Young women can have a pink backpack and love science.
By Jessie Barone (Content Specialist, Facebook)
This post originally appeared on Medium.
Being a woman is freakin’ awesome.
You don’t have to have been born a woman, or through gender fluidity consider yourself a woman 100% of the time, but anyone who wants to identify as a woman can agree: it’s awesome.
We can be sexy, sassy, strong and sophisticated, and we can dress to express it. Whether you’re a skater chick with smoky eyes, a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of girl or a fashionista who loves everything Louboutin, it feels fantastic to declare “this is me” as outrageously (or simply) as you want.
But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed working in Silicon Valley — while there are plenty of industries that do showcase feminine style and encourage it in the workplace — the tech industry is not one of them. And it’s perpetuating gender imbalance in one of the most promising fields of the century.
There is a New Age Gold Rush happening, and it’s in tech. Panning for intellectual gold and sifting through promising startups, the most successful tech companies attract people from all over the world.
But unfortunately, these people are still mostly men.
This gaping gender gap in one of the fastest growing (and best-paying) industries is unnerving — if not damn disappointing. The percentage of young women earning degrees in computer science has actually decreased in the past two decades: Women received 29.6 percent of computer science BAs back in 1991, compared to 18.2 percent in 2010.
So, what’s the deal?
Is it because the tech world still looks and feels like a boy’s club, making women turn on their heels and avoid it altogether? Could it be women feel drawn to more familiar waters?
Whatever the reason, it has to change.
We need all kinds of women — not just the women in pantsuits — to balance out the tech industry. If we only promote women in tech who dress like the men who grossly outnumber them, and not women who dress girly or colorfully, we will never break even.
Newsflash: “Girly” does not equate to “weak” or “ineffectual.”
Since men still outnumber women in the tech workplace, there are fewer women in the spotlight, and even fewer of those highlighted women serve as advocates for femininity. (They’re too busy trying to prove they can do just as good of a job as male CEO).
So how is a young woman supposed to relate? Why does she either have to grow up a strong leader or wear a skirt?
We need to help young women realize they can still have a pink backpack and love science; they can still be princesses and work in technology. They can even have it be part of their titles.
If the tech industry celebrated women with style the way they do in so many other female-dominated spheres, perhaps more young women would gravitate toward STEM careers at a younger age.
Being “girly” and being a boss don’t conflict. Female leaders in other industries can be extremely powerful and successful and still be fabulous. Just look at the editor-in-chief of Vogue.
Ultimately, it’s a Chicken vs. the Egg conundrum. Is the lack of feminine style in tech a cause of the gender gap, or is it an effect? Do young women feel torn between celebrating their self-expression in style and a career in STEM?
Obviously, no woman has to dress femininely in the tech industry simply because she is a woman.
But, feminine women shouldn’t shy away from tech just because it doesn’t currently look like a place for women. Point is, no one should be uncomfortable with whom he or she fundamentally is — feminine, masculine or anything in between.
In the end, there is no one answer as to why the gender gap is so wide in technology in 2015. But, if you’re a fashionable woman starting a new career at a tech company, don’t hide your style.
You can still be chic and own it in the conference room.
About the guest blogger: Jessica Barone is a content specialist at Facebook, combining a love for writing + UX design. Previously a content strategist at Google, Jessica's a California-grown skier, backpacker and avid researcher of what makes Silicon Valley tick. Follow her photography on Instagram @wyld_ and past work on about.me/jessicabarone.