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Cincinnati Business Courier: Meet the woman behind the face of a stereotype-busting campaign for women in tech

October 20, 2015-

By Mary Johnson

It’s been less than three months since Isis Anchalee wrote a blog post and started a movement, with a hashtag: #ilooklikeanengineer.

Now, her face is on billboards. She gets invited to speak on panels at the Clinton Foundation and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computer, which took place last week in Houston. And she’s building a dense network of fellow women in tech.

But if you ask her if she’s now a rock star at her company, she laughs. “I’ve been hiding in a corner,” she says.

That, and working at 150 percent.

As a quick refresher, Anchalee made a name for herself back in August. The 22-year-old engineer with OneLogin had the nerve to be both an engineer and an attractive woman, posing for an ad campaign her company was creating, wearing minimal makeup and a slight smile.

Cue Internet backlash. The social media sphere exploded with derisive comments, and Anchalee decided to fight back, posting a blog post on the website Medium andstarting the #ilooklikeanengineer movement.

So how did she end up at the Grace Hopper conference in Houston? A group of women from PROS (NYSE: PRO), a Houston-based public company that helps companies use data to improve sales and revenue, called her up and agreed to sponsor her trip. Those women are intimately familiar with the struggles Anchalee faced, albeit on a different scale.

“When we heard about it, the message automatically resonated,” said Jennifer Plummer, a senior software engineer at PROS. “When I’m somewhere else and people ask me what do you do, and I say I’m an engineer, they get that look on their face. I’ve never asked them, ‘Why are you surprised?’”

I sat down for a conversation with Anchalee at the event. Here’s what she had to say about life after #ilooklikeanengineer. (Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.)

Bizwomen: So what’s been happening since you created that hashtag?

Anchalee: It’s so nice: Out of the #ilooklikeanengineer movement, one of the most powerful things that has happened is the sense of community that it has been creating. Just the act of me sharing a couple of my stories has also empowered other people to speak up with their voices under the same message. And we’re so much more powerful together.

Because it’s not just about me. I dealt with some s—. I wrote a blog post and created a hashtag. But it’s so much greater than that. It’s addressing something that affects not even just women but stereotype-breaking people in the industry every single day.

We’re, like, in 2015. We deal with some ridiculous crap in the workforce that people become so accustomed to. It becomes normal, and we tolerate it. But it really shouldn’t be that way.

BW: What made you decide that you weren’t going to tolerate it?

The ads were supposed to go up on a Sunday, and they actually went up early. They went up Friday, and I didn’t know that. So I was kind of blindsided when I started getting all of this attention — and also, I hadn’t anticipated the amount of attention they generated. Because when I look at ads, I don’t think really deeply into them. I don’t analyze that person’s situation and question their ability to do their job. It’s just not something that crosses my mind, so when other people started doing that, I was like, ‘Wow, these are complete strangers. It would be really exhausting to write a really long message to each and every single one of them. So then I’m like, ‘I’d rather be efficient and effective.’

I received comments ranging from, ‘Oh, well, the photographer should have told you that the facial expression you were making was obviously sexual.’ And I’m like, ‘Little did you know, we’re a startup, and the woman that was the photographer barely even knew how to use the camera.’ She was literally just using the camera equipment in our office.

There was all of this I want to share, and that just received so much traction. And it seemed to address a lot of the issues that people have to deal with.

BW: So you’ve started a website and you’re on billboards now. What do you see this movement morphing into?

I think one of the beauties of it is its essentially open-source. It’s not just my baby. It’s this message that people can celebrate that is advocating that we’re different, and that’s actually really awesome and we’re still kicking ass in our careers. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

BW: What are you looking to get out of being surrounded by so many women in tech?

Before this whole thing blew up, I feel like the network of women I knew in tech was really, really minimal. And it was actually really sad: I was speaking on a panel at the Clinton Foundation, and someone asked me who my role models were, and an authentic answer would be up — until that point — I hadn’t seen anybody whose story resonated with me enough that I would care enough about them to be a role model, you know?

Now, after the #ilooklikeanengineer thing, I’ve been meeting so many strong, influential and inspiring women. I’m like, ‘Yes, now I’m actually meeting more role models and people who I would like to aspire to be like.’

In Silicon Valley, so many of the issues actually start on the investor level. Because they’re the ones who are funding young white dudes who look just like them. Then they hire all their friends who look just like them. And then you end up with companies that haven’t hired a woman and they’re at 30 employees. The definition of inertia is an object’s resistance to changes in motion when at a constant velocity or at rest.

Startups, they have to care about product-market fit and trying to stay afloat, but the longer they put off caring about diversity, the harder it’s going to be to establish in the future.

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