We Want More Women!
It’s a common complaint throughout the tech industry: there aren’t enough women–and the few who are there are treated terribly. It is important to know that the lack of women isn’t an isolated tech-world problem. It’s a problem in almost every field. Women hold fewer positions of leadership, their work is valued less, and their opinions and ideas often dismissed. We’ve all been there and it never stops being infuriating.
This problem is especially rampant at conferences and conventions where, unless the panel is specifically about the women in a certain field or industry, the number of women asked to speak in any given session is often limited to one. And that lone woman is often talked over by her male peers.
This doesn’t mean that women can’t find each other, of course. Even the most introverted among us can make use of the conference apps and educational track planning to find each other and make connections. And we appreciate that more and more events have strict anti-harassment policies in place. Still, we think conventions and conferences can do more to elevate women’s voices. Here are some of our suggestions:
Start Teaching Early
Part of the reason women currently hold so few leadership roles is that the current generations of adults were raised in a culture of “boy stuff” vs “girl stuff.” Even the most enlightened among us have a hard time shrugging off the decades of conditioning to which we’ve been subjected. This is why it is important to start integrating at young ages and making a real effort to encourage young girls and women to explore fields that have traditionally been seen as “boys only.” One particularly great example of this is the App Camp For Girls, which teaches elementary and middle school aged girls how to code and helps them get excited about technology.
Enough with the “token lady” on all of the conference panels, in meetings, etc. Having just one woman involved does not prove that your company is diverse or that you value the women in your ranks. It shows that you are more concerned with meeting a quota than actually listen to the women who work for and among you. Aim for *at minimum* a 50/50 split of men to women (and, of course, you’ll want to include other races and the non-binary as well). Equal representation goes a long way to teaching your audiences that you value the women among you.
Shut Up and Listen
One of the worst parts of being a woman is bringing up issues like the lack of representation, the rampant harassment, etc. and having men dismiss it as hysteria or irrelevant because they’ve never experienced that. A fantastic recent example of this is when Aaron Sorkin was told and finally seemed to “get” that women are actively discriminated against in Hollywood and that it is their gender, not their ideas that keep their projects from getting made. Sorkin falls a little flat here because he focuses on what he can do to fix it. Our advice to Mr. Sorkin and all of the men reading this? When a woman tells you what her experience has been, shut up and listen to her. And, most importantly, believe her.
Be the Change
That’s right: we went Gandhi on you. Women can talk and scream and yell until we blow out our voices but the simple and infuriating truth is this: men are more likely to listen to another man than they are to even a hundred women who are telling him the same thing. This means, gentlemen who are reading this, that you need to shoulder some of the burden of your female colleagues. When one of your male counterparts interrupts a woman while she is speaking or steals her idea, speak up about it. Point out what has happened. Call them on the carpet. Speak up in meetings when management tries to discriminate against a woman because “she’s not one of the guys.”
We have a long way to go to be sure. Strides have been taken to increase accommodations and visibility and we’re thankful for them. Still, we think if more event organizers listen to what we’ve said here, they’ll find their events are far more popular and successful.