There is one thing which annoyed me a lot in 2011: the general topic is Women in Tech.
I’m not annoyed because I don’t like women or don’t want them to attend conferences. I’m annoyed because nothing happens.
For the most part it’s guys at conference who discuss what can be done about it.
For example, I don’t remember how exactly we got into this discussion at Funconf, but at the time we even had two or three women in the room when this was brought up. And I guess two women in a room with 15-20 guys is an exceptionally high rate for tech conference.
Side-note: I really wish I had asked them at the time how comfortable they are with this topic to begin with.
Outside conferences, the discussion happens in blogs and on Twitter. For example, there are frequently women in my Twitter timeline (I don’t want to single anyone out.), who mention things like the female-male-ratio of attendees at tech conferences (“Too many guys!”) and usually end with that there are too many guys who give talks.
Of course they have every right to mention this, but are women even submitting talks to these conferences? It often seems like a chicken-egg-problem to me.
Rhetorical question: Am I an asshole for pointing out that complaining gets you nowhere.
Drifting off the gender topic, there are in fact many other issues in the tech world.
For example, let’s take a brief look at another sensitive subject: the ratio of white and non-white attendees at tech conferences (in the western world). I would be blind if I said there is no racism. Of course it’s omni-present, but that doesn’t make everyone a racist.
Racial issues aside, there are countless other examples where people might not feel welcome or at home when they attend a tech conference. Change has to come on many different levels and while some people might say, “Boys will be boys.”, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be a little more aware.
Getting back to my original topic: of course part of changing the game is that conferences will have to cater to women also.
I’m honestly not sure what exactly needs to be done. Part of it would be to drop panel discussions about “Women in Tech”. I got the suggestion that this is not just annoying for male attendees but a reason for potential female attendees to avoid a conference as well.
So apart from conferences changing, I think the key is: women need to get involved.
First off: it’s tough to go to places where you are a minority. I’ve done that myself, I can relate. I also realize there are women at tech conferences who do this already. But others who are more vocal on Twitter or blogs currently, need to follow them and do the same.
Words are powerful. But they won’t take us all the way. Actions are required: please lead by example and change will follow.
One of the areas where conferences need female expertise is (obviously) running a conference. This may sound a little snarky, but I doubt that guys will get it right otherwise. Women need to shape conferences from the top in order to change them. Join up, or roll your own.
Another important part is giving talks. It’s simple: if you’d like to see more female speakers at conferences, you should submit a talk. I find it a little unbearable when the most vocal people demand more female speakers at conferences but do not submit talks themselves to begin with.
For the past years men complain that there are no women at tech conferences. And when men try to answer why, I think they are just guessing. If women know why, then we should start to discuss a solution.
If women don’t know why, then maybe they need to ask themselves.
That’s me venting — from 10,000 ft. Hit me up if you want to discuss any of this.