I was asked to speak at a Women in Technology themed event for Rough Draft Ventures’ audience of twenty-somethings. This is the text of my speech.
I’m Kelsey. I’m a neural engineer, and I work for Technical Machine– about half of my time running marketing and business, and half doing programming.
I think that the most important thing for women in technology is for it not to be a big deal to be, specifically, a woman in technology. The trouble is, I don’t have a particularly actionable message for you, as twenty-some entrepreneurs. If you’re here, you’re doing fine. Keep it up, represent, be respectful to one another. Enjoy the good parts of being a woman in tech: the sense of community that we have, and the ability to further the mission of women in technology by just doing our jobs.
The reason we don’t have women in engineering starts at a much younger age. So maybe in the next ten or fifteen years, if you have kids or at least are around kids, maybe something I can say here will resonate.
I think that the basis for gender inequality in technology, at this point, is mostly about how we treat kids.
I was talking to a friend recently about girl toys versus boy toys, and I remember a company party my dad brought us to, where there was a Santa. And each of the kids at the party went up, sat on Santa’s lap, and got a present. And my brother got a cool remote control helicopter, which he flew around until it broke, then spent the next few hours trying to put it back together again. My sister and I, we got Bratz dolls and Barbie dolls, respectively. And when we got home, we took them apart, popped their heads off and rearranged them, then left them in the bottom of a drawer. Because that’s about all you can do with Barbie dolls.
When our family TV stopped showing movies and started smelling like burnt tuna sandwiches, my sister and brother and I took it apart because we wanted to know what was inside. It didn’t matter that two of us were girls; we were driven by the same curiosity.
I think that what actually turned me off of science and engineering, growing up, was joining the Girl Scouts. Was anyone else here a Girl Scout in the 90’s? The 90’s were a strange time when everyone was trying so hard to empower girls that I never wanted to hear about science and math ever again. Around age eight, adults were always pushing science and math at me. And in the same way that I built up resentment against pink, high fives, jeans, and the word “cool”, I didn’t want to do science and math, because it was being pushed so hard in my direction.
But I’ve always loved making stuff.
I loved woodshop, designed and made my own clothing, picked up Flash programming to make games. I just never associated any of that with “engineering”. “Engineering”, to me, sounded like some really boring guy sitting in an office calculating stress loads on buildings. Which is part of engineering, but not the fun part.
I actually never meant to be an engineer. I don’t mean that I never said “I want to be an engineer when I grow up”. I didn’t, but what I mean is that, even after deciding to attend Olin college, which is exclusively engineering, I didn’t self-define as an engineer. I wanted to go to a college where I could learn to make cool stuff. I didn’t think of “making cool stuff” as the job description for an engineer. It took me four years at an engineering college to figure that out.
I don’t know how much of this is about being female. I can’t tell you why women don’t go into technology, because I did. But I think that it starts with treating kids differently.
So over the course of the next ten or fifteen years, if you give a present to a girl child, make sure the toy is interesting. Don’t shove math and science in her face, but do give her opportunities to make interesting things. Encourage her to design, to build, to create. And when she does, tell her that that’s what it means to be an engineer.
Did I say girl child? I meant any child. Don’t treat boys and girls differently.