conferences · women

perhaps the women have something better on…?

Boys at BarCamp

I’ve been busy at BarCamp London the last few days and managed to miss out on the hubbub around the lack of women speakers at Office 2.0.

As you’d expect, women were significantly under-represented at BarCamp. On the upside, the girls that were there seemed were mighty smart and interesting, and they all got up and did their bit (as you do at BarCamp). Also, there was never a queue for the loo :)

And here’s where I feel as though I might be potentially letting the team down…

… perhaps women just didn’t want to come to BarCamp, and perhaps they don’t want to get up and speak?

Perhaps they have better things going on in their lives… or things that they’d rather do? Perhaps they have different ways of communicating with each other? (a la Anne’s PodCast idea?)

I know lots of women who work in technology, but I know *very* few who would be willing to give up their weekend to come to something like BarCamp.

It’s not that they don’t love their work, or that they don’t care about what people are talking about at BarCamp, or that they’re not bright and vibrant and passionate people. It’s just that they’re not willing to give up their free time like that.

These are the same women friends of mine who aren’t blogging. They’re too busy doing their work and then getting out the door and having a life. And it’s not because they don’t *know* about blogging, or they don’t have access or technical ability. Lots of them have had a go at blogging and just aren’t that into it.

And. Fair enough.

These women are different to me. I spend way too much time online, reading all your blogs, writing my own, going to BarCamp. I’m willing to scare myself crazy with fear and hop up and speak so that I get to meet more people, share my ideas with them and learn from them. But lately, I really feel as though I’m a minority (amongst the people that I know in the *real* world… the blogging world, obviously, is skewed).

I’m just thinking, perhaps we’re fighting a battle for a tribe who aren’t really interested in the war?

Which leads me to the other point… I know that in lots of cases, people who are organising conferences just don’t think to invite women. (I’m thinking, if they don’t *know* any women, isn’t this a *great* opportunity to meet some?!).

In lots of other cases, though – you ask the organisers if they’ll let you speak.

At this very moment, you could be writing up a proposal to get up in front of the UPA Conference and the IA Conference next year. I wonder how many women are writing up their proposals, or how many (like me!) are thinking that they don’t really have anything interesting or important to say.

If you’re a woman, and you know a thing or two about Information Architecture or Usability/User Experience – have you thought about putting together a proposal?

(And yes, I know there are a few women who hop up every year and do a fantastic job. I hope they keep doing that. But I’d love to see more.)

So, here’s what I’m thinking. Yes, there should be more women at conferences – both attending and speaking, but there’s more to it than that. Lots of conferences just aren’t so interesting. And lots of women don’t think they have to say that other people would find important or interesting.

Perhaps if we focus on those kinds of issues, the problem might go away?

Update: Just going through my RSS feeds – of course Robert Scoble couldn’t stay out of the debate…. but here’s the thing – he virtually offers an invitation to women to put their hand up to be on his new show – lots of heated debate later, there are only two women who have done anything like say ‘pick me’. I’m sure a lot more men than women read Scoble… but surely lots of the women who do would fit the geek profile he’s after? or not.

14 thoughts on “perhaps the women have something better on…?

  1. hey.

    you make a really good point. its not just women though that “have lives”. i have a ten month old boy. was i going to barcamp and not see him and my wife all weekend? was i f***!

    i think i am going to try and get some women on our podcast redmonk radio, to make it less “dorky”. fancy participating sme time? or would time zone issues rule that out?

  2. hey James – yeah, this is one of the scenarios I’ve seen with women who don’t blog/go to conferences/speak etc. (and men too, but let’s focus on the chicks for now!)

    the other is that they just want to spend time with friends, travel into the country and go camping, go to music festivals, and lots of other things that also sound really fun and interesting… and in some ways, perhaps a lot more ‘real’? :)

    I think getting women onto your PodCast is a fine idea :) Despite being vaguely terrified by the idea… sure, I’ll give it a go! Where are you based these days? I thought we were working in the same timezone these days (now that I’m in London).

    Oh, and I assume you’ve already asked Kathy and Anne and they’ve agreed?

    Meanwhile, where is this RedMonk Radio you speak of? Sounds interesting, but I can’t find it! :)

  3. One interesting thing was I was actually at an anime convention a few weekends ago, which is something I personally think of as a geek event. A pretty large proportion of the people there would be people who’d fall under the geek classification (though not neccessarily computer geeks) and there was a much more even split between men and women.

  4. Interesting muse, Leis. I really *wanted* to be a good blogger, but somehow the Blue Mountains and trips to wine country keep getting in the way of my good intentions.
    And when I even think about presenting something at a conference, my mind just empties of everything I’ve ever known…

    This may be a little controversial, but… could the lack of women speaking at conferences and industry events also come down to biology? In the animal world, it is typically the male of the species who do the “displaying”. Maybe girls are not interested in, or not biologically predisposed to, showing their colours…

    *buttons up brown cardigan and waits for howl of protest*


  5. I wonder if designer swag would entice more women to attend tech events. Although if it’s as I suspect, there are better things to do on weekends than mingle with a tech crowd you would rather park on your weekday agenda.

  6. I reckon it would have to be pretty amazing swag, Bernie :)

    Meliss – I’m no scientist so all I have to go on is my own experience and observations… i reckon there are a lot of social factors that we can work through on this topic before we put it down to biology. I mean – more or less both genders of this species look fairly similar but boys learn self-promotion, where girls learn modesty. That’s what I’m thinking anyways.

    Lela – the only thing that handle did was make you try to pull a push door, which is always embarrassing. Oh, and it looked pretty. But it really had no business being there.

    hey Helen – were there speakers at the Anime convention? How was the gender split amongst speakers?

  7. We didn’t go to all of the panels but there were a lot of women talking in the panels that we watched. Definitely more than the last deverloper, developer developer day ( ) I went to.

    An interesting thing was the people who were actually organising the event were mostly male but that’s probably because until recently anime was quite male dominated and it’ll take a while for the females in the main fandom population to start getting into groups that organise these things.

  8. The people who attend events like BarCamp do so because they love what they do and will go out of their way to do it better. For many its not a case of having a separate work and home life, its a case of enjoying what they do so much the two become intertwined. In that way it is very similar to lots of hobby-turned-professions like music, sports or acting.

    I’m sure many people working in this industry couldn’t imagine spending their own free time to go to an industry event. However if you are into this stuff, one weekend out of 52 isn’t exactly a hardship. Because of this, I think the having “something better on” argument is a false one. What’s more I think the argument is slightly demeaning to the people who made the effort to attend, and particularly the female minority (which you were obviously one of).

    I think the reality is either people don’t know about the event, feel anxious about coming to such an event, or really just don’t care enough to bother.

    As somebody who runs a web dev conference, I would love to see more women involved both as speakers and attendees. However when putting together this years list of speakers it was incredibly hard to find women to talk on the subject of APIs and Web 2.0. Its not that the talent isn’t there, just that its not as visible as it should be.

    As I mentioned at BarCamp, the theme of next years event is user experience and I hope to invite speakers such as Kelly Goto and Kathy Sierra. However speakers of this calibre are still sadly in the minority. What we need is more people like yourself attending and speaking at events like BarCamp and setting a great example for others to follow.

    Please let me know when you speak at your next public event as I’d love to come along.

  9. I’d have loved to have gone but was on holiday that week (you’ve encouraged me to try going along to one of the London Girl Geek dinners sometime though!)

    If I had been able to go, I think the issue for me would have been finding time to prepare a presentation more than actually taking off the weekend itself or standing up in front of people, but five years ago I have to admit the idea would have petrified me. I still often find I don’t feel I really fit into geek crowds totally though – they can be quite harsh environments sometimes. I’m also as interested in people and users as I am in code and I find the fact that some geeks forget about the reasons why we do all this technical stuff and about what things are like for the people what we do quite alienating sometimes!

  10. hey J – you should *definitely* come along to a Geek Girl dinner – would be great to meet you! :)

    Andy – you’re right. Saying that people had better things to do than go to BarCamp is demeaning to the people who attended… I don’t think I really believed that the things they were doing were *better*… just trying to understand why others aren’t so excited about the opportunity to swap ideas and learn from people who are equally passionate about the things that I’m passionate about…

    I think sometimes we assume that people are as passionate about this stuff as we are… and of course, not everyone is. Otherwise the world would be utterly frenzied… (an interesting thought). I don’t want to be demeaning of people because they are less passionate, or show their passion in different ways. I think that sometimes the conversations around this topic border on that.

    Anxiousness and awareness are definitely part of the reason… awareness *shouldn’t* be a gender issue (although if Jeneane is right and it’s all going on in IM sessions (or boys rooms) that women aren’t a part of, perhaps it is. I’ve known a few guys who wanted to vomit (or were extremely anxious) before presenting, but I tend to think that women have the market cornered on that! (Tara and Kathy, who by all accounts are excellent presenters and both admit to presenting related anxiety and spew-age are great examples for the rest of us to steel ourselves for the challenge!)

    I was thinking a little while ago – if this was a user experience problem, the first thing I’d want to do is research. To find out *why* women behaved the way they do (or don’t) and conference organisers also (how do they decide who presents and who doesn’t?)

    How would you go about working out a research methodology for the question of why women are disproportionately represented as attendees and presenters at conferences?

    I suspect it’s all to do with networkers and marketing. Networkers, because you ask people who you know. And marketing because you invite people who you know have proven success at drawing people to turn up to your conference.

    Perhaps this is a good activity to Blogher to undertake? A reasonably formal research project to find out *why* this is happening. Then perhaps we can work out what we need to do to turn it around.

    In the meanwhile, I guess, we keep blogging :)
    and attending.
    and presenting. (even if it terrifies us)
    ps. Andy – you must be pretty pleased that none of these gals have checked out the speakers list for DConstruct this year! I’m going to let you go on the basis that you’re going to have LOTS of great gals speaking at next year’s conference. (We’ll be holding you to that!)

  11. Sounds like a great idea for BlogHer, Leisa. The pushing oneself forward issue is an interesting one – I’ve just published my first book review, after prompting by an editor who sought me out and commissioned it on the strength of what he’s seen on my blog. However I almost said ‘no, someone else could do this better.’ Now I have received two more commissions. So how silly was that?

    I think you are right, I thought I was a natural peacock, and my reaction to this pulled me up short. The self-effacing thing is quite shocking if we take time out to analyse it.

    Good luck to all you brave tech women out there, you have come so far it’s not surprising you want the odd weekend off to go to wineries occasionally, and, yes, there is more to life. But if everyone does a little bit here and there, things could move…further than you think.

  12. Here’s the RedMonk Radio link you asked about. What dates are good for you to record?

    On that note, out of all my friends that I ask to go to BarCamps, most do not. They’re normal, geeky males. Most of them would rather spend their weekend doing whatever than go hang out with more dorks on the weekend.

    I wonder if age and “family status” would be another interesting vector for barcamp attendence. As James said, given the chance to hang-out with his family vs. barcamp, the choice is clear.

    Also, gender aside, I’d think the explanation for people who don’t show up is simply that they think barcamp isn’t as valuable as the alternative, “the weekend.”

Comments are closed.