We need to talk about stereotypes in tech
I recently came across this excellent post from @sailorhg, titled “Coding Like a Girl”. If you didn’t read it yet, please, do it. It’s a very truthful post talking about some very common stereotypes we face, as women, working in tech.
The question that started to bother me was: why are we so strongly driven by stereotypes, and how dangerous this culture is for the future of tech?
The term stereotype is defined as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing”. The definition includes things, but we know that it’s much more about people. And why? Well, because people are complicated.
Now imagine an ancestral human with limited understanding of the world and limited communication skills. Animals were easy to understand, with predictable behavior and simple emotional patterns. Humans, by the other hand, were much more complicated. Developed brains come with imagination, creativity and one more important thing: the notion of individualism and the desire to express it.
While a lion would look and act just the same as other lions, humans were very different from each other, making it hard to quickly identify and classify people in the same way they could do with animals. It is just natural that stereotypes would start to exist, based on appearance and behavior. I have no scientific basis to say this, but it’s just pretty clear that we created stereotypes to help in “reading” and classifying other human beings as part of our need to feel safe.
Stereotypes are rooted deep in our brains, and I don’t think there’s a way to unwire sociological patterns that were built during a lifetime. Instead, we need to acknowledge that our assumptions can be terribly wrong (and they are, pretty often) and we should never rely on stereotypes to define people - even when you feel sure about something.
It’s about being conscious, actively pondering about your interpretations of the world and the people around you, questioning yourself on facts instead of impressions and assumptions. When you are a passive spectator, driven by the faulty impressions caused by stereotyped assumptions from your brain, you will end up offending people without even noticing it. Have you ever heard that expression “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? Yeah, that’s about right.
Educate yourself on being conscious about your interpretations of the world and the people around you. Don’t make assumptions, and more importantly, don’t base your communication and behavior towards someone else on stereotyped models.