Trump vs. Women in Tech

On January 21st—a day after Trump’s inauguration—hundreds of thousands of women gathered in Washington D.C. to make a statement. They were not alone. Elsewhere in Chicago, Manhattan, and downtown Los Angeles, rallies formed. For those who could not have made it to the Women’s March, nearly 5 million more joined in the Sister Marches afterwards, expressing their solidarity across the world.

The mass movement is more than just protests against the new U.S. president’s sexist and racist words and defiance against his attitude that he can do anything, even when that means taking away people’s existing rights. It is the beginning of a series of unrelenting messages for President Trump and his administration, as those who marched and voiced themselves included many people with different way to impact the people and the country, such as business leaders, in particular those working in the technology industry.

In the United States, even till today, STEM remains rife with gender issues. At the core, there lie two main factors. The first is the deeply entrenched unconscious biases that are prevalent across societies, such as the belief that girls are perceived to be less capable and gifted than boys in STEM-related areas. Going along hand-in-hand is another unconscious prejudice that is present in many recruiting process, though more and more companies are actively raising awareness about it and trying to amend the issue: that male candidates are considered to be more qualified or appealing than their female counterparts.

Perception is key, and as the leader of the country, Trump needs to understand and bear in mind that his words carry heavy weight. When the challenges and barriers already appear so high for women to enter STEM-related areas, fewer women would be encouraged, or willingly take the initiative, to try. Now, with Trump in the picture, things might be even more difficult. Since his campaign, the president has flip-flopped on the issue of gender equal pay and barely mentioned anything about neither STEM jobs nor education.

For Donna Harris, the co-founder of 1776 (a Washington DC startup incubator), what is more worrisome are the image and standards Trump is setting for the country: “We've seen high profile incidents of harassment [in tech], and we've now elected a president who has been very vocal as to his attitudes about women, and his attitudes about harassment.” Indeed, Trump’s infamous comment—“You can do anything. … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything”—had caused quite a huge stir across media and social media, putting many in dismay. Ms. Harris noted that the new president’s derogatory attitude towards women may exacerbate the current situation: “Locker room talk, or boys will be boys — that's what causes a lot of women to decide this field is not for them. They see it as offensive, and it creates an atmosphere where they feel they're not welcome.”

So why is the technology industry so important to this conversation? A report on U.S. economic growth strategy flags technology as the key long-term driver of productivity growth, thus solution to improving workers’ incomes and the economy. Despite its significant role, Trump has not discussed much about his policies and plans to better the technology sector, let alone create more opportunities for women to enter this field. Based on his previous statements and responses towards huge issues, Trump’s knowledge and understanding of technology appear rather insufficient. For instance, regarding net neutrality, Trump’s dismisses it, as he believes the concept to equate to censorship; he also plans to appoint Jeffrey Eisenach, an anti-regulatory crusader; and on cybersecurity, Trump once said, “[W]e had to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is a huge problem. I have a son—he’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers. It’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe, it’s hardly doable. But I will say, we are not doing the job we should be doing.”

While he has proven himself to be a man unafraid to speak his thoughts and recklessly act upon his words by using his power, Trump should tread carefully to avoid destroying the country’s most valued resource: its diverse, talented people. A huge advocate of workplace diversity, Ebay’s CEO Ellen Pao is hopeful that more businesses will take action to intervene and reduce the damages: "The election was a wake-up call about the amount of work we have to do to give everyone a fair chance to succeed in tech, in STEM education, in all kinds of businesses, and across all areas of the United States," Pao stated in an email. America has been a leader in global politics and a country that welcomes different people, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, and class. Though never without flaw—considering the long decades it took for African Americans and women to gain relatively equal footing as white men—the country must not give up on the values and ideals it long upheld, as those aspirations are what help this country grow and prosper.

Trump’s presidency has only begun, and while there are many unknowns and challenges ahead, we have raked our silver lining in the clouded sky: more and more people seem to be stepping out and standing up for their beliefs and values, and, together, we are stronger and more united than ever. As America Ferrera, an actress and activist, commented, “It’s been a heart-rending time to be both a woman and an immigrant in this country… But the president is not America. His cabinet is not America. Congress is not America. We are America! And we are here to stay.”

Vivien Li is a major in Media, Culture and Communication at New York University and is interested in technology and business. She is a global storyteller, curious traveler and aspiring foodie. Growing up in a bicultural background (Taiwanese and American), she is deeply passionate in learning about cultures across the world. Vivien enjoys listening to and voicing ideas of her own and from different people, and hopes to bring positive impact through her work and writing—starting with SheCanCode.

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