Social media looks like a winning weapon against stereotypes

Twenty-seven female engineers at Tesla are among those who have picked up on the #ILookLikeAnEngiineer hashtag
Twenty-seven female engineers at Tesla are among those who have picked up on the #ILookLikeAnEngiineer hashtag

First there was #ILookLikeAnEngineer — a hashtag launched nearly two weeks ago in response to a call to action by San Francisco-area engineer Isis Anchalee. Anchalee took to Medium to talk about how her appearance in a recruitment ad for her employer generated responses along the line of, “You don’t look like an engineer” — because she’s not male and not white.

“The negative opinions about this ad that strangers feel so compelled to share illustrate solid examples of the sexism that plagues tech,” Anchalee wrote in her August 1 Medium post. She urged engineers who “[do] not fit the ‘cookie-cutter mold’ of what people believe engineers ‘should look like'” to share images of themselves on social media using the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer.

“I didn’t want or ask for any of this attention,” she added, “but if I can use this to put a spotlight on gender issues in tech I consider that to be at least one win.”

Given the enormous response to Anchalee’s appeal, I’d say she did get a win. It’s also given the field of engineering a moment in the spotlight.

On the heels of that social media success comes #ILookLikeAProfessor, a hashtag created by three female faculty members who are “frustrated by microagressions we experience as ‘nontraditional’ faculty.” And it, too, is catching on. “The hashtag aims to call attention to persistent stereotypes and biases in academia,” explains the BuzzFeed post about this new hashtag.

Both “#ILookLike…” efforts have taken off in a way that attests to the power of social media to bring people together. In both cases, Twitter (primarily) was the platform of choice.

As I read through the media coverage of both hashtag phenomena, I’m encouraged to see professionals confront stereotypes. But I also wonder how far the message is getting out, even with all the media coverage that has occurred. (Soon, #ILookLikeAnEngineer may end up on billboards. So that may help generate more attention.)

If nothing else, the two campaigns show that the Internet can connect people in powerful ways — and can counter the isolation the many may feel when they are not in the majority, which is a topic Tim Nekritz covered on his blog just a day before Anchalee posted her thoughts on Medium.

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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