I used to be proud of being one of few women in my computer science classes. It felt like some sort of weird achievement, like I had broken through some crazy barriers and defied all odds; because I “wasn’t like other girls.” For some reason, I believed, like many do, that engineering/CS/math/tech in general is a world where men thrive, and women do not.
I recently came to the realization that this way of thinking is actually pretty messed up, and even more messed up is how I can’t pinpoint exactly when I came to adopt said beliefs when truthfully, no one ever said it point blank to my face.
After lots of thinking, reading and research on this topic, I’m firmly convinced that the reason for this unconscious gender bias within the tech industry (and many others) has everything to do with visibility and representation. The general population is likely unaware of who Grace Hopper is, and yet can list off the 500 Mark Zuckerburgs, Elon Musks, and Jeff Bezos’ of the world with their eyes closed. This ultimately means men have countless examples of prominent male figures in the tech industry that they can identify with and look up to, but for women, the examples are far and few between. And it turns out this matters, and it matters a lot, because when you see someone who looks like you, it reveals what is possible — whether you are a young girl in an Indian village or a young woman studying Economics in America.
Our approach towards solving it matters too
Okay, so we know we have a problem. But we often don’t help matters either. The unconscious gender bias seems to be further exacerbated by the approach most “Women in Tech” events take, centering the discourse on “how to break the glass ceiling,” and an us-and-them mentality, rather than tangible actions that will actually combat the biases that exist. This approach results in an overwhelming focus on barriers rather than opportunity. Focusing on the issues in this manner also reinforces the misconception that there is only room for one woman at the table, pitting us against each other. My former roommate, Sonia Sidhu and I attended many of these events last summer, often leaving frustrated and thinking, “There must be a better way.”
It takes a village
If it isn’t already blatantly obvious, I spend quite a lot time reflecting, but it is only really in the past couple years that I began to realize how extremely privileged I was growing up. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing educational upbringing, a strong support system, and both female and male role models who have shaped me into the woman I am today. I realize now that it is everything to do with these factors during my formative years, rather than my own ability, that I’ve been able to fearlessly pursue my undergraduate degree in computer science, my Master’s in biomedical engineering and my venture in the FinTech space, following the trailblazers who have gone before me, without much regard for “glass ceilings”.
I feel a lot of gratitude for the experience I had growing up, because I can see now more than ever that while skills are distributed equally, opportunity is not. I recognize that there are many far more skilled than I, that live in a world of limited possibility because of a mindset enforced by circumstance. But sometimes I think of what could happen if they too could see the million opportunities they are surely capable of, and given the chance to reach them. We could not only change every statistic, but we could change the world as we know it!
What We Represent
We created WE REPRESENT with all this in mind, off the simple premise that “if you can see it, you can be it”. And through a student ambassador program, unique workshops and programming, and an annual creative competition and showcase, we are committed to creating a movement that transforms the mindset of young Canadians during their most formative years, and in turn develops our leaders of tomorrow.
As damaging as the lack of representation due to an unconscious bias can be, I haven’t lost hope because I know it can be fixed. How? By rewriting the narrative and changing the mindset of young people, we can combat the bias, change their trajectory and unlock a future generation of changemakers, movers and shakers. That’s the world that we represent, and we hope that you join us in shaping it.