should have featured a woman with a warm smile instead of what he calls Anchalee's sexy smirk. The sentiment was that Anchalee was too pretty to be an engineer. In response, she wrote an essay on Medium about sexism that plagues the tech industry. And Anchalee asked other engineers to start sharing their photos with the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer. It took off.

ANCHALEE: This is absolutely blowing me away. It's been tweeted by NASA, General Electric.

SANDERS: Women engineers from MIT to Disney shared their photos. But that's just Twitter. I took Anchalee's photo to another tech space, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

I want you to look at this photo...

ERIN SAVASTIO: OK.

SANDERS: ...And tell me what kind of job you think she does. Erin Savastio got pretty close.

SAVASTIO: Well, I hate to go with stereotypes, but I'm going to say somewhere in the math and science field, maybe an artist, though.

SANDERS: Katie and Michael Reed went in another direction.

KATIE REED: A teacher, librarian?

MICHAEL REED: A beautician, just somebody who works in service.

SANDERS: When I told them Anchalee is an engineer and mentioned the campaign, the Reeds said that's a good thing. Katie says her young daughter, who was sitting right next to her, might someday be an engineer as well. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.