Women at Google Looking Past the Glass Ceiling

Instead, she was nervous about color.

The current palette for the frames of Glass, the Internet-connected eyewear, is limited: cotton (white), tangerine (orange), sky (blue) and two shades of gray. Although wearing a pop of turquoise or coral on your face might fly in Silicon Valley, Ms. Olsson worried they would clash on the runway.

But when she entered the studio days before Fashion Week last fall, she saw coral crepe tunics and flowing turquoise pants. The styles, which Ms. von Furstenberg described as “rebel princess,” just happened to be the same palette as Glass, despite being conceived long before the designer discovered the gadget.

A week later, one model matched a tangerine Glass to the orange architectural squiggle on a jumpsuit, and another paired a sky Glass to a turquoise slouchy tank and bag. When Ms. von Furstenberg took her call at the end, she wore tangerine. On her arm was Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, in sky.

“I love color, so I knew it was important, but not the extent to which it is about the emotional connection,” said Ms. Olsson, who trained in Sweden and whose job interview at Google, in which she did not know the secret project she would be working on, included questions like, “Do you like yellow?”

Ms. Olsson, 30, is one of a group of women charged by the company with turning Glass into the next It accessory. If high fashion and high tech are worlds apart, the women of Google Glass are like explorers, trying to connect the two.

They are also pushing another boundary, as senior women in tech, where men still outnumber women three to one. The disparity is even more extreme among engineers. Yet at Glass, women are leading hardware and business efforts for one of Google’s biggest-ever product gambles.

Along with Ms. Olsson, the team includes Jean Wang, 33, a hardware engineer in charge of Glass features like optics and acoustics, and Kelly Liang, 39, the director of business development, who oversees partnerships with app developers and others.

In an interview over a luau-style lunch at the company headquarters here, the three said they do not give much thought to their status as women in tech.

Ms. Liang came from investment banking, where she said she became comfortable being the only person not in cuff links. Ms. Wang said that when she pursued her doctorate in electrical engineering, there were five men for every woman in her courses.

“I’ve been inert to seeing myself as a woman versus a man,” she said. “I see my colleagues as my colleagues, regardless of gender.”

“That being said,” she added, “I think there’s a lot more to do to encourage women in the technical space.”

The three said they are conscious of bringing a woman’s perspective, as it were, to their work on Glass, whether it’s trying it on people with long hair and feminine facial structure or thinking about the apps women would like to see (thus the partnership Ms. Liang struck with Elle for an app that delivers street-style photos and fashion news).

There are the young women who tell Ms. Olsson after they see her speak about Glass that they want to become industrial designers or mechanical engineers, too, and the women with disposable income who ask where they can buy the product, which Google has said would be available more broadly to consumers next year (the cost has not yet been announced, though early testers paid $1,500).“Most of the people who stop me on the street are women,” Ms. Olsson said. “Women have a different reaction than when they see some dude wearing it. It makes a difference seeing it on me.”

That is one of the reasons that — when a Tumblr blog titled White Men Wearing Google Glass (including one in the shower) — made the rounds on the Internet, the women of Google Glass collectively cringed.

“It frustrates me because it’s not representative,” Ms. Olsson said.

Still, the blog highlighted not just technology’s gender problem, but also Google Glass’s style problem. While flaunting the newest gadget may be the epitome of style for people in the tech industry, something that could be so radically paradigm-changing is a harder sell for a set more accustomed to the double G’s of Gucci.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/fashion/women-at-google-looking-past-the-glass-ceiling.html?pagewanted=all

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