I’m Jenny, the founder of Snap Fashion. Our editor Sarah is doing a fantastic job of keeping you up to date with all things fashion, but once in a while I’m going to chip in with my two cents on topics such as entrepreneurship, young start-ups and interesting technologies. Today’s topic is not meant to be a feminist statement or to stir up a revolution: it’s a topic that genuinely interests me and gets me thinking about what the workforce of tomorrow will look like – Women in Tech.
I have a confession to make: I’m an engineer. And no, I’m not male, over 60, with a taste for tank tops. Also, let’s get this out of the way, I can’t fix your car. I’m female, 24 and I don’t speak Klingon. Although the above are examples of the more extreme viewpoints that I have encountered, the number of people (including myself) who do a double take when they see a female engineer is astounding.
Believe it or not, this is not me.
This reaction is justified, as in 2010 only 9% of UK engineers were female. So where are all of the women in technology, and why aren’t there more of us? From my own personal experience I believe that the problem stems from perceptions embedded into us and older generations from a young age.
When picking my degree course I kept encountering the same argument. People kept saying to me, “why do you want to be an engineer when you have the grades to do medicine?” Well, honestly that’s because I faint at the sight of blood and I doubt that my sudden brainwaves and experimentations would be appreciated in surgery. However, there seem to be certain career paths that are recommended to you if you are considered to be “bright” and female. Why not become a doctor, a surgeon, an accountant, or a lawyer? Well I ask you, why not become an engineer? You get to become an expert in your field, experiment, innovate and career progression can be great.
The reason that I am so passionate about this subject is not because I’m striving for equality or whinging about opportunities for women, but because I genuinely believe that women bring something great to an engineering team. It’s a well-known cliché, but women’s brains work differently to men’s. The number of times at university when I would approach a project from a completely different direction from the rest of the room amused (and sometimes confused) me, but also ultimately got me noticed for being a bit of an ideas person and ultimately produced Snap Fashion.
There are some fantastic tech companies out there started up by women and run by women, and there are some real ambassadors out there for us to admire. A few spring to mind: Natalie Massenet (founder of Net-A-Porter), Polyvore (founded by women for women), Sugru (magical fix-everything putty), Heather Harde (VP TechCrunch) and Marissa Mayer (VP Consumer Products for Google).
As I’ve been developing Snap and working for an engineering company, I can see things beginning to change. I give some time to STEM, an organisation promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to school pupils choosing their options, and have enjoyed encouraging sixth form girls to buck the trend and go with their instincts to pursue engineering despite what their peers think. There are other great organisations and sources of inspiration out there, such as Girl Geek Dinners (bringing together women in STEM careers), Lady Geek (fantastic tech blog which is not patronising), IEEE Women in Engineering (largest international professional organisation dedicated to promoting women engineers and scientists) the Girl Geeks Charitable foundation (promoting all things STEM to girls).
It seems that times are changing. I just hope that we do it in a non-patronising way that doesn’t single out the female engineers.
I wonder how many young girls will be inspired by this Barbie?!