‘I Look Like an Engineer’ Campaign Is Hitting the Highway in Silicon Valley

The social media movement to combat stereotypes may soon get its own freeway billboard.

(Photo: Twitter)

Aug 12, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

When Michelle Glauser heard about the #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag, she, like hundreds of others around the world, expressed her support by tweeting a photo of herself in an effort to combat gender and racial stereotypes. Now, the San Francisco–based Web developer is looking to turn the online collection of Twitter photos into a life-size billboard representing the diversity of the profession. Her IndieGoGo campaign, launched last week, was so successful that it quickly garnered more than 400 percent of its initial $3,500 goal within a matter of days.

“Basically, it’s about awareness and normalization,” Glauser told TakePart. She wants the billboard to expand the notion of what engineers look like and who can be one: everyone, essentially. “So if we can spread this as far as possible, then we can make that influence even bigger.”

RELATED: Calm Down, Internet: This Female Engineer Isn’t False Advertising

There’s just one problem: Glauser underestimated the cost of erecting a billboard off the 101 freeway. Turns out, there’s another zero on the amount she needs to raise: $35,000. “We really feel like the best way for that to be a possibility is if we can get corporate sponsorships,” she said. She’s now selling ad space within the ad space: Companies can pay to have their logo featured on the billboard.

Glauser hopes its potential to be seen on the 101—which passes right through Silicon Valley and curves around near the headquarters of Google and Facebook—could help spark offline conversations about gender bias within STEM fields. It’s also partly a response to a series of controversial Dice.com ads showing mostly white men posing in their underwear alongside the slogan “Find the hottest tech talent.” The implication: The best talent is also white and male.

“I feel like every single Hackbright alum and woman in tech I’ve talked to has run into so much discrimination that is either silly or outright ridiculous,” Glauser said. “I went to a hacking event one night and I was the only woman there, and this guy walked straight in and asked, ‘Hey, are you the recruiter for this company?’ Things like that wear on you after a while.”

Glauser found her calling in coding in 2012 when she enrolled in Hackbright Academy, a women’s software engineering school that launched that year. “I was working at this start-up and I needed more content from engineers, and I started thinking, ‘I wish I could build this myself,’ ” she recalled. “Looking back in my life, I just never made the connection: If you like doing things on the computer and if you’re interested in making websites look good and you like solving problems, then this is something you probably want to check out.”

The billboard effort comes about a week after the #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag became a viral phenomenon, thanks to a Medium essay penned by the engineer Isis Anchalee. When Anchalee’s portrait appeared on her company’s recruiting advertisement in a BART station, it sparked a commotion on social media from people who didn’t believe she was truly an engineer. Some accused the company of using a model to attract the male gaze, while others saw it as a misguided attempt to recruit women.

“I didn’t want or ask for any of this attention, but if I can use this to put a spotlight on gender issues in tech, I consider that to be at least one win,” Anchalee wrote in her essay. That’s when Glauser, whose husband works at the same company as Anchalee, got in touch. Together, the duo organized an in-person networking event to unite underrepresented engineers, which will take place this Thursday night in San Francisco. Glauser hopes to photograph the attendees and integrate their images into the billboard, which she imagines as one massive collage.

“I think a lot of people hear ‘sexism’ or ‘discrimination’ and think that it’s only a problem when it’s something huge,” Glauser said. “But even when people have good intentions, they can make assumptions that need to be changed.”