Culture 27 April 2018
In recent years, the plight of women in tech has been been plainly highlighted by the widening pay gap in Silicon Valley, the funding disparity for female entrepreneurs and the serious absence of female executives in the industry.
This stems (pun intended) from the lack of girls getting involved in computer science and engineering from an early age. This is not news. What is news, however, is the push from select corporate big shots to engage girls with tech in their youth in order for a company's gender divide to shrink in the next decade.
Initiatives to combat the divide are slowly starting to emerge across corporate firms to encourage female involvement in these industries. But the progress is slow, and the programs aren't getting a ton of press coverage. Girls in the gaming industry may not be the most common occurrence, but according to experts is the proactive impetus many need to get engaged with the world of tech beyond their Instagram newsfeed.
Laila Shabir (second from left) at the Girls Make Games workshop at Thomson Reuters HQ
The fact that the gaming industry currently only employs 8 percent women greatly troubled tech entrepreneur Laila Shabir, who launched her response to the disparity, an educational summer camp called Girls Make Games she founded in 2014, which teaches girls aged 8 to 16 how to code their own video games in 2014. According to the Shabir, at the end of the camp, girls were crying at the prospect of returning home. “My eyes just popped," she says, underscoring the hugely underserved population of young women interested in tech, but feeling left out due to its male-oriented positioning in many schools. “I had no idea this was so important to so many girls, and this was something they weren't getting."
“You go to a games convention, and it's like walking into a fraternity,"
- Laila Shabir, Founder & CEO, Girls Make Games
It wasn't long before Shabir's innovative concept caught the eye of Katherine Manuel, Senior Vice President at Thomson Reuters, who had a similar passion project. After climbing the ranks at the international media and financial firm, Manuel has decided that rather than resting on her laurels, she wants to advocate for changing the status quo, hoping for a “trickle up" effect that would eventually hit corporate America.
“It was time to use my platform for good so I was sort of searching for 'what is that good?' and 'what are opportunities to give back?' I think we have to push to have more women in higher roles in technology to create that sense of community here and we will continue to promote people who are more diverse."
- Katherine Manuel, Senior Vice President of Innovation, Thomson Reuters
In a moment of happenstance meets chance, Manuel's husband forwarded her an email from one Laila Shabir, thanking him for his contribution to a GMG Kickstarter campaign (which he decided to support after coming across on social media). “I read it, and it was just so inspiring that I wrote her an email," Manuel says about her reaction to reading about Shabir's powerful vision. “She laughs now but I think the subject line was something like, 'Let's Change The World Together.' And so she immediately responded back and I thought I had reached a star."
Manuel then began a dialogue with Shabir about how TR could be helpful to Girl Make Games and spread the word of her work. “I think gaming is an entry point for girls to get excited about broader computer sciences and even STEM in general," says Manuel. “That then led to me really look at creating that umbrella of the Future of Innovation, and how important it is to have inclusivity, diversity and innovation in the pipeline." Out of their discussion came a vision for creating pop-up GMG workshops, which saw outfits as far as TR offices in Toronto, Canada, and most recently at the company's space in Times Square in Manhattan. Given the company's large global footprint, and GMG's need for both space and lots of computers, it indeed proved a symbiotic relationship. And one, both say, will continue into the future.
Katherine Manuel, SVP of Innovation at Thomson Reuters, says "we've got to get these little girls excited about technology and not thinking it's a 'boy thing'"
According to Shabir and Manuel, the push to get girls more interested in STEM will eventually help push our global economy into the future, not to mention give a leg up to companies looking to bring a more diverse workforce into the fold. For Shabir, it was an HR discrepancy that first led her to identify the issues faced women in STEM.
“As we were building our games studio (she also runs parent company LearnDistrict), we were trying to hire women and it was almost impossible," says the young Pakistani immigrant who faced an uphill familial battle in her own life when she decided to go to MIT. Looking for 20-something graduates to help build out her team- an integral part of Shabir's vision- proved immensely more difficult than she expected. “When I asked people why it was so hard, the response was 'women don't want to do this. Girls don't want to play games.'"
For Manuel, bringing girls into the fold means a more diverse workplace and a broader spec for innovation. Outside of her work for the company, she mentors women in computer science at undergraduate level. She notes that while most computer science entry level courses begin at a 50/50 gender ratio, by course end, the number of girls graduating is a mere 18-20 percent. This, coupled with her work with GMG is indicative of a bigger and longer-term vision at Thomson Reuters, who last year committed to 40 percent female leadership across the company by 2020.
And according to Manuel, the impetus to this realization was a personal one, namely one she noticed when her children hit 4th and 5th grade and began to be leveled into math class. “The teachers were leveling math and didn't really think much of it, just sort of like who is picking things up at this level or that level and this speed and that speed," she says. “And I just started asking questions, like 'I would like to see the gender break down of how you're doing this.' The data was appalling."
“I sat with teachers and the head of the school and had them walk through the data and teachers jaws were dropping," she says, continuing, “they didn't realize that they had subconscious bias themselves, they see it in others but don't do it themselves, I think looking at collections of data and putting it in front of people, the more awareness it brings. "
This is an unfortunate but glaring truth. Girls begin at ages as young as five years old to disassociate themselves with concepts or activities that are viewed as 'for boys.' So Shabir decided to take upon herself to make gaming fun, appealing, and specifically targeted to young ladies between the ages of 11 and 16.
Unlike others, who have presented a meagre lip service of the women's movement Manuel, is very much putting money where her mouth is. “It's corporate responsibility in a sense of, how are we going to build diverse and inclusive workplace," she says. “Not necessarily next quarter, but in the next 10-15 years."“And, it's hard for corporations," she continues. “I think we are on the hook so often for quick results and quick turns and so again, so much focus seems to be on the later stage recruiting of diverse talent but [we have] to care more about that pipeline and have a longer-term vision around those messages - it's good business."
One interesting takeaway from her still-growing concept, Shabir has found, is the girls create games with a grander worldview, specifically changing the gaming space to be more inclusive of women, not to mention more impactful. “Girls want to make games more meaningful than just entertainment," she remarks. “They make games with a purpose, like 'I want to teach this, or I want to make my player happy or I want to my mom play this because she's depressed." Rather than simply creating a game, for example, to imagine war scenarios or grand fighting scenes, the games the girls create begin to address issues, which in itself is an exceedingly hopeful indicator of things to come.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."