So the other day I started a lively discussion on Facebook.
I was working on the WTF website and was on the hunt for some good stock photos to help elevate and inspire women in our industry. As a grassroots organization the photos needed to be high quality but also not break the bank. I searched Getty Images, iStockphoto, 123RF, and Unsplash and started to notice a pattern.
Here is what I searched for:
Woman in tech
Woman in datacenter
Woman network engineer
What came back were thousands upon thousands of photos. On the business woman/leader search the photos ranged from nicely dressed friendly women smiling with a blurred office background, to strong looking women giving feedback in meetings, to women leading presentations. While there weren't as many images that necessarily resonated with who I am or how I dress at work I felt like these could be representative of something I could get behind. If you go to womenstechforum.com/who-we-are/ you will see an example of one of those photos in our banner image.
Then I started to look for good photos that represented women in tech. I scrolled through page after page on Getty Images and found one or two photos that I deemed acceptable. Both of the good photos could be obtained for the small purchase price of $550. Nope.
A Google search for women in datacenters introduced me to 123RF. Between that site and iStock I found a handful of photos but it took me nearly an hour of searching through multiple pages on each of these sites. Unspash (a free photo site) offered little to no examples of women in technology so I moved on. As an aside, if you want some great general photos of women Unsplash is a great resource.
Long and short, photos of women in our industry do exist but you have to search through pages and pages...and more pages...<le sigh> to find them. This brings me back to my lively Facebook discussion the other day. It started with a comment on the photo below...
Needless to say the resulting comments were lively. A few folks posted photos as a counter to this statement. Unfortunately many of the photos that were posted helped support the point I was originally making. Yes, there are photos of women in datacenters and women working in IT. A lot of them. But there is an appallingly low number of them that actually represent who we really are.
Let's break this down with some good and bad examples of what is out there:
In a recent article published on AFCOM Theresa Simpkin, head of the department of Lord Ashcroft International Business School for Anglia Ruskin University, was quoted as saying, "Organizational culture is often not conducive to supporting career progression for women in tech - not necessarily because of the individuals within the organization per se, but the accepted norms that have developed over time," Simpkin said. "Networks, advocate programs and other mechanisms designed to provide a desirable career trajectory are often not aligned to alternative labor characteristics (this is not just about gender, but also covers socio-economic factors, race, orientation etc). This is a highly complex, socially constructed matter that has its roots in organizational structure, culture, social learning and unconscious bias." To learn more about the content published in the recent AFCOM article go here. This was also republished recently on DataCenter Knowledge.
If the goal is to get more women in our industry then there are countless ways we can tackle this issue. I am grateful that there are men out there who recognize there is a problem with the content that exists. Thank you for your contribution to the Facebook discussion. But the discussion itself is an example of a broader social issue. As I looked back through 2 days of comments on that post that I realized something. It goes something like this...
Woman addresses problem in a public forum.
Man jumps in and start offering solutions to the problem.
More men jump in with more solutions to said problem.
Even more men offer solutions.....
I'm just going to stop here.
I love that men want to help solve these problems. Seriously. It's really cool that guys recognize that there is an issue and want to provide support. I personally have had so many wonderful men help me in my career and build me up over the years. But that's not the point.
The point is that women should be offering solutions to problems like this. We have a voice and an opportunity to contribute to the discussion and enact real change. If men want to help us then tell the amazing women in their company that we exist and help us build more connections. Help us build our community. Ask us how we think they can help before offering solutions to solve the problem.
I want more women leaders in my life. I want women around me that I can aspire to be like so that I can evolve in my career. I want a community where it's ok to talk about my desire for a strong female mentor, or talk about my fear of public speaking but that I do it anyway because I feel like it will help me get over it, or my own challenges as a woman leader tech. The reason I jumped behind the concept of WTF was to not just change the conversation, but to create a community where other women had a common framework and an environment where we could support one another professionally and grow our personal networks and maybe even make a few friends along the way.
We've defined the problem but how many of us are taking action to help solve it? Women are leaders. Women are technicians. Women are coders. Women are network engineers. Women are individual contributors, president's club award winners, Managers, Directors, Sr. Directors, VPs, CEOs. Women get things done. So what's preventing us from talking about solving it more than we are right now? What's preventing us from striking up a conversation with our marketing teams about how the images on our websites shape the perspective of prospective candidates? Or informing the recruiting teams at our own companies about how the language used in job descriptions actually impacts the candidate pool. Each of us has the ability to make an impact as individuals and as female leaders at our companies. The beauty of our industry is that it is small and by design we are in the business of connecting the world.
So why not shift inward and focus on what holds us back and what we need to move forward and evolve beyond the status quo. If we as women want to change the way the world sees our contribution then let's start with how we see ourselves.