13 02 2014

“In the United States in 2009, women earned 52% of all Math + Science degrees, but only 18% of Technology-Related degrees. What’s up with that?”

– The opening scene from the She++ Documentary

I highly recommend watching the full 12-minute documentary!

She++ does a great job of discussing the stereotypes that drive many girls and women away from Computer Science. Those of us who are entrenched in this industry know that, while these stereotypes can be true, they don’t have to be. I love to code, and I’m not anti-social, my hygiene is great, and I’ve only consumed one energy drink in my entire life (I got a terrible stomach ache). Industry leaders like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, show us very clearly that you can be a powerhouse in this industry and not fit any of the stereotypes.

“At this rate, literally the growth of the US tech industry is going to be throttled by the fact that US universities, and even the world’s universities, are not producing enough software engineers”

– Jocelyn Goldfein, Director of Engineering at Facebook

We are actually being held back from making technological advances that have already been conceived due to the lack of a skilled workforce to implement those advances. She++ points out that this is one of the most important reasons that we need women to join the technology workforce. We can’t afford to miss out on half the population when we’re so short on talent.

I also believe that the lack of gender diversity in our workforce inhibits innovation. Diverse teams come up with diverse ideas. Homogeneous teams tend to keep coming up with the same ideas over and over again. This industry is all about doing things that have never been done before, which is why diverse teams are so critical to technological advancement.

These jobs are also extremely fun. They’re creative. They’re intellectually rewarding. They are financially rewarding. And women are missing out on all of that. Historically, where women’s participation in the labor force grew fastest, the economy experienced the largest reduction in poverty rates. This is a historic opportunity to take gender equality in the workplace to the next level in the United States, and doing so will lead to happier women, but also happier, healthier families and a higher degree of economic and social empowerment for our children.

— Jen Miller, Program Coordinator

Nothing to Prove

5 10 2013

I love this video by Girl Geeks & the Doubleclicks. I can’t even quantify how much time I’ve spent trying to prove myself in STEM — trying to prove that I’m smart enough, creative enough, committed enough, and nerdy enough. For years, I hustled for my worth, working much harder and often achieving much more than my male colleagues. Despite my efforts, sometimes I still experienced treatment that made me feel that I was being viewed as not smart enough, not creative enough, not committed enough, and not nerdy enough.

This may sound like a sad story, but you know what? It really isn’t. For every man who refused to respect my abilities, there were easily nine men who treated me with the respect I deserved. At a certain point, I decided to ignore the dissenters and move forward with my life. The energy I was spending trying to prove myself to an unimportant 10% of the male population in STEM was energy that was being wasted. I needed that energy to continue kicking butt.

The last line of this awesome song really resonates with me. “Haters are Gonna Hate.” It’s funny, but it’s true. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman in STEM or a dog in a tutu. Haters are gonna hate. They’re going to hate just because you’re doing something that is unusual and possibly innovative. Ironically, our desire to be unusual and innovative is what draws most of us to STEM in the first place. We want to use our talents to do things that have never been done before to change the world.

I’m a huge fan of constructive criticism because I’m constantly looking for ways to grow and improve, but hate isn’t constructive — it’s just hateful. If it isn’t helpful, you have to ignore it. You’ve got nothing to prove to a bully.

– Jen

A glimpse into the past

26 08 2013

We often focus on the path ahead of us. Traversing the path of life as a woman in technology requires intelligence, diligence, and a great sense of humor, so our forward-looking focus makes perfect sense. We focus on tomorrow and how much work there is yet to be done. It’s true that there is still much work left to be done to achieve gender equality in technical disciplines, but I think it’s worthwhile to stop for a moment to look backward and reflect on how far we’ve come.

“They had more patience, more dexterity, and were far more reliable than men because they didn’t get drunk and disorderly.”

– My Grandfather, commenting on women who worked in highly technical jobs previously held by men during WWII.

I was taking a sip of wine as he told me this. Although I didn’t get drunk or disorderly, I genuinely enjoyed the irony. My grandfather studied Electrical Engineering at the US Naval Academy from 1947 – 1951. Here is his 1949 yearbook picture. I’m biased, but I think he’s adorable.


I asked him whether there were any women studying engineering when he was in college. His response was that in the 1940’s, women didn’t go to college to get a degree — they went to college to get married. At this point in the conversation, I came precariously close to getting disorderly, and I had to remind myself that he was simply relaying an antiquated social perception. In the early 20th century, many of the women who graduated from college did, in fact, get married promptly after graduation. The truth is, they were faced with a very difficult decision: either have a family or pursue a career. The idea that a woman could work outside the home and raise a family was inconceivable at that time.

Growing up, I never would have considered myself a feminist. My head had been filled with many negative stereotypes associated with feminism. My understanding was that feminists were angry, ugly, miserable old spinsters who hated men (and everyone else, for that matter). What were they so mad about, anyway? They had achieved their goals. Women were on equal footing with men now. I felt empowered to be the master of my own life. It wasn’t until I graduated from college and entered the work force as a computer engineer that I realized that while I was the master of my own life, there were a surprising number of men throwing road blocks in my way. Now, I’m proud to call myself a feminist. I’m happy to report that I’m not angry, ugly, or miserable. I’m also very fond of men (and everyone else, for that matter).

To me, feminism is all about the freedom to make choices and live them out in a peaceful, supportive environment. Maybe you choose to work. Maybe you choose to raise a family. Maybe you choose to wander the earth searching for the meaning of life. (Please tell me if you find it.) Likely, you choose to do a combination of those things. While I do believe that many women in the US feel empowered to own important decisions regarding their lives, the level of support we get in living out these decisions still varies greatly. The Northwest Regional Women in Computing Conference is all about increasing that level of support for women in technical disciplines, and that is why it is so important to me.

As we celebrate women in computing and all who support them, let us remember that we have come a very long way in the last 66 years. While our individual efforts may seem small, they are important contributions to a much larger movement. Let us remember the women who fought hard and made personal sacrifices for our freedom to choose our own destinies. As we move forward, let us draw strength from their example. Let us keep our mission close to our hearts. Let us wake every morning with a smile and the knowledge that, like our predecessors, we will drive monumental social change for women over the next 66 years.

– Submitted by Jen Miller