I saw a news story the other day about President Trump signing two congressional bills to get more women into STEM subjects, by forcing NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to boost recruitment efforts and encourage young women to get into these careers. Considering previous evidence we’ve seen of Trump’s attitude towards both women and science, this is quite a nice surprise. Perhaps he’s hoping one will destroy the other.
Coincidentally, a service I worked on – aimed at encouraging young girls’ interest in STEM subjects – has also just gone live. If you’re in tech and want to be a part of this, I’d encourage you to sign up at www.modernmuse.org.
These are just two of many initiatives aimed at making the STEM subjects more diverse, which can only be a good thing. However, there are groups and organisations with exactly the same goal, who I think are going about things in entirely the wrong way.
A few years back, a colleague invited me to a meetup called Ladies That UX. The group aims to create “a welcoming, transparent community of women that work in UX, who positively promote and teach each other”. In the first meeting I attended they’d reserved a section of a pub, and there was a presentation and discussion about the UX industry. But what didn’t sit well with me was something one of the organisers said:
“Men aren’t allowed to attend. If one really wants to, he has to wear a dress!”
Since then, I’ve seen this attitude reflected in various groups and meetups. I’ve started to observe that many larger organisations have one or more “women-only” groups. They’re usually work-related (e.g. ‘Women in management’) and occasionally purely social. And I just don’t understand it.
I should probably come clean and point out that I have never been on the receiving end of discrimination from any of my colleagues based on my gender. I have never had issues with career progression or salary because I’m female, and as far as I’m aware none of my male colleagues have treated me differently because I occasionally wear a skirt. I’ve only had a few small issues here and there, but they’re few and far between. From what I’ve read online, one might think that either I am extremely lucky or I’m totally oblivious to it.
What I think, though, is that I’ve got to where I am (and I’m doing alright) because I’ve had really fantastic, strong role models who are both men and women. In my first ever role I was mentored by the incredibly successful designer and author Matt Watkinson and without him I probably wouldn’t have a career. Plus, in all roles I make a point of understanding what everyone does and how I can work with that, and I have learnt so much from both male and female colleagues.
For this reason, I find it hard to understand why on earth you’d want to exclude men in the name of female progression. If the problem is that men don’t recruit us, shouldn’t we let them see how badass we are? If men don’t like working with us, shouldn’t both sides be involved in finding an amicable compromise?
And so I avoid any meetup or group that delights in being women-only. It all just seems a bit childish, like a treehouse with a “no boys allowed” sign tacked to the entrance. I feel like I must be missing something that explains the need for these groups- but for now I’ll continue to happily work alongside either gender and be better off for it.