Social Media and Women in Tech: YeahGirlsCode’s message at the Panel Discussion held at Plexal, East London
I had the pleasure to discuss “Women in Tech: What We Don’t Say” at Plexal, alongside Naomi Bottrill (founder of Love Language), Lu Li (Founder of Blooming Founders), and Nneka Chukwurah ( Economy of Hours). Plexal is launching Plexiglass, newest accelerator in East London, focused on women-led companies. Thank you Claire Cockerton, CEO of Plexal, Hannah Grace Jarvis and Nikita Vervelde (JV Partners), for your extraordinary dedication to bringing women into Tech.
Many important points were discussed: how Social Media could be a vital tool in inspiring young girls and teenagers to study STEM, on the question of femininity, of cultural biases, of quotas, of role models…
I would like to expand on a key message I wanted to send across.
- On the Key Role of Social Media in Bringing Girls into Tech and STEM: what is perceived as “Glamorous” influences the behaviour and interests of young people, for the better or the worse
As the creator of @ YeahGirlsCode , I often get asked: why did you chose Instagram over other platforms? What sparked this idea?
I’ll go straight to the point -most young people at school are pressured to try to be ‘cool’ and fit in with their peers.
An entrepreneur friend of mine gave me some valuable advice: “You know what makes a startup a success? Whether it’s perceived as the cool new kid in town. You have to seem cool. Whether it’s a good thing or no, that’s not so much the question, the fact is that people want to associate with what is “cool” and you have to make use of that fact.”
But wait — what is “cool”? Who / how is that dictated? By no one but also everybody? Who decides?
The perceptions of what is or is not “glamorous” incredibly influence the topic of conversations, of who is chosen (or imposed) as a role model, and of what is considered as an Ideal, are moulded by what is validated by millions on Social Media. There are countless meticulous studies which give an idea of how much youth is impacted by what they see on social media, and in so many different ways (type “Social Media Influence Youth” on Google, you’ll see).
What Ideals are promoted through these platform? For women, the most popular accounts are models posing with empty captions, where just looks or material possessions are shown or are seen to have value (as individuals, they are so much more than just looks, but they might chose to not reflect their individuality on the platform). Also think of celebrities like the Kardashian family. The most popular Instagram accounts of men, on the other hand, include athletes and entrepreneurs as well ( many footballers, MMA fighters, Garyvee,…).
There is nothing wrong with any of those accounts -what is wrong is the lack of diversity in the types of ideals that are eventually displayed for women.
- Gender Quotas ARE needed, but we need more: they do not fix the root of the problem.
In STEM industries, there are simply not as many women as men candidates to chose from in the first place. Fewer young girls chose STEM subjects than young boys. So the problem starts even before we can talk about women in the workplace -the problem is created far earlier.
Do I think that if the most popular accounts of women on Instagram counted amongst them women in tech / women entrepreneurs /athletes / scientists, we would see a growth in girls taking an interest in STEM and choosing to go on studying and working in such fields? Yes, I believe so.
Do I believe that a change of ideals reflected on social media would be the single solution to the problem? No. But its importance is clear, and politics can’t do much about that. Good thing is : we are the ones who can. So what are we waiting for?
Imagine a young girl just who reached the age to create an Instagram account. She instantly sees suggestions of a variety of accounts displaying popular, glamorous women in lab coats (hello Dr. Cat Begovic, who inspires me so much), as well as women posing with laptops, amongst them. Over time, those images will influence / inspire her, if not instantly.
I am not saying there are no accounts of the sort already -just not enough. I would strongly encourage any woman to start documenting on any platform her work, it could be in any industry. That way, girls and teenagers could straight find a role model in any field they might feel an initial interest in; they could reach out for mentorship, grow from there, and feel supported.
Visibility matters -and social media regulates what is perceived as the “cool” and “glamorous”, that most young people try to chase and imitate: I believe we are missing out on incredibly successful girls who will never try something they could have excelled at, just because they were not sufficiently exposed to those role models and those ideals.
- On femininity
Does seeing a girly-girl coding at night bring about a cognitive dissonance? My friend Masha, breaks this down very well -check out her Instagram “Coding Blonde”! Also — Lillian on Bigdatagal, who was the one who inspired me to start blogging.
Feminism is all about breaking stereotypes and inviting women to stay true to who they are, to embrace their individuality -as everyone should, woman or man. So you don’t have to identify to this type of feminine (there are many types) which is itself very stereotypical. But it happens that’s my actual style: I am feminine in a very girly way ; and for now I intend to stay the same and to be taken seriously.
Naomi Bottrill and I joked on how we had weird identity crisis -should we dress in black and speak in a low-pitch voice? And a minute later we’d feel like we should have worn that very cute pinkie dress. It’s like, binary. Even when we are aware — stereotypes are so ingrained! They bring in mental models that are hard to emancipate from. We should forget all of those meaningless categories and just be ourselves -I know, it is harder than it sounds.
So please, if you read this and you are a woman working in a STEM industry: be visible!
Show off to the world what you do. Be unapologetically yourself: make people crave for that authenticity. You would be surprised of how much you influence those around you and the ones around those people, and so on.
If you are a man: don’t hesitate to follow such women. We need to have both sides being used the imagery of women who step-up in traditionally male-dominated roles. I see around me a lot of boys who show insecurity when their girlfriends are more successful, self-aware or ambitious than they are -or even just as successful as they are. Those are not misogynist -simply, this cognitive dissonance is still there, quite in a vicious way. So we need everyone to be actively aware of those things.