How should we be addressing the issue of Women in Tech?
To be quite honest, in some ways, I’m getting a bit sick of this debate. I think that it’s about time we took a step back, and looked at the whole issue from a different perspective.
Women are currently under-represented in the tech sector, and this is seen as a problem that needs addressing. Why?
So what if there are less women in tech than men, did anyone ever stop to think that maybe less women want a career in tech? Do we actually think that every vocation can have an equal 50/50 split in terms of gender? Why are we even analysing sectors by gender?
At the end of the day we are all just people, and if we truly want a society in which gender is not an issue, perhaps we should take a step back, and stop making it one.
I’m not saying that there aren’t issues that need to be addressed here, I’m simply suggesting that we look at it from a different perspective.
I also have an issue with today’s society and the “It’s not my fault attitude”. We’re quick to place blame (and sue when we can), we look for scapegoats when things go wrong, and point our fingers at everyone except ourselves. At what point should we start to take ownership of our own actions, ideas and futures? If you, as a woman, feel excluded from the tech sector, at what point do we stop waiting for the tech sector to make us feel welcome, and take a look at how we could change and integrate ourselves.
Let’s be clear here, issues such as sexist work environments, extreme lad culture, unequal pay, and discrimination should never be something which we stop working towards changing, but in some respects, I fear we may take things too far.
A recent conversation between tech event organisers asked for ideas on how to encourage more women to their meetups, and these are some of the things that were suggested (a lot of them, by women).
- Offer wine as well as beer
- Advertise the event as women friendly
- Only have women speakers
- Hold a women only event
I couldn’t help but cringe as these ideas were put forward, and let’s be honest, they’re ridiculous. If a woman’s deciding factor on coming to your event is that there is wine on offer, you’re obviously not attracting her because she’s into the tech, your drink choices shouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference, you attend a tech event for the tech, not the drinks. Advertise your event as women friendly? Rubbish. As opposed to all the other events that if they don’t specify that women are welcome, we should assume that we are not? Only having women speakers simply dilutes the pool of knowledge in the opposite direction. Speakers should be chosen on ability, relevance, enthusiasm, and all those other things that make for a great talk, gender should not be a factor in this at all. Holding women only events has done wonders for encouraging women into tech using an environment they feel comfortable in, and this is amazing, but if they never feel comfortable stepping out into the wider tech society, then what was the point?
Aside from being rubbish, one thing these points do indicate, is that the issue with women in tech, stems not from drinks choices or being around other women, but around confidence.
We can talk about men and women being equal until the cows come home, but we’ll probably get a lot further if we accept the fact that we’re not equal, and ensure that our differences are celebrated, and do not hinder our ability to do whatever the hell we might want to do.
Whether we like it or not, there are personality traits more common in either men or women (on average) and these traits often see us fall into certain roles more easily. What we should be doing, is simply ensuring that all careers are accessible to all personality types. At its core, it is our personality and traits that determine career success, not our genitals.
Women, in general, are less confident than men. I feel that this is a huge factor in putting off women in tech, and possibly other male dominated fields. The tech sector has a huge community, we have meetups and social events, conferences and hackathons, and they’re all dominated by men.
Personally I have never had a problem throwing myself in the midst of a male dominated environment, it would never even occur to me that I might be the only woman in the room, but the less confident woman may disagree.
What women oriented tech events do, is provide a gateway for women to be integrated into the tech sector without fear of being less competent, knowledgeable, or looking foolish in front of their peers. But once these women feel comfortable in tech, what we should be doing is helping them feel confident enough to enter the wider tech community.
Some groups do this wonderfully. The Manchester Girl Geeks have an amazing following, and do wonders for the the Manchester tech community. Not only do they provide women oriented events in tech, but they also encourage women to become part of the wider community. It is because of the Manchester Girl Geeks that I believe I can boast a 35% attendance from women at BarCamp Manchester, an event that does not advertise as women friendly, it’s just open to anyone.
On the other hand, although these women oriented groups can do wonders for the women who attend, it upsets me that I still see women who will jump at the opportunity to attend any women in tech event, but are never seen outside of them.
This also applies to companies who want to support women in tech. I have organised both generic and women only tech events, and I find that my women only events have money thrown at them for sponsorship and support, yet my generic tech events, which boast attendance of women from 30 -40%, struggle. Why is it that these companies are happy to support women when they attend women oriented events, but don’t seem to be prepared to support them as they enter the wider tech community. It concerns me that although these companies are doing a great thing by supporting women in tech, that they’re actually more bothered about having a women in tech event on their books than actually providing support.
In summary, the problem with women in tech, is that there is no problem with women in tech. The problem is making all sectors accessible to people with all types of personality, and more specifically, people who lack confidence.
So how can we combat this? One thing we definitely don’t need, is wine to be served in addition to beer. Here are some of my solutions to make my events more accessible to all;
- No Catering – Offering alcohol can actually put some people off, if you’re going to do this, do it after the main event, so people can choose to leave at this point, and not miss out. Offering food means offering options for all dietary requirements, and if you miss someone out, they could feel unwelcome. The easiest option is not to complicate things, if you don’t need it, don’t bother.
- Make it clear what happens during events – People who are unsure of new situations will want to know exactly what they’re letting themselves in for, so let new attendees know what to expect before they arrive.
- Make the venue accessible – Is it easy to find, easily labelled? If not, put signs up, make access directions very clear to people who sign up so they don’t worry about getting lost.
- Make people feel welcome – At every meetup I organise I make the effort to be on the door at all times. I greet everyone who arrives, speak to them about why they are here, and help make sure they know where to go, and get the most out of their experience.
- Bring them in – Just greeting them isn’t enough, if when they enter the room, everyone else already knows each other and are deep in conversation. Bring them into the room, introduce them to people, and always leave them feeling part of a group.
- Look out for lost people – As an organiser you have a responsibility to your attendees. At my meetups, I’m not joining in with the event itself, I’m constantly going around checking that everyone is ok, and looking out for people left alone who may be feeling lost and not part of the group.
- Be available – Although my meetups are run in my own time, it’s very easy for people to contact me with questions, and every one gets a personal response as soon as I am able to reply.
But we can’t be placing all the blame on the organisers here. Remember when I said that we live in a blame culture society? Perhaps those of us who currently lack the confidence to get out there and do something, should take some responsibility, take a chance, take the plunge, and get involved. Without effort on BOTH sides, changes will not be effective.
I can’t guarantee that this is a fool proof way of getting more women at your event, but it works for me!Thanks for reading!
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