Women in technology are in Vogue (literally)

By Rosie Khdir

Ladies, we may have finally made a break through. Many people in the technology industry blame the lack of role models, or more to the point, lack of publicity surrounding suitable role models, for the low number of females in the profession.

Well, the May edition of US Vogue may just do something to remedy that.

Beneath the Sarah Jessica Parker-clad cover of the world’s most popular fashion magazine lies an interview with a woman very high up in this male dominated IT world.

This May, US Vogue is paying homage to great American women and one of them is Facebook chief operating officer (COO), Sheryl Sandberg. This woman was named one of the World’s Most Powerful Women in 2009 by Forbes magazine after joining Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook as COO in 2008 and turning the company into a money-making machine.

This follows an article in US Glamour magazine naming Marissa Mayer, a top Google executive as Woman of the Year 2009.

The article, titled “What She Saw at the Revolution”, talks of how Sandberg puts her children to bed after work, slips on a designer dress and entertains guests during informal gatherings at her house. It is a glowing profile that shows that women in high places can have it all, even in the male dominated world of technology. She has children and yet she works, has time to socialise and looks good.

Although such articles may prove to be inspiring to some, there are some women out there who may not buy this clichéd lifestyle – it almost looks too good to be true. Could a profile of women like these, in high-end glossy magazines really help alter the perception women have about working in the tech industry?

Will these clichéd depictions of powerful women, looking gorgeous in designer clothes really tempt other, perhaps less fashion-conscious women into such roles? Sandberg and Mayer are both intelligent and successful, but they’re also groomed, well-dressed, calmly in control of the child care and adept at gliding around handing out canapés. It’s more reminiscent of a 1950s fantasy than representative of your average working woman. As such, attempting to emulate these women seems almost more hopeless than trying to look like the 17-year-old models who are paid to sell us clothes.

But these articles do highlight the fact that women can be successful in IT businesses, and their skills compliment those of men; it’s the “woman’s touch” if you like. But what seems like a bit of an oxymoron is the fact that they are put in superficial publications instead of one with a more professional edge.

It seems that the way out of our predicament of being underrepresented in the industry is to cut out all stereotypes. We need to stop jumping to the conclusion that all offices are full of sexist men who don’t want us there and in the same instance, prove to men that not all women are purely concerned with high heels and colour schemes.

What this article does prove is that women can leave behind the thinking that in order to be a mother you cannot work – Sandberg proves this isn’t the case.

I love Vogue magazine, and I admire what they have done this month in featuring a woman in IT in the magazine, and praising her for her work. The optimist in me hopes that women in the industry won’t take offense to these features and that young girls will instead approach it as a serious profession as a result (and not one that will see you perched on a swiss ball, in a tight red dress in the middle of your office a la Marissa in her Glamour photo).


Rosie Khdir writes for PC Site – PC comparison and reviews – and you can follow her on Twitter @rosiekhdir.