#ILookLikeAnEngineer and Ashe Dryden’s (@AsheDryden) Programming Diversity


Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

What does an engineer look like? Isis Wenger, an engineer at OneLogin, sadly had to supply some visual aids to a few people online recently. She was featured in a recruiting ad wearing some truly stunning glasses and a OneLogin Engineering t-shirt, which somehow inspired comments like:

“This is some weird haphazard branding. I think they want to appeal to women, but are probably just appealing to dudes. Perhaps that’s the intention all along. But I’m curious people with brains find this quote remotely plausible and if women in particular buy this image of what a female software engineer looks like. Idk. Weird.”

I need to take a deep breath here, because what I’d really like to write is a string of very strong words, none of which are pertinent to my point.

Wenger’s response (a far better one than mine) was to start a campaign that brought together anyone and everyone who didn’t fit the white-boy-with-glasses mold of an engineer:


Prepare yourself to see some really awesome ladies before you hit “Play.”

I think this is a timely moment to share with you one of my favorite presentations: Ashe Dryden’s Programming Diversity.

Ashe Dryden is a programmer, consultant and speaker about diversity and inclusivity in tech. What I love about her speech how she builds a foundation of definitions, moves into statistics that make you wonder what the heck happened, and finishes by acknowledging attrition as a central reason why there aren’t more women in tech.

Here are some highlights of her 34 minute talk.

Diversity isn’t a code word for “Where are the women;” it’s a much larger issue than that, including factors like ability, language, physical and mental health, sexuality, age, gender, immigration status, socioeconomic status, race and education.

Intersectionality, definition: How the interactions of biological, social and cultural traits define your experience as a human being on the planet. Ie. Women earn about 80.9% of what men do in the U.S., but Latina women earn 59% of what white men do. You can see how much adding just one more factor drastically changes the percentage.

Privilege, definition: Unearned advantages you get due to who you are and where you’re from. Privilege can mean access to better education, access to technology at younger ages, higher pay, assumed competency, and, most importantly, being seen as a skill set instead of a set of uncontrollable factors. Essentially, privilege means you are judged based on what you can do and have done, rather than what what you look like, where you’ve come from, or assumptions people make about you.

Stereotype threat, defintion: Most people know what a stereotype is, but a stereotype threat is a bit different. It’s the fear a person has that they will confirm a negative stereotype about their social group.

Imposter syndrome, definition: When you’re unable to internalize your accomplishments, as in feeling like you don’t deserve your accolades and successes and fearing you’ll be “found out.” This is especially evident in groups that have a negative stereotype. They’re less likely to attend a conference, much less speak at a conference, and they’re less likely to apply for jobs that require proof of competency.

Marginalized, definition: A minority or sub-group being excluded, their needs or desires ignored.

Then she moves into some statistics that fascinated me:

  • 8% of computer science graduates are women in India.
  • 17% of CS grads are women in the U.S.
  • 2% of CS grads are women in the U.K.
  • 20% of CS grads are women in Brazil and South Africa.
  • 73% of CS grads are women in Bulgaria.

One of these is not like the other!

I’d actually like to take a detour here from Ashe Dryden’s talk to look a little closer at Bulgaria. What is going on there that is so different from what happened here and in many other places around the world?

It turns out, the difference isn’t pink or blue – it’s red. In 1982, under the communist dictatorship of Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria’s computer industry boomed, leaving the Soviet Union, Germany, and other Western countries in the dust. They reverse-engineered the Apple II and created cheap, mass-produced personal computers giving access to technology to just about everyone. Bulgaria also began a high school education program in programming languages. It also doesn’t hurt that most teachers at an undergraduate level are women. And, as a society, there is a strong push for children of both genders to go into the sciences. Access + society + female role models = women computer science graduates.

Who knew?

(We all did)

Then Ashe Dryden goes on to explain all of the positive outcomes of diverse teams (innovation, more creativity, better decision making, more profit), and the sources of the diversity problem:

  • The pipeline (In the context of how minorities are treated while in the pipeline.)
  • Lack of role-models (For a very interesting 7-minute story on Forgotten Female Programmers, check out the NPR story here.)
  • Different access to technology at young ages and in different socio-economic groups
  • Stigma of “geekiness”
  • And, my favorite, Attrition. Ashe actually addresses what I see as one of the biggest, and least discussed issues about diversity, which is the attrition rate of women in tech. Fifty-six percent of women leave tech within 10 years (that’s twice the attrition rate of men, and that number accounts for those women who leave to have kids). I wrote an entire post about my take on this phenomenon here.

She ends her speech with some very solid advice for how to improve diversity and promote inclusive culture, which is well worth the listen. But for me, #ILookLikeAnEngineer pretty much sums it up.

Follow Ashe Dryden @ashedryden

Support Ashe Dryden’s Diversity Work here; http://www.ashedryden.com/donate

Follow Isis Wenger @isisAnchalee and follow the #ILookLikeAnEngineer conversation here.

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