STEMulate: Beauty Does Not Make You Underqualified
Women make up a staggeringly low 26% of the computing industry. This low percentage is not due to women’s lack of education in the industry, but is a result of poor workplace treatment and the culture overall. In STEM, women frequently have their level of skill questioned by their male counterparts, despite the fact that many are more qualified. A celebrity who has publicly experienced this sort of inferior treatment is supermodel Lyndsey Scott.
Lyndsey Scott has led a successful modeling career with famous designers such as Calvin Klein, Prada, Louis Vuitton – notably known for her walk down the runway as a Victoria’s Secret angel. Without question, society has accepted all of the grand feats that Scott has accomplished in the modeling industry, but there is one skill set she has that many just can’t seem to grapple. When it was discovered that Scott is not only a beautiful face, but also a coder and programmer, it unleashed some heavy criticism and the internet trolls came out from under their bridges. Recently, Scott made headlines as a result of her position in STEM and shedding light on how women are treated in the industry overall.
For this month’s issue, we were fortunate enough to have a phone interview with Scott. The hope is that this interview and the continued work for this column will contribute to the movement for equal treatment of women in the STEM industry.
Interview by Tiffany White. Photography provided by Lyndsey Scott.
How did you get your start in technology or develop your passion for technology?
When I was in college, I started out as a theater major. I went to Amherst College; it’s a liberal arts college that has an open curriculum. So, I had more than enough time to become a theater major and something else. I tried a couple things. I tried economics, physics. Then when I found my way into computer science class, I fell in love. I just loved the logic and the problem solving. So, I ended up majoring in both theater and computer science.
I don’t think a lot of people realize how becoming a computer programmer could be a gateway to supporting yourself while you pursue other endeavors. Technology allows you to work from anywhere often.
After college I started acting – through that process I picked up modeling as a career as well. I became successful with that and started booking a lot of shows. I became the first African American exclusive for Calvin Klein. I walked for Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and in a bunch of different shows. Then finally the Victoria’s Secret show.
At a certain point I decided that I wanted to return to acting more. Even though I did coding for fun throughout that time, I realized that I had to figure out a different source of income.
When did your modeling career start to take off?
It took off about a year and a half after college.
How do you balance a successful career in modeling and a successful career in tech?
While I was modeling, I did not have a career in tech. That did not start until I moved to L.A. and started pursuing acting more seriously.
I did code for fun while modeling. I think when I was modeling there was still downtime. Luckily I made enough money to the point where I did not need to have a second career, but I had time for one if I wanted.
They either don’t believe I am a programmer or question how good of a programmer I am.
There were often times where I would work just a couple of times a month which was great. I had a flexible schedule, so I would just code for fun during those times. Whenever I could. I didn’t actually balance the tech career until now. Now, I get iOS development contracts with clients who allow me to work from home with a flexible schedule. My current client lets me do 20 hours a week on average, so I am able to still go to my acting classes and auditions. I don’t think a lot of people realize how becoming a computer programmer could be a gateway to supporting yourself while you pursue other endeavors. Technology allows you to work from anywhere often.
How would you describe your experience as an African American woman in tech?
I guess it’s impossible for me to separate [experiences] when I am perceived based on the fact that I am a woman, a model, an African American or maybe it’s a combination of those things. As people have mentioned to me in comments on my Instagram posts, it seems as if all these non-traditional programmers come up against these sorts of situations often. It’s not just me and it’s not just black female models. It’s people in all those categories. It’s definitely a career that if you don’t fit the stereotype, sometimes people are not so tactful in questioning your abilities.
Did you have any parallel or similar experiences in your modeling career as well?
Yeah. In a lot of ways, it was hard being a black model. Definitely. They often only chose one black model per show, for example. I did photoshoots often and there was just one black model if other models were included or sometimes they would choose all black models. I remember one time I was up for a show and I was almost chosen for it, but the casting director pulled me aside and said, “I’m sorry. We loved you, but we already have a black girl for the show.” Even with agencies, they would say, “We already have a black girl.” I mean you have one black girl out of how many girls? That was really crazy.
I hope it is getting better, but I am sure if you look at a fashion show nowadays there are plenty [of shows] where there is not that much diversity.
How does it feel to be an advocate for women in tech?
I am glad that I am able to use my platform to help with that, but it’s nothing that I have been able to do alone. It’s the fact that all these people are coming out and raising their voices to have this discussion too. Based on my original comment, it’s amazing that so many people feel compelled to give their support to this cause, lend their voice, and share their own experiences.
Why do you feel that society often calculates women’s intelligence according to their level of attraction?
I am not sure. People have their prejudices. For me, I’ve been around so many beautiful models that I know there are plenty of them that are intelligent, so I don’t have that bias. A lot of people judge a book by its cover – whether it’s because of how attractive they are or something else.
Do you believe that the lack of acceptance of women in the tech field has led to the low percentage of women in the field?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. When I made the comment about my own credentials, I tried to really get across the point that 41% of women drop out of tech because of the hostile work environment. It’s definitely an issue and in a lot of the comments I saw about this, young girls were making comments like, “Oh, I didn’t feel comfortable in my class, so I dropped out.” Women were saying, “I felt uncomfortable at work, so I dropped out.” It definitely happens, and I completely understand. I’ve had plenty of times where I have felt uncomfortable in the company of men in tech, because they either don’t believe I am a programmer or question how good of a programmer I am.
41% of women drop out of tech because of the hostile work environment.
I have ignored it. I have been so driven to make a living and support the life that I want to be able to act, to be able to support my new dog. I’ve put it up to their own ignorance and carried on. I know that it is hard for people to do that and it can be difficult.
How do you think that women can overcome these obstacles?
I have realized that with this situation I often see these sorts of comments about me on the internet when people discuss my career in modeling and technology. This is the first time I have really spoken up and stood up to the people saying these things. Normally I am not bothered.
I have a job and I make my own money – they are not controlling my money or paying my bills. It doesn’t affect me, because I realize it is their problem and not mine. If they have these biases, they are missing out on a lot, in my opinion. But it is a huge problem in the tech industry and I’ve come across this sort of behavior before. Even though my current job is great, this behavior is still out there. For me to allow a place on the internet for that sort of negativity to fester, I felt that I should not do that and that I should speak up. Maybe one of these commenters or several of them will see what I post and say, “Hey, we judged her based on her appearance or based on her career or what have you – maybe when we run into a woman or minority in our office next time we don’t judge them, because maybe they are more qualified than we are.”
It’s so shocking to me that a lot of men who posted, some just offered their support without question, but some are skeptical that this really happens. I am shocked by that, but I am glad there’s proof out there now on the internet.
It seems like you have been able to work with some really heavy hitters in the tech industry, would you care to share some of the tech leaders who have influenced or helped you moved along in your career?
One person who has helped me at times is the founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian. We did a few hackathons together, a few speaking engagements, and we worked together on a project once. He believed in me in a way that was nice to feel in the tech community.
Has your community, Los Angeles, had any impact on your growth as a developer or coder? How important is your community in your knowledge or tech career?
I am not a member of any groups, but I have put together workshops for young girls. Last year, I did a programming workshop with the Girl Scouts of Los Angeles. I put together a team of all female mentors. Most were computer science students at UCLA. It was an amazing experience because the girls were so excited to be there. I did not know what to expect because its programming and it can be dry. I think they were really inspired by just seeing so many women who were smart, nice, and people that those girls would be happy to grow up to be – I would love to do more of that.
What is your hope from here on? What do you hope to achieve as far as your role in tech and the influence that you have?
It’s a really surreal thing and it’s given me a new platform. I want to be able to use it properly. I am not a huge social media person normally, because there are so many times that social media is used in ways that don’t make people feel better about themselves. If I am able to use it in a way that can help people, help causes, and promote positivity, I am happy for that platform.
Does this new responsibility of serving as an advocate for women in tech feel heavy in a sense?
No, not at all. With the tech culture, it is great to have that platform. I also look forward to moving forward with my acting. If I can reach an even bigger platform through that, I would love to maybe have a company where I can make my own apps instead of working for clients.
Know an awesome woman in STEM who should be featured? Reach out to Tiffany White at firstname.lastname@example.org.