Why Are We Still Geeks – Panel at GHC

Fortune Most Powerful Women Dinner With Marissa Mayer
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Marie Klawe

Been worried about image in the media for 20 years. Been working on it, but no progress. But “if you don’t even try, you definitely won’t succeed”. Had many failures, but getting closer to success.

There used to be very few female lawyers and doctors, now it’s 50%. Still not reaching power – see the low number of female deans of med schools. In the 1970s, there were TV shows with male and female factors, and male and female lawyers – e.g. LA Law. They were portrayed as people making a difference, with interesting jobs and personal lives. They were attractive, and empathetic. Women flooded into these professions, and girls doing well thought about law and medicine as their careers.

Now it’s forensic shows.

Being a doctors or a lawyers isn’t really as interesting, not as interesting as CS. High levels of debt, long time to qualify, and lousy pay. There are more opportunities in CS than forensics.

Media portrayal dramatically affects high school students. It really matters. Even if you really like CS, other people have the image that it is boring and uncreative – that matters.

This underrepresentation is not just technical women, but women in general. The Gina Davis studies found that men are the main characters, and women are dressed sexily. Also technical men – see NCIS are portrayed as having no social like. They are OK-looking, but dress nerdy. Big Bang Theory – love the show, but it’s doing a terrible disservice to science and engineering. In Friends, Chandler had a job so boring that none could remember what it was. It was “data processor”, essentially CS. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is great with computers, but also really weird.

Mid-1990s, met a NBC exec for saturday night movie series. Told him that they needed movies and series showing women as engineering, empathetic and doing interesting things with their lives.

Raised money for a pilot, wrote it, working with a CS person turned screenwriter. They were jumping out of helicopters, no connection. Saw it wasn’t going anywhere.

Mentions a TV series showing computer scientists doing interesting fun things. Email from Bob Quin – Rush. Startup in Sillicon Valley. Loved it, sent it to 20 people. Brad Weshler Co-CEO of IMAX, passed it on again – loved it. Went nowhere, have to get a channel to pick it up.

It will eventually happen. People now realise that tech is changing the world.

Megan Smith and people at Google are doing things, but personally out of ideas.

Tried hard! Emailed with James Cameron. But getting nowhere.

Brenda Laural

Founder of  Purple Moon – amazing woman, my favourite panelist this year.

The Star Trek reboot. Hated turning women from competent into a “wimpy slut”.

Start at home, looking at the GHC 2012 image – there are power and racial issues there. Changes it up to put the Black woman in the centre, speaking, and gives the Asian woman Glass so “she has something to look at” (original shows her staring into space).

We are responsible for our own representation – likes the way we look.

Put out and hold up our self-representation. Deny power to the spectacle (how we look, speaks).

There’s an inverse relationship between family income and desire for a Louis Vuitton bag amongst high school girls.

Do great work and get noticed for it. Self promotion is good.

Taking action – Wikipedia Storming (FemTechNet).

Kim Surkan

Hard not to feel disempowered when talking about women in the media. Unclothed. Objectified.

Feminist Media Studies is growing. Media consumption is growing. Average is now >7 hours a day (much of it while multitasking).

Stereotypes affect perceptions and performance. Self-fulfilling prophecies.

Easier to protest a bad image, than an image that isn’t there.

So much time on the TV/internet, that the space between lived reality and media is blurred. Result is decreased self-esteem.

“Stepping out into your world, found your world is troubled” – on women in CS. BS levels in CS are declining.

Women in the 1940s were part of the war effort, lots of women working at Bletchley Park.

There is and extreme culture of sexism and anti-Feminism in CS, especially in gaming. The shift from geek to bro, supposed to appeal to younger men, it seems sexier. Women are 5% of people starting tech companies, the rise of frat culture in Silicon Valley. Recruitment materials alienate women, and hackathons, like TC disrupt.

When women complain, they become the targets of hate speech. E.g. Anita Sarkesian, and Adria Richards.

Women are reluctant role models, like Marissa Mayer.

The backlash effect is harnessed to benefit, but why do women need to turn to kickstarted to start their companies?

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