Wednesday, March 11, 2015

So few Women

It was bound to happen. I would have to post about me, women in tech, and conferences.

The scene:

I am attending a technical conference on open source storage. I was interested in this conference from when it was first announced. I did not feel I had the depth of knowledge In the field to submit anything for the CFP. Now that I am attending, I am sure this is not just an impostor syndrome reaction. I am learning good stuff and collecting vocabulary for much more research and learning.

I knew from the beginning that I would one of few women attending. As it got closer to the dates and speakers and attendees were listed on the web site, that feeling was confirmed. In person, I think I can count the numbers on my fingers (I might need a few toes). I really do not know the numbers, actual or percentage.

The controversy:

The small number of women was also noted by the photographer on site. I am photogenic even though I really prefer to be hidden from the camera and we kept running into each other. She made a comment to me, perhaps noting my dodging of the camera, to watch out. She had been instructed to look for diversity in her shots. The way the conversation went, I took no offense but my tweet on the subject garnered responses that some thought I either was offended or should have been offended. In my post, I was just trying to show an example of a known issue: the more technical - lower in the stack as well as programming knowledge in this case - the open source topic, the less women are visibly involved.

The reality:

I don't get offended easily. I assume the best in people and comments. I assume they mean to be sympathetic to a cause and not taunting of a situation. I assume they do not realize how a statement may be interpreted or that their childhood was just filled with bad examples. If it is blatant, I am not shy to speak up and I have always been lucky enough to have my comment taken with a sheepish "you are right, I was not thinking" type of response. I am an instructor, my instinct is to explain and teach. I do surround myself with supportive people (men, women, employers, colleagues, friends, etc).

I do get frustrated and I do get disappointed.

I get frustrated at how slow change occurs. I get disappointed when people repeat mistakes. I get frustrated and disappointed when I hear stories from other women who have had worse experiences then I have - and more recently. I get excited when I hear role models talk of success. I get pleasantly surprised when I attend a meeting or conference or class where there is better than average diversity.

I get frustrated when I see a student walk into my class and look concerned when they realize I am the instructor. I get disappointed that I assume this is because I am female rather than just "not someone they know". On the other hand, I taught a class last month where a student walked in and announced he had been very excited for the class when he saw I was listed as the instructor. I wish it was not such a novelty but I was and am appreciative of the complement. Very appreciative.

The hope:

In an interesting coincidence of timing, I saw a great article about being the token women speaker at events:

A deep dive into open source storage means including Linux kernel developers - a small group in itself. I do not expect a token women speaker at such a conference. Correct that: I don't expect such a token at any conference. I want the best presentations available from the submitted talks. I want selection based on a balance between expert knowledge and presentation skills. Diversity measurements do not come into play here. The resulting diversity should reflect the industry.

The fact that the industry can benefit from more diversity is a related but separate issue, as is recruiting submissions from some of the quietest but most competent members of any industry and for any speaking engagement. All other things equal, sure, look at diversity. First, allow the selection committee to chose the best from the best. People, not tokens. Grow the diversity in the trenches, not just on the public stage.

Just my thoughts.