We tend to think of progress as happening in giant leaps. We think of hunger strikes, million-man marches, sit-ins and Supreme Court rulings.
Sometimes progress does begin with the Mahatma Ghandi’s and MLK Jr.’s of the world. Most of the time, though, progress happens when people color just outside the lines.
We are all surrounded by invisible lines that tell us who we are supposed to be, and more importantly, who we are NOT supposed to be.
The line that I’m coloring just outside of is this one: Women are not supposed to be programmers.
No one says, “You’re a woman. You can’t be a programmer.” They just assume we wouldn’t want to be, and we assume the same.
The human brain is wired to recognize patterns. It’s what kept our ancestors from frying up the neon yellow frog. (“Hmmm…last time we cooked a neon animal, Uncle Louis died…Maybe we’ll stick to root vegetables tonight.”)
For the most part, pattern-matching serves us well. Our assumptions are generally accurate. The young white male with the glasses and cargo shorts probably is a programmer. The soccer-Mom-type beside him probably is not.
Only, this time…she is.
Stereotypes are a fact of life, and they do have power.
Being a female programmer is not as easy as being a female nurse. The nurse doesn’t ever wonder if she’s right for the job, and neither do her coworkers. There’s never an awkward moment when someone assumes she must be the receptionist, even though she’s holding a stethoscope. She is firmly within the lines.
There are plenty of women who were meant to be nurses, and that’s great…
There are also plenty of women who were meant to become programmers, and became nurses instead because they never thought to color outside the lines. That is not so great.
No one is going to lead a march on Washington to make more women become programmers. No one is going to knock on your door and say, “I know you think you should be a nurse, but honey, you are afraid of needles and you love computers. Get your butt to coding bootcamp!”
There will be more women in programming when we look around, recognize the lines drawn around us, and make a conscious decision to color outside them. If enough of us do it, the lines will move. If we want them to move a little faster, we may need to knock on a few doors and drag some should-be programmers to a laptop.
So ladies, if I show up at your nursing school with a burlap bag and duct tape, don’t fight me. It’s for your own good.