Izzy Park recaps the Forbes 30 Under 30 Philly panel event on male programmer (bro-grammer) bias in tech. The session was moderated by Moira Forbes, President & Publisher of ForbesWoman and the panelists were Debbie Sterling, Founder of GoldieBlox, Reshma Saujani, Founder of Girls Who Code, and Julie Ann Horvath, Designer, Developer & Visual Storyteller.
I admit, the only reason why I came to this panel was because of its controversial title, “STEMming the Bro-Culture”. The need is obvious, the number of women selecting computer science as a major is close to 20%, a sharp decline from when it was 40% in the 1980s. But it is also true for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) overall. By 2018, the U.S. will have more than 1.2 million unfilled STEM jobs, with STEM jobs currently growing at 17%. That point was the winning tie-breaker in my team’s pitch at Penn’s Y-Prize Robotics Competition. Our product, a classroom robot, set out to inspire young engineers and scientists before entering high school. Where the panel and I differed, was on how to overturn the tech community’s male biases.
“If you can’t, as a women, see yourself on the cover [of a magazine], why even try at that point?” Reshma Saujani, Founder, Girls Who Code
Wait, what? Before I jump to any further conclusions, I do agree with Reshma that one cannot achieve their goals until you yourself believe that you can do it. But that goes for men too. I am inspired when I see women on the cover of Forbes magazine, but I don’t think women need to aspire to be on the cover as an ingredient to success. After seeing Julie Horvath featured on a Wired.com article as a victim of sexism and hostile work environments, heck, I’d reconsider.
The panelist’s answer to “How to advance women”, was to meet girls where they are at. The panelists each nodded in unison when they discussed how women did not need to be going to hackathons, drinking red bull, losing sleep, or dressing up in a hoodie. You couldn’t be yourself, Reshma argued. Instead, the solution was to “create a sisterhood” and “infiltrate” the “bro” culture at a very young age. Reshma targets girls at a young age, adding that girls drop out of school because they start menstruating. Alternatively, Debbie Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox, wants to encourage more women in STEM fields with toys (i.e. Mars Explorer Barbie).
While this all may be true and moving things in the right direction, what was missing in the room were men. The three panelists and the moderator were all women. Do we really need to get into an all-women room to talk about how it’s us vs. men? In order to turn the tide, we need to include men in the conversation. I know that at my very first hackathon at PennApps, I was horrified to learn that some hackers had converted the women’s bathroom into a men’s bathroom. We all went back to our female friends to complain about how we were marginalized but no one really gave the other side a platform to respond and address it. And when we did, the organizers never let it happen again. I believe the only way to really champion and push issues of gender is to include the other half. In the meantime, I’ll be adding Computer Engineer Barbie to my Christmas Wishlist this year.