Since premiering in summer 2015, Mr. Robot has had a chilling effect on society. With episodes mirroring eerily close to real-life events, such as the Ashley Madison leak and a mass shooting, the show continuously makes big waves. Also hailed as one of the closest descriptions of hacking in television and movies, the show uses techniques all too familiar to white or black hats; Kali, brute force and spoofed SMS. But it also highlights another cultural revolution; the rise of women in technology. To celebrate the premiere of their second season, USA Network teamed up with STORY to host several panels in New York City on tech.
Our reporter Zoe Berger attended the “Disrupt Divides: Women in Tech” panel on July 18. Panelists featured Mr. Robot’s Darlene, Carly Chaikin, CEO and Founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani, and Christina d’Avignon, the founder of accessory technology company Ringly. The panel was moderated by CNN journalist Laurie Segall.
Prior to the panel, Zoe spoke with Reshma about the Girls Who Code movement and impact it has had since its inception.
Reshma: We’ve always been a very girl-centric movement, and I think really getting our girls to like, teach other girls, teach other girls, teach other girls. We’ve always been a movement, and I think there’s a very large community of people that are supporting and helping. You’ll have a girl that will go to summer program, or go back to school, or start a club, and there will be another 30 girls introduced to the program. Another girl will be a teacher volunteering at a club so it is very, very, community-driven in this scale. I want to be going faster, isn’t that crazy?
Zoe: I’m a big fan of what you’re doing and how you’ve managed to scale what you’re doing.
Reshma: It’s so funny because I feel we’re not scaling fast enough.
Zoe: So, with the girls that you started with – the 20 girls – where are they?
Reshma: They’re amazing, they are all in college, and most of them are majoring in computer science. One is working at Qualcomm this summer, they’re all doing incredible. We have about 60 girls in junior, 150 sophomores, 450 freshmen, and the next year we’ll have 2,000 freshmen. So we’re growing by about 300 percent every year.
Zoe: And how has your world changed in the midst of all this?
Reshma: The best thing I did this year was hire a larger executive team. So for a long time I was running programs, raising all the money, so I’ve always been very in the weeds in my organization. I think honestly having a baby, and being a mom and having to leave on maternity for a let go of a little bit, and it’s not always easy, but I have a team who are larger, and better than me and tougher than me in their own areas. So it’s great, it’s the only way you can scale.
Zoe: And with the teachers is that the same?
Reshma: Yes, I mean our teachers are taking on this year, more of a responsibility in the classroom, we have lots of women and men who have gone through that ‘I’m the only woman in the classroom,’ and see the issue and want to pay it forward. For the summer, instead of making 30 or 40 thousand dollars at a tech company, they’re making $8,000 teaching our girls. So, it’s really about the community and giving back. It’s the reason why we’re here.
Reshma and the other panelists all echoed the same sentiments on how women are viewed in the tech industry, and how that is slowly, but surely changing. Carly’s character Darlene on Mr. Robot is a character that reflects this. She is a brilliant hacker, but in addition to it she suffers from the emotional drain of trying to get through to her brother Eliot (Rami Malek), while battling with the fallout of the fsociety hack. She makes mistakes and brash decisions, but is still a character to root for as she navigates through this new world created.
And if things are complicated for Darlene on the show, Carly says that sometimes things on set get that way as well. She talked about a few instances with director and creator of the show Sam Esmail, and how when wording her to throw a bat or some other physical activity he would ask if she could do it at first.
In addition, Carly talked about the pressure to appear perfect, discussing how social media can warp our perception. She talks about how failure never seems like an option because everyone else’s lives on social platforms seems so successful and rewarding. She cites how being an actress is full of failures, with an abundance of rejection letters and canceled projects to make anyone feel unfulfilled.
Reshma sees this mentality as a setback in the progression of women in their respective careers. Mentioning a study in which a group of boys and a group of girls were given lemonade spiked with salt, the study demonstrates how from an early age girls are groomed to have the appearance of perfection. While the boys spat out the drink and voiced their disgust, the girls finished the drink. When the researchers asked during the study why the girls drank it, they replied they didn’t want to disappoint or hurt anyone’s feelings.
Christina talked about an instance about why creating technology that doubles as an accessory is a positive for women, especially in the tech world. She had been asked about her company by a man and replied that wearing technology for women is simple because women’s clothes do not have pockets to put phones in. Many women keep their phones in their hand or a purse. Having a bracelet or a ring that alerts you to a meeting starting or a news brief is a connection that bypasses this step. It allows women to be hands free, but also not miss important professional or personal notifications.
One of the most exciting aspects about Mr. Robot is that is so closely resembles the way our society feels. At times, it acts like a crystal ball to the future, and at other points, a mirror reflecting our current predicaments. Mr. Robot season 2 is two episodes in on the USA Network, and you can catch up online. Check your local listings for the time.
Photo by: Zoe Berger