Role models in any space are important, but this is certainly more challenging in the tech and engineering space for women. It feels like a circular conversation; there need to be more women in this space but without women there, to begin with, there are no role models and nothing to aspire to. How can we change the narrative and ensure role models are present and serve a purpose to inspire and elevate more women?
Choosing the right role models
It is not simply enough to choose a female exec that you believe will inspire – the exec level may feel so far away for some women further down in an organisation that it could feel unattainable and unrealistic. Whenever possible, organisations need to create spaces and environments where women are visible at different levels. It’s important to choose women that are relatable, open, and honest. For a woman to inspire, other women must be able to connect in some way to their own lived experiences.
Role models need to be visible physically and online. On a day-to-day basis, visible female role models can be present in meetings or working groups. Ensuring they have a pivotal role and are not just seen but also heard. This could mean that they lead a meeting or are charged with giving a presentation with an opportunity for Q&A. This allows other women to interact with and access someone that could be inspiring. When it comes to online spaces, ensuring your website and social media have women represented is important.
Organisations are utilising social media effectively to promote diverse role models. One example of this was the hashtag #IAmEngineer which encouraged women to post an image on Twitter to inspire other women. Another powerful example of this is the Next Tech Girls organisation. This organisation arranges internships in tech for secondary school and then has participants post videos of the experience online. The result is a database of real stories that inspires and attracts more young girls to tech internships.
The role men play
The problem is when there are no visible examples of women in tech or engineering spaces, men may mistakenly believe this is because they are less capable. It’s difficult to argue against this because it’s hard for anyone to see outside of what they know. There are ways that men can change this and be a part of progress. Men can be powerful speakers and discuss leadership in spaces that could still inspire women. One way is to ensure they are frank about their fears and the obstacles and barriers they encountered along the way. Other men may be able to talk about shared parenting responsibilities and how they are holding up their wives or partners so that both individuals’ careers are valued. They can also act as allies in the workplace asking questions about the visibility of women on executive boards, at meetings or working in project groups. Women need this allyship from men and acknowledgement of their privilege to effect change.
We still have a long way to go to increase the number of women working in tech and engineering and role models are just one small part of progress.