An e-mail from the Ada Lovelace Day folks dropped into my in-box the other day, mentioning that Roma Agrawal would be speaking at Ada Lovelace Day Live. That set a little alarm ringing in my head that I’d seen her name before recently, and meant to write about it.
You see, I was reading a profile of her in the Evening Standard, after picking up a copy left on a train, and after getting slightly annoyed at the “Gosh! An attractive female engineer!” tone of the piece, nearly choked on my coffee when I got to this line:
This softly spoken 30-year-old in a yellow dress is the woman who made sure the biggest erection in Western Europe didn’t fall down.
Did we really need to go there – connecting her dress and the word “erection”? Do we really have to focus on this talented and successful engineer’s sex appeal?
Honestly, I expected to see that the author was a man – but no, it was Susannah Butter, evidently a woman. And I was shocked enough that I ended up grabbing a photo, intending to write about it.
Am I reading too much into this – or is this a gratuitous and unnecessary sexualisation of a feature about an engineer? Would we ever consider commenting on the dress and sex appeal of an equivalent male engineer?
UPDATE: As it turns out, Roma has already written a response:
This one sentence contradicts the core message of the article: that women can excel in engineering and other male dominated industries on their merit. I believe women should be judged on their skills and contribution in the workplace and shouldn’t have to fear being sexualised.