What do you think when you hear, “Black Lives Matter?” Do you immediately think, “well, all lives matter?” If so, you’re missing the concept of systemic discrimination. It’s built into our societal norms. It won’t change unless we take steps to make it change. That might mean that someone in the group of discriminators will feel left out or cheated out of an opportunity he thinks he deserves as much as the next person. I’ll tell you this, until Black lives do matter, no lives matter in our country.
The reason I brought up the Black Lives Matter movement is to draw a comparison to another movement from the ’90s, “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” It was an attempt by women in my industry, computer engineering, to show girls how cool coding could be—and to encourage them to study maths and sciences so that becoming a computer geek was not beyond their reaches.
Over the next couple of years, the movement spread to other disciplines—but it was about daughters. It didn’t take long for parents of boys to complain it was unfair to set aside a special day for girls. Their sons were being left out. They had never witnessed a group of children entering a computer lab—in those days, there would have been just a few machines available—the rush forward, the elbowing to get on the limited resources. Let me! Let me, do it! If they had been there, they would have seen the boys take over all of the machines, with clusters of their peers around them. The girls—at least most of them—would be standing behind the boys, watching, not doing. This was the reason to give girls a special day—to let them engage with the technology on their own terms.
Every year on Take Your Child to Work Day, I am reminded of the way girls continue to be excluded from the sciences, especially Computer Science. Back in the ’80s—the heyday of women in computing—the percentage of young women graduating in the field was around 35%. By 2013, the number had dropped to 18%. We are responsible for this drop. We encourage the practices that preclude girls from a science-rich education. For the men who rule this lucrative, high-paying profession, this leaves little competition from a whole gender—half the population—of people. I wonder if things would be better for women today if we had focused, as a nation, on educating girls in what is now called STEM.
I know, from personal experience, the challenges of being a woman in a man’s field—I remember only being mentored by one of my male managers, and not very proactively; I was passed over for the coolest and most important projects; I was excluded from being part of “the club”—perhaps not overtly, but just by virtue of the extracurricular activities “the club” pursued, like telling an off-color joke, or going out to drink scotch and smoke cigars, or going on a camping trip to shoot guns and ride dirt bikes. In my day-to-day jobs, I have almost always been the sole woman on my team, in a hierarchy of all-men teams. All of these things, combined, leads to women in computing making only 87% of what their male counterparts are paid. The percentage of women computer engineers, from my direct observation over many years, is around 10%. When high-tech companies state their percentages at closer to twenty, they are including women who work in all capacities, such as program managers, scrum masters, human resources and recruiting—the latter two being predominantly women.
The practice of exclusion of women reaches beyond computer engineering to other high-paying professions. A good example is the Hollywood movie industry. I wrote about this a couple of years ago. It includes the fact that women directed only 6% of the top 250 U.S. grossing films in 2013. The pay gap for women is also well documented. A big deal was made of Anna Boden being selected to direct the new Marvel movie, “Captain Marvel,” although, the co-director is a man, Ryan Fleck. One of the reasons for the hoopla is that Marvel has never had a woman at the helm of one of its movies before. Maybe things are progressing at Marvel—the writers, Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauvre, are also women, as is the star, Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson. I hope the company hired these women on the merits of their work and not to save 30% on their wages.
So, on this Take Your Child to Work Day, remember its original intent. Also, when you think about Black Lives Matter, remember, in my field, Black Americans of all genders make up just over 5% of the employees, and Black engineers make up only 1-3%. I can count on one hand the number of Blacks I have worked with, and almost never on my own team. I have nothing against Chinese and Indian immigrants coming to America—some of my best friends are Indians, and we are all, except for Indigenous people, children of immigrants—but, in computing, they are grossly over-represented, especially in the engineering jobs. Maybe we should think about enabling our own children—most importantly women and minorities—to fill these high-paying jobs.
Don’t forget to take your daughter to work today.
Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.