The original advertisement from OneLogin that sparked conversation on the web. (Photo: OneLogin)
22-year-old Isis Anchalee Wenger sounds like any other stereotypical Silicon Valley software developer on paper — she’s a self-described philomath and “extreme introvert.” Her coding skills are mostly self-taught, though she did attend one of those intensive software engineering bootcamps that churn out master coders in the span of three months. And yes, true to the cliché, she’s a college dropout. But when Wenger was asked by her San Francisco-based company, OneLogin, to be one of four employees to appear in recruitment advertisements on public transportation, social media targeted her for being “too pretty” to be a “real” engineer.
The OneLogin recruitment advertisements at the train platforms. (Photo: Medium)
Expressing disbelief over the ads, on person wrote on Facebook, “I’m curious people with brains find this ad remotely plausible and if women in particular buy this image of what a female software engineer looks like.” Another responded, “What does a female software engineer look like?” A third said, “This is what a female software engineer looks like.”
Wenger went on Medium to speak out against the misconception that she’s not a real engineer, and to point out that neither she nor any other female coder should have the onus of representing the entire spectrum of female engineers. After all, no one was targeting the men in the OneLogin recruitment advertisements about how they looked. She wrote, “The reality is that most people are well intentioned but genuinely blind to a lot of the crap that those who do not identify as male have to deal with.” Two examples of sexist behavior she has had to deal with are getting dollar bills thrown at her in a professional office by a man during working hours, and getting asked by an salaried engineer to “be friends with benefits” while she was interviewing for coding bootcamp. She notes that these two guys “are both socially-accepted, ‘smart’ and ‘normal’ guys” — but that’s the problem: this sexist behavior is normalized and considered harmless by those who do not experience it. “This industry’s culture fosters an unconscious lack of sensitivity towards those who do not fit a certain mold,” writes Wenger.
Wenger’s photo. (Photo: Twitter)
Taking her social media notoriety on a positive spin, Wenger asked her fellow female engineers to share photos of themselves with the hashtag, #iLookLikeAnEngineer. She shared a photo of herself with the sign, “I help build enterprise software.” Within hours of sharing this hashtag, female engineers were taking to social media to share their science, technology, engineering, and mathematic accomplishments.
Tracy Chou. (Photo: Twitter)
Paola Maldonado. (Photo: Twitter)
Crystal J. Miller. (Photo: Twitter)
“Breaking the mold. #ILookLikeAnEngineer No, not the guy in the hat. The gal with the curly fro. #chemicalengineer,” tweeted Crystal J. Miller, who included a photo of herself with a man.
Wenger told TechCrunch, “External appearances and the number of X chromosomes a person has is hardly a measure of engineering ability. My goal is to help redefine ‘what an engineer should look like’ because I think that is a step towards eliminating sub-conscious bias towards diversity in tech.” #iLookLikeAnEngineer is launching a platform to share stories and experiences related to diversity in tech — but even without the fancy tools and equipment that Wenger plans to launch, there’s already an organic social movement happening.