When it comes to breaking glass ceilings for women in STEM (science, tech, engineering, and math) fields, Vimeo President Dae Mellencamp said it best: "I never considered my femaleness a critical aspect of what I did."
At an event hosted by the UJA Federation of New York at AppNexus on Tuesday morning--featuring five women speakers from Vimeo, Venmo, Pinterest, and Facebook--conversation centered on the growing importance of social media, and how it shapes both individuals and businesses worldwide. The question of what it's like to be a successful woman in the technology sector--and to what extent panelists had experienced discrimination at work--came up towards the end of the discussion.
Panel moderator Amanda Steinberg, founder of personal finance education company DailyWorth, readily admitted that she was used to being "the boss." In fact, she said that she was initially "oblivious" to discrimination--that is, until she began raising venture capital for her company. She recalled how difficult it was to pitch to male investors, and that her efforts would often be met with comments like: "Women aren't interested in money," or "Don't you, to a certain extent, just want to be taken care of?"
Similarly, Venmo software engineer Cassidy Williams--who regularly speaks at conferences and hackathons, and posts about them on social media--shared an incident in which someone created a fake dating profile for her without her knowledge. She said she has received a barrage of anonymous text messages, with senders commenting that they didn't like the "feminist influence" in what she was posting, and that she needed to "shut up" about it.
As these anecdotes demonstrate, gender discrimination continues to occur in tech, but that doesn't mean that progress can't be made today. Here are some tips from the panelists on how to go about combating sexist attitudes in the workplace:
1. Talk about it.
One of the major obstacles to achieving gender equality in STEM careers is the tendency for women to remain silent, says Mellencamp, citing a recent New York Times article by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton professor Adam Grant. "Women leaders need more encouragement, and oftentimes the men need the opposite," she continued.
While studies show that men do tend to dominate conversation--particularly in corporate settings--it's equally important for women to acknowledge how they may be holding themselves back: "If we silence ourselves, then everybody else can continue to do it," said Mellencamp.
2. Change the way you interact with children.
Stereotypes are nurtured early on, so it's important for men and women to change the way that they talk to young people, according to Facebook director of U.S. agency Katherine Shappley: "We need to make little boys and girls just as aware of this [discrimination] as we are today." She remembered being called "bossy" as a young girl for her assertiveness in the classroom, where assertive boys would be lauded for their "great leadership qualities."
3. Show equal support to men and women.
Shappley also emphasized that equality is not only about reimagining women's roles: We need to reimagine men's roles as well. At Facebook, for instance, men and women are offered equal paid maternity/paternity leave, but "the vast majority of men don't take the four months because they feel like they shouldn't." Where possible, she advised, it's important for women to show equal support for their male counterparts.
What else can you be doing to move the needle for women in STEM today?