“Hi, my name is Isis. I’m a full-stack engineer at OneLogin. They asked me to be one of four others participating in a recruiting campaign that was hastily planned and executed in 1 day. I was not personally ready for the amount of attention that it has brought me.”— Isis Anchalee in a post on Medium
The OneLogin ad depicting Isis Anchalee (the name she goes by, though the ad lists her name as Isis Wenger) was displayed throughout the BART, the San Francisco Bay Area’s transport system. There were other ads that were part of this campaign to recruit more engineers. All featured photos of a OneLogin engineer next to a statement about why they enjoy working at the company. According to TechCrunch, the company “decided to put up additional images of Isis throughout the city in order to positively highlight women in tech.”
To Isis’ dismay, the ad featuring her received the most attention—and much of it was negative. Facebook and Twitter were alight with Bay Area folks commenting on whether Isis was an engineer or just a model, whether her smile was appropriate, what was going on with her arm, and more.
So on August 1st, 2015, Isis took to the internet to stand up against all of the “solid examples of the sexism that plagues tech.” She wrote a post on Medium explaining how “This industry’s culture fosters an unconscious lack of sensitivity towards those who do not fit a certain mold,” sharing some of her personal experiences, and expressing frustration with the petty and sexist criticisms of the ad.
Two days later, she updated the post and called for others who don’t “fit the ‘cookie-cutter mold’ of what people believe engineers “should look like’” to share their photos using #ILookLikeAnEngineer.
Just updated my Medium post! #iLookLikeAnEngineerIsis Anchalee
The hashtag trended on Twitter in San Francisco as diverse engineers responded to Isis’ words.
All photos are credited to their original owner. (Hover on desktop to see the full tweet and owner)
As Isis told TechCrunch, “#ILookLikeAnEngineer is intentionally not gender-specific. External appearances and the number of X chromosomes a person has is hardly a measure of engineering ability. My goal is to help redefine ‘what an engineer should look like’ because I think that is a step towards eliminating sub-conscious bias towards diversity in tech.”
WOW! This is so overwhelmingly inspiring. I have so much gratitude for all of the support I have been receiving.Isis Anchalee
#ILookLikeAnEngineer inspired similar hashtags in other STEM professions, including #ILookLikeASurgeon, which was a hit in Boston:
Great Shot! A cool graphic showing the faces of #ILookLikeASurgeon!Kathryn Hughes
Do I look like a physicist now? #ILookLikeAPhysicistJennifer Ross
Loud and clear @isisAnchalee #ILookLikeAMathematician #ILookLikeAnEngineer #ILookLikeAScientistLily Serna
#ILookLikeAScientist. Posting this because while #ILookLikeAnEngineer has been trending, this is also very appropriate for any STEM field. The amount of times that I have been told "you don't look like you'd be a scientist" by men I've met is countless. And when I was offended, I was told that I should take it as a compliment. I interpret this to mean that men believe that women who care about their appearance are not intelligent. So no it's not a compliment, in any way.air2146
A colleague told me I look like a student. Nah, champ. #ilooklikeaprofessor. All 3 of us do.Because all 3 of us are.Camika Royal
A meet-up was planned around the #ILookLikeAnEngineer community for August 13, 2015, in the Bay Area. Tickets were sold out and over 200 people attended the event, including a writer for TechCrunch, who left feeling inspired. At the event, a panel of underrepresented engineers led a conversation about diversity in tech, and Isis Anchalee was presented with a certificate of honor from the San Francisco Board of supervisors for battling sexism and racism by starting #ILookLikeAnEngineer.
During that meet-up, funds were raised and photos were taken for another physical manifestation of the hashtag.
Michelle Glauser, a friend of Isis Anchalee, decided to start an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to put billboards up around the Bay Area depicting the diversity of people working in tech. They raised nearly $10,000 in less than 24 hours and were able to raise over $47,000 by the time the campaign was over.
Bringing a hashtag into the physical world—we love that idea!
The ads went up around the Bay Area in September 2015 and stayed up through October. Here is a Facebook photo album of the individual portraits that were used in the campaign. And here's a photo of one of the ads in action.
#ILookLikeAnEngineer ads: 1. Normalize 2. Raise awareness 3. Include 4. Inspire https://medium.com/@michelleglauser/ilooklikeanengineer-ads-start-going-up-in-the-bay-area-this-week-2946deeb7aa3 ... 880 ColiseumMichelle Glauser
On August 5, 2015, Topsy showed that the hashtag had been tweeted 50,000 times over the previous seven days--but really more like two or three days seeing as Isis’ original tweet was posted on August 3. Two days later, on August 7, ABC News claimed that there were 86,000 #ILookLikeAnEngineer tweets. The Guardian reported that the tweets came from over 50 countries.
To date, there have been over 16,000 photos on Instagram tagged with #ILookLikeAnEngineer, according to Iconosquare.
Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest and one of Forbes 30 under 30 in 2014, joined in on the campaign
I was one of the earliest engs @Pinterest; I've worked on infra, api, web, ads, homefeed & more #ILookLikeAnEngineerTracy Chou
having asked “Where are the numbers?” in an October 2013 post on Medium. As she told the New York Times, “It’s hypocritical that the tech industry is so built on open-sourcing things, but in terms of what we could do for increasing diversity or building a more inclusive workplace, there’s none of that sharing going on.”
So Tracy Chou collected the data herself. As of April 6, 2016, she’s collected information on the number of female software engineers at almost 250 companies that employ about 17,000 total engineers. Less than 20% of those engineers are female.
Furthermore, a PayScale report from June 2015 found that female engineers were paid 12% less than their male counterparts, when comparing similar roles.
Just as Isis Anchalee wasn’t the first woman to speak out about inequality in tech, #ILookLikeAnEngineer wasn’t the first hashtag to raise awareness of inequality within STEM professions.
A couple of months earlier, starting on June 11, 2015, the hashtag #DistractinglySexy trended in response to Nobel Prize winner Sir Tim Hunt’s sexist comments about women in labs:
Filter mask protects me from hazardous chemicals and muffles my woman cries. Double win! #DistractinglySexyAmelia Cervera
During its heyday, #ILookLikeAnEngineer was harnessed to create an example for young girls interested in tech jobs. The popular site A Mighty Girl shared the story of the hashtag with their Facebook followers and used it to encourage parents of girls to convey opportunities in tech. The impact of positioning female engineers as role models can’t be measured, but it may be felt years from now.
And, despite being a self-proclaimed introvert, Isis Anchalee has done an admirable job of taking on the role of a spokesperson for diversity in tech. For one, Isis and seven other women in tech were honored by San Francisco Magazine for being “soldiers of social change” in November 2015
Meet 8 women in tech who are soldiers of social change: http://www.modernluxury.com/san-francisco/story/saluting-37-soldiers-of-social-change ... #ILookLikeAnEngineerAmelia Cervera
Fast-Forward Girls 2015 is a video using the #ILookLikeA______ format that was posted to YouTube on December 1, 2015.It has almost 1M views. GoldieBlox, a mission-based company that believes in the power of role models and play, created the piece. They make toys, games, and media to give girls confidence in themselves and in STEM.
Unfortunately, while Isis makes an appearance in the video, she explained that the video creators didn’t want to say her name in the finished piece.
Made with Code, a Google project, interviewed Isis for another YouTube video, this one posted on December 7, 2015, with 315K views.
The Bay Area isn’t the only place holding in-person gatherings. The University of Cambridge, for example, used the hashtag #ILookLikeAScientist to organize a recent discussion about women in STEM.
Most recently, on April 4, 2016, techie-turned-freelance-photographer Helena Price published Techies, a website that’s part of ongoing project to document underrepresented people in tech. Like Isis, Helena started her project with a post on Medium. The beautiful website features 200 portraits and interview transcripts from conversations with each person profiled. According to the site
“We cover subjects who tend to be underrepresented in the greater tech narrative. This includes (but is not limited to) women, people of color, folks over 50, LGBT, working parents, disabled, etc. The project has two main goals: to show the outside world a more comprehensive picture of people who work in tech, and to bring a bit of attention to folks in the industry whose stories have never been heard, considered or celebrated. We believe storytelling is a powerful tool for social impact and positive change.”
As with many social media movements, #ILookLikeAnEngineer is part of a larger conversation—and, fortunately, the conversation about diversity in tech is going strong. Join us at our exhibition May 12–14 in Manhattan, where we’ll be featuring artistic visualizations of this hashtag and others, to be part of the continued discourse.