Looks Can Be Deceiving

Isis Wenger, a platform engineer, responded to criticism that she didn't look like an engineer with a web campaign.

What did we do before hashtags?

I suppose we were forced to emphasize what’s important with plebian tools like exclamation points. But these days, those just seem so old fashioned. Kind of like assuming you know who someone is and what they should do based on their appearance. Honestly, what tactic could be more dated and, in the case of the latest viral hashtag #ilooklikeanengineer, so completely inaccurate?

It all began with Isis Wenger, a 22-year-old engineer at OneLogin, a San Francisco-based tech firm. The company asked Wenger to participate in a new ad campaign with two other male employees. The main pic under scrutiny features Wenger wearing a shirt with her company’s logo, accompanied by a quote about why she likes working there.

The ad received comments from skeptics who didn’t believe she’s an engineer with the company because she “didn’t look like an engineer.” She responded with a photo of herself holding a plain white sign that reads: I help build enterprise software #ilooklikeanengineer.

With long, dark hair and full lips, not a retro, nerdy pair of black spectacles in sight — at least in that photo — Wenger, who is a hip-hop dancer and a college dropout, is now also an accidental Internet star on gender issues in the tech industry.

“The negative opinions about this ad that strangers feel so compelled to share illustrate solid examples of the sexism that plagues tech,” she wrote in a Medium post.

I’d say that’s valid. One such comment on Facebook read: “If their intention is to attract more women then it would have been a better to choose a picture with a warm friendly smile rather than a sexy smirk.”

Um, no. One, I’d posit the sexy smirk is likely in this critic’s oversexed imagination. Two, the bias and assumptions that underlie comments like that are a diversity executive’s worst nightmare, as they completely and utterly miss the point: All engineers are not ugly, fat, old, male, white or any other stereotypical adjective you might want to attach to the role. They can be anyone, just as a CEO can look like anyone, or a mechanic, or a baker or practically any other job title.

People are now harassing this poor young woman for dates to the point where she’s avoiding taking public transportation. It’s pathetic.

Wake up. What you see? It’s not always what you get, in the workplace or anywhere else. If it was, all white men really would be devils and every black woman you see really would be a crack whore/baby momma.

Ouch! Did those stereotypes hurt? Try living with them. Stop assuming that any pretty girl you see is only there for sex, that she doesn’t have a brain and that her contributions should be limited to a prescribed list of approved jobs or tasks.

Poor Isis wrote that men have actually thrown dollar bills at her in the workplace, during work hours. My eyeballs almost fell out of my head when I read that. It’s that kind of behavior diversity executives have to address. I’d suggest punitively, because this kind of negative attention is why women don’t want to work in tech, why STEM fields are dying on the vine for lack of pipeline and why the United States is falling behind in the global marketplace.

A key talent cohort’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math is routinely, actively discouraged, harassed and subjugated. Leaders everywhere — in schools, in the workplace, in positions of authority in government and industries across the board — need to stop being so passive about addressing this problem.

The Isis’s of the world, and all of the other girls who might follow in her footsteps, deserve it.