Women in the Maker/Tech/Computing/Engineering/Gamer Culture

A couple of weeks ago, the Internet blew up about Maker Media CEO Dale Doughtery’s comments about Naomi Wu, a “maker” living in Shenzen, China. I’d never heard of her until this whole thing happened. Basically, Doughtery claimed she couldn’t possibly be actually making the stuff she claims she is because she’s beautiful and Chinese. This is not an uncommon reaction from men when faced with successful women in male-dominated fields, especially if they are also attractive.

If you’re a woman in any of these fields, this is not new. In fact, this is not the first very public incident like this in the last few months. There was the James Damore Google memo incident earlier this year. His memo: women weren’t meant to program. There was #gamergate a few years ago, same basic premise. And every day, many women go to work and have their skills undervalued or ignored simply because they are women trespassing in a man’s world.

When I first started blogging almost 15 years ago, my fellow female bloggers and I would experience what we called the “Where are the women” moment. Every month or so, some male blogger (usually someone with a big audience) would write a post about how there weren’t that many (or any) female bloggers out there. Then a bunch of female bloggers would respond with “Hello! Here we are. We read you and link to you, but apparently you don’t know we exist.” It was infuriating.

I have always had a tendency to participate in activities coded “male” and yet embrace a pretty traditionally female presentation. In middle school, for example, I loved playing video games.  But I also loved jewelry and perfume and makeup.  I haven’t changed that juxtaposition very much. I actually like the contrast of wielding a soldering iron while wearing a dress and heels. To me, it says that you can do anything and it doesn’t matter what you wear or look like. Coding doesn’t have a dress code.

Except, some people think it does. Sometimes, men don’t take women’s knowledge and expertise seriously if they don’t look the part, which means being male, or at least not looking too feminine. I get that from a human standpoint. It’s true that we all make assumptions about what people in certain roles look and dress like. But we have to break those assumptions, especially when it comes to assumptions we make about gender and race and certain fields or roles.

Here are some facts. 81% of Pinterest users are women and most people are using Pinterest to plan purchases. That’s real cash. 87% of the sellers on Etsy are women, and about 28% of its engineering workforce is female (seems not great, but considering most other tech companies are below 20% and even below 15%, that’s pretty damn good). Stitchfix, a company I love, was founded by a women and more than 30% of the engineers there are women.  Companies with female CTOs have better numbers of female engineers and generally create a better culture for women to work in. Women are in these fields, using technologies, and participating in many activities that some people, apparently, assume are male-only.

It’s actually weird to me that any gender or race would want to claim ownership over a particular industry or activity. I get that many of these have a “club-like” feel to them, and so the impulse to be exclusionary might be strong. But if this is where money is to be made and solutions to big problems are discovered, it only makes sense for us to invite everyone to the party. We need everyone’s talent and perspective at the table.

About the Author