“She must have slept her way to the top”

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“Well, she must have slept her way to the top,” my father responded much to my dismay and confusion. I had just elatedly exclaimed to him, “Dad, I met this young woman who is a Vice President of Texas Instruments. She is a single mom with two kids, and she made it to VP!” This amazing role model who later became a mentor  of mine, talked to me about a career in engineering during a field trip my first year of college, 2001.

My observation denotes a couple of things:

[list2]<li>I recognized that women weren’t well represented in engineering or leadership positions, and </li><li>I found hope that I too could achieve like her.</li>[/list2]

My father’s observation also denotes a couple of things,

[list2]<li>An implicitly biased belief that women can’t achieve on merit alone, and</li>
<li>another implicitly biased belief that she didn’t belong in that position.</li>[/list2]

The problem with implicit bias is it exists in our language and actions without our conscious awareness. This point of view is a bi-product of both his white male privilege upbringing and his generation. My father, an amazing man whom I love and trust dearly, shared his opinion with me that fateful day, likely unaware of the influence it would have on my life.  I don’t believe he meant any harm, and it didn’t harm me, it just taught me that I would have to work harder to prove my merit, especially in an engineering field. And you know what? I believe I needed that perspective, because the reality is, he’s not the only one in technology who has or holds that perspective.

Do I believe that woman have to sleep their way to the top of an engineering company? Absolutely not. However, the underlying bias nestled in that statement does exist more often than we choose to recognize.

What is the take away? 

1. PERSIST: Women make great engineers and great leaders. Research shows that women in technology will face roadblocks of gender bias. The key is  learning how to leverage those roadblocks to launch ourselves ahead. Then, Rinse & Repeat. Women can succeed…. We Just Must Persist!

2. INSPIRE: Young women need role models. They need to see examples of success despite the odds, just like this woman inspired me to see a future for myself in engineering. I believed if she could achieve as a single mother of two kids in an engineering firm, then surely I had a chance to succeed as well.

3. INFLUENCE: Kindly and respectfully draw attention to overtly biased and stereotyped statements. I don’t remember how I responded to my dad at 18, but I seem to remember being speechless (a rarity, indeed!). Now, when I hear people utter ridiculous things such as this, I *try* to gently challenge the bias with the hope of influencing change, little by little.

Now, Go forth! Persist, Inspire, and Influence change.

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