Pink Infographics Arenâ€™t Fun, Theyâ€™re Irritating
Ten years ago I started my first, full-time job at a tech company. A few months in I had an argument with one of the companyâ€™s salesmen. At one point, instead of answering my question, he countered with, â€œWhat? Are you going to cry now?â€ I quickly retorted, â€œI donâ€™t cry when I get mad, I yell!â€ Hereâ€™s the thing: we both had valid points to make so why resort to using a stupid stereotype? This marked the first time, but not the last, that my interactions with men in the tech field would be peppered with baffling responses based on stereotypes.
I remembered this argument and others like it, when I caught a segment on NPR this week about women asking for raises. The interview focused on the work of Linda Babcock, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University. She found that women hesitate to negotiate for more money, and her research uncovered a very good reason why. Babcock conducted a study that showed viewers a video of men and women asking for raises using matching scripts:
“People found [the woman] to be way too aggressive,” Babcock says. “She was successful in getting the money, but people did not like her. They thought she was too demanding. And this can have real consequences for a woman’s career.”
We Still Need to Talk about Women in Tech
The reality is that weâ€™re comfortable with stereotypes, particularly if theyâ€™re used to describe others and not ourselves (i.e., as long as itâ€™s not in my backyard). This attitude explains why we still have to deal with pink infographics that portray talented and successful women as bobble heads.
When Alexia Tsotsis first discussed the infographic produced by an unapologetically wrong-headed Wpromote, critical comments ranged from youâ€™re â€œtaking this way too seriously,â€ to â€œI find feminist rants like this really boring.â€
To those commentators, allow me to put the argument squarely in your backyard by challenging you with this: would you want the accomplishments of your daughter, your sister, your wife, or your mother belittled by a caricature?
Wpromote joined the conversation with the following saccharin-filled comment:
We at Wpromote are thrilled to have this infographic featured on TC; we’re big fans! We know this was probably a little controversial but all that we were aiming to do was to spotlight some really fantastic women and, at the same time, have a little fun with it! We hope that nobody takes this too seriously. If it makes you crack a smile or look up the accomplishments of one of these women, then we’re happy.
But the big point that Tsotsis unwittingly makes, which seems to be missing from other comments, including Wpromoteâ€™s, is how poorly the chart represents what itâ€™s supposedly celebrating: the success of talented women in tech.
The belittling goes almost unquestioned. When I first saw the graphic, I indulged in my own stereotype and thought that it was the brainchild of an all-male team. Imagine my surprise when I saw several women on Wpromoteâ€™s management team. The reality is theyâ€™re not the only ones that would have given it a pass all in the name of â€œfun.â€
By 2015 women are projected to earn more professional degrees in general than men, but in 2010 there was still a significant gap in the hard sciences with women earning â€œonly 22 percent of degrees in engineering, and only 27 percent of math and computer science doctorates.â€
Knowing that women are still a minority in these major tech areas, weâ€™re told condescendingly that if â€œit makes you crack a smile or look up the accomplishments of one of these women, then [Wpromote is] happy.â€ How does this approach encourage women to enter challenging, male-dominated fields if upon arrival their skill and success is treated lightly? When we fail to push back against such nonsense and bad taste then weâ€™re abetting the behavior and the attitude that says itâ€™s OK to define a woman by something other than her intelligence and ability.
In many ways the most aggravating aspect of the pink nightmare was the approach to the â€œnon-techâ€ women.â€ While I donâ€™t care personally for Sarah Palin, Snooki, or Jenna Jameson, this infographic sets them up as punchlines. Their success, even if it may prove short lived or controversial, is mocked although it is often unmatched by the critics. What level of success do women have to achieve before theyâ€™re taken seriously?
Women are Guilty, Too
The boysâ€™ club mentality aside, the role of women in this argument canâ€™t be ignored.Â Remember the Babcock study? Both men and women were put off by a woman negotiating. But wait, arenâ€™t we all â€œsistersâ€ and the men are the enemy? Hardly.
Women are just as quick as men to tear down other women. Itâ€™s also one explanation for why men think itâ€™s okay to use stereotypes: they see other women doing it so why shouldnâ€™t they? It’s exactly the defense Wpromote used in their response to the Tsotsis article that, “Caroline and Sarah liked it, so we hope that no one takes offense on their behalf.” Such behavior is categorized as having â€œa little funâ€ and critics who protest that women deserve better are labeled killjoys and feminazis. Thank you Rush Limbaugh.
The System is Broken So We Shouldn’t Just Play Along
My frustration level rises when Iâ€™m advised to, â€œJust work the system.â€ And itâ€™s difficult advice to argue with based on Babcockâ€™s opinion after she ran tests with Hannah Riley Bowles from Harvard on how a woman could negotiate without backlash:
The trick, Babcock says, is to conform to a feminine stereotype: appear friendly, warm and concerned for others above yourself. “I gotta say, that was very depressing!” she says with a laugh.
Depressing is one word for it. Another is bullshit.
As a society we view men and women differently. Since we are different, this view isnâ€™t entirely unexpected, and weâ€™ve proven willing to change and adapt our views towards each other over time. What still remains unclear is what it will take for women with talent and experience to be celebrated for their success, minus the bobble heads, without the stereotypical reactions and expectations from within the industry.