Anna Frazzetto's Blog

Digital Innovations and Technology Solutions

Women Belong in the Kitchen, the White House, the World Bank, CERN, etc.

I have always had a hard time seeing boundaries. It's one of the reasons it can be hard for me to discuss the challenge of getting more women into IT. I blame my melting-pot, Manhattan childhood where the world was full of people from all walks of life, and there were women doing just about every job I could think of. It was diverse, it was empowering and there were not clear boundaries between the work men did and work women did.

My early world told me that women could and did work anywhere. It's why I didn't blink in my mission to pursue mathematics and then computer science in college. And it's exactly why I do blink when I read articles like The New York Times' "How to Attract Female Engineers," which explores how more women enroll in engineering programs when the focus is on using engineering to improve society and people's lives. My initial reaction was, "Wow that's interesting." And it was immediately followed by, "I bet that's true for most every role that is seen as benefiting the greater good and helping others, from social work to teaching to nonprofit jobs." There have been more women in traditional "helping" roles since women joined the workforce in large numbers. It's logical, right?

My personal professional choice, however, did not follow that logic. I didn't go into math, computers and engineering to help people. I followed the path because I loved math. My professional trajectory started with passion (yes, you can be very passionate about math) and that is where the boundaries disappeared. I didn't see a female or a male path, bounded by the limits of history or gender. I saw an opportunity to make math a cornerstone of my career, I took it and I haven't looked back. Part of me continues to assume that everyone who is chasing an ambitious career--whether it leads to the White House, the World Bank, CERN or the Cordon Bleu--is doing so with passion.

The Times article makes me both happy--happy that we are seeing a rise in the numbers of women studying engineering and science and a little uncomfortable--worried that intellectual curiosity and passion are not enough to pull women to the fields. Part of me wonders why we need to "package" engineering, math and science to get a substantial amount of women entering and staying in those fields. The fact is a large part of the work done in engineering and science already benefits the greater good. It's how cities and their vast water, transportation and sewage systems are built. It's how diseases are fought, new energy resources discovered and weather predicted. 

Even back in my student days, part of me must have known the importance of STEM studies to the world, but it still wasn't what put me on my professional path. What pushed me toward STEM was desire coupled with a childhood that left me blind to some of the cultural and workplace roadblocks that have kept many women from coming or staying in IT, science, math and engineering careers.

Like many people frustrated with a world where race and gender boundaries still exist, I wish for a little more blindness and a lot more heart. I want people who want to pursue careers that focus on the greater good to feel free to do so. I want people who are passionate about building businesses or technologies to feel free to do so. I don't want career paths and promotions to be driven by gender or race assumptions. I want it to be about people, talent and passion.

Like I said, I am not good with boundaries and have a hard time seeing limits. It's been a gift for me professionally. My hope for young women coming into the IT and other STEM-based industries is not that they too are able to ignore assumptions or be blind to boundaries. My hope for them is that the boundaries fade away to memory and their career paths enjoy the diversity and open possibilities I first tasted in my New York City childhood.