Earlier this week I participated in a panel to discuss the perennial question of ‘why aren’t more women involved in tech and what can we do about it’. It’s always a treacherous discussion to get involved in and if you think you know how it would have played out, you’re probably right, except you probably wouldn’t have expected Milo to have been quite as … let’s go with ‘provocative’ as he was.
It is very difficult to engage with this subject area without offending people, people people feel excluded or defensive – the sad thing is that I don’t think anyone who tries to start these conversations intends to do any of these things (and many thanks to Mike Butcher for finding a place for this discussion in the GeeknRolla program).
What we want is something practical we can do about it.
There was on this panel, and elsewhere, a lot of talk about improving the ‘image’ of tech so that is is more appealing to women and infiltrating the education system, reaching women whilst they are still young girls and showing that tech can be a cool, sexy, creative and rewarding career. I think this is probably the best longterm strategy we can put in place and I’d love to help get involved in making this happen (ping me if you’ve got something going on already or need help getting something off the ground).
I also think there are a lot of women who ARE women in tech, but who define themselves as marketing people, or managers, or PR people or designers, or researchers who just happen to only ever work in the tech sector. I’m not sure if there is something we need to *do* about this, although I’m starting a personal (informal) research project to better understand why these women exclude themselves from the ‘women in tech’ label. Perhaps it’s the information architect in me, but I have a feeling that a lot of this is taxonomy / labeling related.
All of these are long term and somewhat philosophical. What can we do NOW?
I have TWO suggestions for what you can do RIGHT NOW that I think will start to make an immediate difference.
1. That woman you know who works in tech, who is really smart and talented and should be doing more. Give her a nudge and say ‘you could do that’, ‘you should do that’. Be directly encouraging.
I know we shouldn’t have to do this, but in my experience we do. Many of the smartest women I know do need a little encouragement to be a little bolder in the way that they present their work, whether that’s just writing a blog, getting up and speaking at a conference, or starting their own business. Having someone pick you out and say – yes, sure, you can do it, you should do it, just a tiny bit of encouragement and confidence building can be the spark that sets people on their path.
You may think it is obvious that your woman-friend/colleague has everything it takes to be ridiculously successful, but all too often the response you’ll get would be ‘do you think so? you really think I could do that?’
I don’t know why and for the moment I don’t really care why. Let’s just start giving individual people who we *know* have what it takes a nudge, a little confidence boost and see what happens.
2. Write & speak about women in tech, and do it respectfully and supportively
Aside from cold hard cash there are two other incredibly important currencies when it comes to professional success – respect and visibility. The way you choose to write and speak about women can make a big difference with regards to their access to both respect and visibility.
Let’s take a case study. Here’s an article that impromptu panel participant and journalist Milo Yiannopoulos wrote for the Telegraph covering the panel discussion and his thoughts on it. Let’s ignore his pretty woeful argument that there is no place for this discussion at these conferences and the way that he referred to women as ‘girls’ throughout the piece. Notice the difference in the way he treated contributions to the discussion from Sophie Cox and myself compared to those of Joshua March and Paul Walsh. Sophie and I get first name treatment only and no links (despite both being very easily Googled), Joshua and Paul get full names and at least one link (Paul gets two!).
On the surface, this may appear accidental, lazy, coincidental, but that fact is that even if Milo disagreed with the points that Sophie and I were making in the way he has presented us in this article we are utterly unimportant, except that we provide the foil for his argument. Joshua and Paul on the other hand are obviously important voices because of the way they are treated.
If you *really* want women in tech to be confident and successful in tech, then treat then a really great way to start is to give them respect and visibility and if as a part of your trade you happen to be writing then:
write about them
use their full names (and try to spell them correctly, ahem Guardian)
link to them
Sometimes it’s the little things that really make a big difference.
If you were at the recent Drupalcon in DC you may have seen Mark Boulton and I at the UX Table plying people with jellybeans and requesting offerings to our Drupal7 UX Suggestion Box. This is just one of the ways that we are hoping to engage the Drupal community in this project and to continue that process, you’ll find below the contents of the suggestion box (as of late Friday, unfortunately our desk and all it’s contents was trashed on Friday evening (boo!) so it’s possible we’ve missed a few suggestions).
Please take a moment to look through the very roughly (and quite possibly not entirely well) sorted list below – we’d be very interested to receive more suggestions from you or your comments on the suggestions collected thus far.
There are multiple destinations for the suggestions collected – many of these will feed into our thinking for this project, but there are also a few that will probably be added to the issue queue (if they’re not there already) and a few to add to a wishlist for releases beyond Drupal7 – don’t feel as though you need to censor yourself to only what you think is reasonable to expect for Drupal7 – let us know what you’d like and we’ll see what we can do to help make it happen!
Drupalcon DC UX Suggestion box contents:
Information Architecture (Task Based)
⁃ Have ‘packages’ that automatically install common functionality. Talk to Dimitri about install profiles
⁃ CRUD (Create, Read, Update and Delete) admin for specific admin types, terms etc.
⁃ Distinguish between site builders, site managers and site end users
⁃ Better default roles & config
⁃ Workflow improvements to core
▪ ‘Feature based’ administration/ Add ‘features’ then configure content types, views, categories etc. for each one. Everything becomes a feature, some that you can’t disable eg blog, forum, wiki, required ones for example are ‘users’
▪ Bring all options for content types into the same area but also leave the feature config under it’s own admin screen (find either way)
▪ I always use Path to define an alias of “login” for (site)/user. Login as the URL makes sense to people and they can remember it
▪ Get rid of Site Building and Site Config. No one really understands the distinction – you just gt used to where to find what you need but contrib modules are randomly placed. Think about tasks instead
▪ It’d be nice to be easier to install language pack from core to modules (esp. Thai!)
▪ Node create and edit menu settings. The ability to set the weight of a menu item via the (existing) drag and drop interface but inline with the menu settings and node edit form before saving node
▪ Install modules, themes and updates through the UI
▪ In Drupal7 revisions should be allowed to be published in the future
▪ XML querying gate w module info
▪ Disable menu fieldset on content types that don’t need it. Also restrict menu locations
▪ Allow user registration using Open ID
▪ Widgets for user fields
▪ Add data types to CCK fields. This way integers and other data types won’t be sirted as strings
▪ Configurable node admin
▪ Smarty type var handling for themes
▪ After running update.php we land on a sreen with links to front or admin – why not just go to Front and probably save a click?
▪ WYSIWYG Theme Builder/Editor
▪ Fluid project accessible reorder widget instead of arbitrary drag & drop for menus
▪ Content entry screen improvements
⁃ Improve the admin/content/node page? I often build a view to replace this page. Clients of mine need: Sort by title/type/etc. (by column), Show last updated date (how about a flexible way to choose columns to display) and created date, search/filter by keyword in the title
⁃ Streamline administering roles & permissions (eg. as an option, allow application of permissions on module config pages)
⁃ Allow configuration of all content type settings on single page as well as existing ‘per content types’ approach. eg comment setting, uploads, etc
⁃ Comment views or CCK for better sorting and control
▪ The date selection shouldn’t just be text
▪ WordPress-like dashboard
▪ Modal dialogs for confirmations
▪ Warn users if they are about to navigate away from an unsaved node or block
▪ Make the UI drag & drop
▪ Increase admin text sizes across the board
▪ Do not get rid of the front end/administration integration
▪ My users want an EDIT button on everything
▪ Smaller /admin page
Search (as in the core search module)
▪ cannot exclude content types – need to, if you have ‘database table’ types that are just used in views but never directly displaced. [I think there's a contrib module that does this]
▪ need ability to add pages and index them, composite pages like views and panels
▪ Our .gov contracts are v interested in accessibility, particularly in the admin section (since so few CMS platforms have admin accessibility)
▪ Accessibility by default – WCAA 2.0
Additions to Core
▪ Core SSL Support
▪ Bring in token and image API into Core. Should be automatically available not just in separate modules.
▪ Views query builder in core, UI as module (views is a single point of failure, too much risk if there’s another views version lag like w/dg)
▪ Image in core content types
▪ Media and WYSIWYG in Core! OMG!
▪ Bring CCK UI into core to bring further consistency
▪ Views in core!
▪ An easy to navigate learning area. Clearly separated sections: learn Drupal, modules / implement learning
▪ Contextual help
▪ Video tutorials in the help area (see WordPress.tv)
Migration/Back Up/ Export
▪ An export module to make migrating a site to a new server/restored server easier
▪ Build in back up and restore utility for admins
▪ When upgrading an existing site, the site’s existing folder and settings should not be over-written
▪ Migration tools that allow easier moves and domain names eg. filesystem path
Remove and replace all core themes except Garland
You may have heard the excellent and very exciting news that following on from our work on Drupal.org, Mark Boulton Design has been contracted to take a look at the User Experience for the upcoming Drupal 7, and I’m very happy to be working with him on this project as well.
Our last project, Drupal.org, kicked off at the Drupalcon in Szeged which was a fantastic way to begin the process of immersing ourselves in and communicating with the amazing Drupal community. Happily, this project will also kick off at a Drupalcon, this time in Washington DC and starting next week – if you’re going to be there we would love to meet you and I thought you might like to know of two of the activities we plan to kick of whilst at the conference.
1. Blue Sky Design Workshops
We’re going to be running 3 workshops during the conference that we’d love you to participate in, they’re going to be held on Wednesday 3-4pm, and Thursday 9-10am and 11.30-12.30pm.
We’re calling them ‘design’ workshops, but that doesn’t mean they’re meant for designers only. These workshops are made up of a few fun activities that will help us explore the boundaries of what Drupal 7 could be. We want people from all different backgrounds and areas of expertise, and all levels of experience with Drupal – the only thing you need to be passionate about Drupal and the desire to see the next version of Drupal have an amazing User Experience to come along.
If you’re interested in participating, signup for one of the workshops using one of the links below:
There’s only space for 10 people per workshop, so get in quick!
(If you do try to register and all the workshops are booked out, there’s a waiting list here. Yes, we’re optimistic!)
2. Pimp My Admin
The second activity we’re launching at Drupalcon is a little activity we’re code-naming ‘Pimp My Admin’. This is how it works…
One of the great things about Drupal is that you can bend it to your will – get it to do just about anything you need it to do. Same goes for it’s administration interface (admin).
Before we get to redesigning the Drupal7 Admin, we’d love to see what you out there have done to make the Drupal Admin System do what you need it to do, or just to work better for you and your project.
Here’s how we want to do it – simply take a little screencast, see if you can make it shorter than five minutes – walk us through your admin system and show us what you’ve done, even if it’s just something tiny – to make Drupal work better for you. Then you can either send it to us or, better still, post it up to YouTube – we’re still working out the details of exactly how to share these screencasts, but stay tuned for details. Meanwhile, if you’re going to be at Drupalcon, come find us and we’d be more than happy to sit down and do a screencast with you!
Come find us!
Even if you’re not interested in either of those activities, if you’re at Drupalcon and you’re interested in the redesign, please do come and say hello. We’re hoping to be very conspicuous and easy to find and we’ll have our suggestion box out and our ears reading for bending. We’re looking forward to meeting you and learning lots!
In the past month or so, UX Bookclub‘s have started popping up all over the world. I’m pleased to let you know that the same is about to happen in London, and if you’re interested in reading about and discussing issues related to User Experience, then you’re more then welcome to come along!