If you haven’t noticed, Star Wars is being used to sell almost everything. Look around any store you walk into and you’ll find the Star Wars themed merchandise. I don’t know that there is anything left to reveal about Star Wars: The Force Awakens at this point, but I promise this comment isn’t a spoiler: Rey is a pretty big deal. So, why wouldn’t she be included – fully outfitted – in the various marketing materials created to capitalize on the film’s release? Just check out the results when you search for #WheresRey and you’ll see how odd some of the examples are. Her absence is baffling. The argument that including her would have constituted a spoiler lacks credibility given that she is prominently featured in the film poster. This is just a recent example of the frustrating paucity of visible women in strong roles.
The good news is that people ask about Rey. They recognize that she is integral and should have been highlighted along with her male counterparts. The frustration speaks to a larger problem. In the past year, women in STEM has rapidly become a buzzworthy topic. In the United States, there has been a shift in the national dialogue to explore this issue. There are several facets to the conversation, ranging from research into the causes, identification of the status quo, and initiatives to change the course. While no definitive answers have been found, the first step is to bring attention to the issue.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have parents who consistently told me that I was “a smart cookie.” Such assurances inspired in me the belief that I could pursue any profession that interested me. It devastates me that other young women do not have this same advantage. Many girls come to believe that they are limited by their gender, particularly with regard to their ability in STEM fields. The message of doubt – whether explicit or implicit – is an effective one. The overwhelming preponderance of men in these fields underscores just how convincing it is.
As a result of the support I received throughout my childhood, I was willing to take the risk of changing careers. To many, it would appear that shifting from teaching English to working in a tech start-up would seem a drastic change. And in truth, the prospect intimidated me. The company culture at OctoInsight emboldened me to take the leap. The principle of genuine respect and openness is what drew me to the company, but seeing that principle routinely realized in meetings is what has taught me the true value of a positive work environment. I was assured that my skills and approach to problem-solving qualified me well for my work. I have since learned how much one can grow and then contribute when the team works without ego. Many organizations claim to be equal opportunity, but the reality behind the scenes can be quite different. Whether in the classroom, in a tech startup, or in a fortune 500 – the fact is that limiting contributions on the basis of arbitrary traits is to the detriment of innovation and success.
When my name was chosen from a hat to be the first to write a blog post, I knew with absolute confidence that my desired topic would be greeted with enthusiastic support. This little enterprise is explicitly committed to recruiting women into IT, changing the gender imbalance in tech. Because this subject is as worthwhile as it is complex, I will be writing a series of blog posts. I am eager to join the conversation about women in STEM officially, and I would be thrilled to receive your feedback and incorporate your thoughts. Your emails and comments will help me write thoughtful, honest, and representative posts that honor the subject and the individuals who empower others. Tell me about your experiences, good or bad … We need them, without the conventional pink sugar coating.