When women in tech 'flaunt it'
By Gabey Goh July 28, 2014
- Tech blog seemingly lauds attractiveness in women in tech sector
- Notion of ‘women in tech’ should not be a factor in any shape or form
I FOUND myself mildly offended on behalf of all apparently ‘non-attractive women in tech’ earlier this week.
It was due to a feature article in Tech in Asia, a regional news blog that covers startups, entitled: What’s it like to be an attractive woman in tech? GrabTaxi executive and runway model explains.
In it, GrabTaxi assistant general manager for the Philippines, Natasha Bautista, speaks about her experiences and whether her looks have helped or hindered her in her job. (GrabTaxi is known as MyTeksi in its home market of Malaysia).
Choice quotes from Bautista include: “Not to sound conceited or anything, but beauty really is a powerful weapon,” and “If you got it, flaunt it.”
Meanwhile, choice lines from the article’s writer included such winners as: “Models are a rare species in the tech world, one which gets undeniably more attention,” and “Her appearance also helps her retain the attention of drivers during classroom trainings, which makes them easier to teach.”
Now don’t get me wrong, there were some redeeming qualities to the piece. Bautista does admit that looks only get you so far and the work you do is ultimately the most important part. She also advocates that the tech community create a more inclusive environment for women.
Alas, those messages were lost amidst the avalanche of trivialising puff, IMHO.
I was momentarily concerned about the message this article would be sending out to bright-eyed entrepreneurs in the region, and it was a concern shared by Cheryl Yeoh, chief executive officer of the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC).
“While there's probably some truth to article, I think people could’ve misunderstood it as sending a message to ‘hire more attractive females’,” she notes.
It certainly made her (and me) wonder what the original intent of the article was. To say it's okay to hire pretty women? To encourage the hiring of pretty women? To encourage discrimination?
Yes, good looks help. There’s even research on how much it helps exactly, from doing business to finding a mate. But should it really be a thing to highlight?
Some faith was restored with the reaction of Mong Suan Yee, who observes that such an angle appeared to be just a marketing ploy targeted at a male rather than female audience.
“It will probably only interest the guys but won't attract that much attention from the females. I use MyTeksi a lot, and I just thought it was stupid.
“I just see her as being used for marketing’s sake; the real tech women won't even take her seriously,” she adds.
And Mong would know about the real women in tech, being a card-carrying member herself.
With a doctorate in Wireless Communications from Southampton University, she boasts 11 US-approved patents to her name and has co-authored a technical book and 20 articles in Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) publications.
How’s that for a role model for women in tech?
But since the topic has been raised, I will opt to clamber onto a slightly higher horse and suggest thus: Just forget about ‘women in tech.’
Yeoh, recently returned from 12 years in the United States, says she was pleasantly surprised to find that her home country is “pretty progressive” on the gender equality front.
“There are so many strong women leaders in Malaysia and they're recognised and appreciated by the industry, which is nice,” she says.
What did surprise her though was the practice of putting photo, religion and age on résumés. “Why should any of this matter in a job application? It shouldn't,” she says – but that’s a topic that’ll take more than a series of columns to address.
Back to this notion of ‘women in tech,’ call me some naïve radical, but as a woman working in a male-dominated industry covering yet another male-dominated industry, I choose not to let it be a factor in any shape or form.
There’s a saying that goes “you accept the love you think you deserve.” Well, when it comes to gender politics, it is: You accept the treatment you think you deserve.
For Yeoh (pic), whenever she speaks about women in tech at panels or conferences, she always tells people that she is an entrepreneur, full stop.
“My job function precedes my gender. In fact, I don't even think of myself as a minority in a ‘male dominated sphere’ ... it makes me too self-conscious and I don't believe in playing that up too much.
“Basically it's all in your head. If you think yourself as a minority, you'll act like one. So just be yourself and act like you belong there, because you do,” she says.
Silicon Valley of late has been rife with allegations of sexual harassment (Github and Tinder), the objectification of women and the continued predominance of the ‘brogrammer’ culture.
The very same Silicon Valley that every tech entrepreneur appears to hold up as both gold standard and hallowed promised land – well, how about we aspire to just the good bits rather than swallowing the Kool-Aid whole?
Reality aside, as an idea, Silicon Valley and the wider technology field has always been the poster child for meritocracy in its purest form, where talent, great ideas and hard work trump age, credentials and connections.
Surely it can’t be that hard to add gender to that list.
So for the women out there, I would like to end this column with some words from Yeoh, an entrepreneur who chose to pick up programming rather than wait to find a technical cofounder to get her idea off the ground.
“Just be yourself and know that as a woman, you have certain advantages that men don't. Not necessarily in a physical way … so recognise your strengths and don't be ashamed to leverage that, whatever it may be.
“But know that at the end of the day; Grit, Grace and Gumption win.”
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