not a beard

This is a guest post by Mari Huertas (@marihuertas).  She is an Obama for America Technology (#ofatech) alumna and instructor at the University of Chicago. She currently is working on an idea to shift self-publishing with fellow OFA alum Nick Leeper (@lucky33). She lives in Chicago with her husband, bossy cat, and an ever-rotating supply of tea. This post originally appeared on her blog.

It was a tongue-in-cheek joke on the campaign trail, and I smiled about it for a while – the recurring meme about the “bearded” Obama Technology team, a group of dudes who wore flannels and didn’t shave and didn’t care at all about either, thankyouverymuch. I smiled about it because it was true, to a point, and I felt we were a family, and family made jokes like that, even if not everyone was into it.

Then came the post-election press, some of which picked up the “beards” gag and, fawning over its delicious cleverness, wrapped it into numerous mentions of the Technology team’s accomplishments. Andrew Sullivan even wrote a post that referred to the Technology team as “Obama’s Bears”.

Now, let us be clear about a few things:

  1. I was on that team.
  2. I’m not at all bearded.
  3. I’m definitely not a bear.
  4. Nerdy? Sure. I’ll own that one.

And other women were on that Technology team, too – smart, savvy women. One managed the creation of an incredible system that our vendor integration and other technology components all could hit so we could operate as synced as possible (Carol Davidsen). One trained an entire digital SWAT team of interns and volunteers to handle Dashboard support (Brady Kriss). One spearheaded the development of our voter outreach and GOTV technologies (Winnie Lam). One reached into the tech community and rallied volunteers to help us build certain pieces of our infrastructure (Catherine Bracy).

Yet some articles skipped mentioning women almost entirely. Rolling Stonenamed one; Mother Jones listed zero before backpedaling under scrutiny and adding a handful at the bottom of the article. Both were chided and scorned for it. It was surprising but not unexpected that so few of my sex were included in articles about winning the election – recognizing women has been a historical, long-standing problem. But these women in particular had done outstanding, difficult work – they had just re-elected a president, for heaven’s sake – so if not now, when should they expect to be recognized for their contributions?

I write this now, in the waning halo of winning the election, because in the past few months, I’ve come to see in a painfully clear light how important it remains to rally and recognize women working in technology. From the dearth of women as speakers and panel members to the lack of diversity on development, IT, and product teams, we have a serious listing that needs to be righted. As I wrote at the end of 2012, we need to elevate the profiles of successful women so that others will see them and want to work alongside them – so they will know what roles are available and what roles they can make.

I want other females, young and old, to feel encouraged by the women who worked on this re-election campaign and in technology, civics, and government as a whole. I want girls and young professionals to find their way by the determined wakes we leave. We’re doing important, satisfying, fun work – we should broaden and extend our purview so more can wade into the fray.

Now, I want to make this next point as clear as the glass ceiling beyond which many women in technology have yet to climb: I love, support, and cheer on my tech brethren, bearded or bare-faced, because they are completely, indisputably awesome and deserve every word of the recognition they receive. I have sat in the front row of the conferences at which they presented and beamed and clapped hard while they stood and spoke. I have touted them publicly on social channels and privately in emails and discussions with others. I wish them every success and am fantastically proud to call them friends and co-workers.

But equal consideration and recognition for the work, contributions, and fur-free faces of the ladies who rocked alongside them?

We need that – not just for this campaign or election, but for all we do. Let’s make that happen.