It's one thing to preach the importance of women and technology roles, but one look at the line for the men's room at International CES 2013 in Las Vegas made it clear that the culture of IT still suffers from a distinct lack of female talent. While women familiar with technology bring very specific and desirable skill sets to the table, one problem for CIOs is figuring out how to attract women to the positions in the first place.
Actress and Twitter celeb Felicia Day has long been a role model for women in tech. The cult star of such hits as "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," "Eureka," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the Web series "The Guild," as well as her own YouTube channel, "Geek & Sundry."
When it comes to women, technology and computer science, Day has been a focal point in the discussion, facing criticism that ranges from inappropriate to unabashedly sexist. Through it all, she's insisted that women and technology can mix, and has promoted the female role in the IT landscape.
In this video exclusive interview from International CES 2013, Day discusses the role of Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer as cultural touchstones to inspire other women to pursue technological careers. She also offers words of encouragement and advice for young women considering entering the tech industry.
At CES, there are some booths that are very specifically marketed to women as tech consumers. Why do you think that women are marketed to differently in the tech industry, and should they be?
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Felicia Day: I think that it's much easier to target and sort of stereotype when you're working in a world that's so large. Women tend to respond to things differently than men; I think that's just kind of what it is. If you put a screenshot with cleavage on it, you're going to get a lot more hits on the Internet with it. That's something [where] the easiest path is to just embrace that cliché. It's the same thing with me as an actor: It would be much easier for me to embrace myself with what my acting career wanted to make me into. I didn't particularly want to do that, to pigeonhole myself.
I think that women running more businesses would be a little different. Look at the social Web: Women are running these companies and these companies have a huge impact on people's day-to-day lives. They're not necessarily being marketed to women; they're just being marketed in a way that's not specifically through a "guy-lens," in a way. To me, I don't respond to things like that, but some women might feel a little more comfortable with that, and I don't think that it's necessarily a bad thing. The thing that I don't like is when I see strippers in a booth.
My advice would be to find what you're really passionate about and be willing to try different things.
Day: Booth babes. There are layers of booth babes: attractive women versus a women in a thong. Actually, I was very relieved to only see a couple instances of that [at International CES 2013]. To me, I see as many women walking around in suits as I do … not as many, but there's a good representation of women here at this tech conference, which I think signals a big shift.
Do you have any advice that you would give to young women who are thinking about approaching tech as a career?
Day: I would definitely say make sure that you're doing it. I guess my advice would be to find what you're really passionate about and be willing to try different things. I tried everything to end up at my career, and it's definitely a hybrid of a lot of different things. Nobody can say that somebody doing what I'm doing now could be successful 10 years ago, or 20 years ago. That's the thing about tech and the opportunities in tech right now, is that you really can invent who you are, your own career path. If you love games, or you love social, and you have an aptitude for tech, there are so many opportunities for that. If you only like the social media aspect of it, there are a million careers out there that you can go into. I would just love to see more women embrace the more technical side of it. That's just a question of having more role models, encouraging and educating earlier.
Let us know what you think of this interview; email Wendy Schuchart, senior site editor.