Category Archives: 16846

Why a Women In Technology Luncheon

I just read this post by Samantha Houtsand and it annoyed me. No, it pissed me off. She hasn’t been to a “Women in Technology” event since a bad one in high school and explained to the world what WIT events are. She entirely mischaracterized a specific event that she did not attend.

“My initial hesitation about going to the luncheon had gradually grown into a vehement denial that the luncheon should exist in the first place. What was the point of it? Was it a support group? A private club with a “no boys allowed” sign stuck on the table? “

Depending on whether I had a talk following the luncheon at that specific DevConnections she attended, I was there, and possibly on a panel. Had she gone…

She probably would have seen Michelle and Julie and a lot of other awesome women – speakers and attendees.

Folks would have asked questions like “I’m a bit intimidated about letting my team know I’m pregnant” (Samantha brought this up) and gotten an answer like “it’s probably not going to be a problem, follow a gut and know who your friends are.”

She might have heard from someone that had a bad work situation, with advice something like “create the scenario where you can move on and find a better fit,” probably with a gentle tough love comment about what the person was doing to prepare for those new internal jobs as well.

She probably would have heard from someone asking about work/life balance. She would have realized that no one, famous or not, thinks they do it very well.

There’s a good chance she would have heard a question about increasing visibility or technical skill set. The answer would have been “hard work,” along with some roadmap signposts specific to their goals.

Someone would probably have asked about how we get more young women into technology. That’s not just an IT question – we’re doing badly in all technical fields except medicine. A lot of stupid things would have probably been said, there’s no good answer.

She might have heard someone ask about encouraging a young person to consider this industry. Someone might have mentioned professional Barbies and hopefully someone would point out the importance of gender neutral gifts (LEGOs are gender neutral !!!!) for nieces, nephews, etc.

There would have been a couple of specific technical or entrepreneurship questions that were answered or taken off line.

“Oh, crap, we’re out of time”

None of this is whining. It’s a conversation about issues – in a mostly female environment (men often come, and I would never support excluding them).

If she had attended the luncheon, she would have made a few contacts of technical or business interest. If she was attending the conference alone, she would have had more friendly faces. And if she wasn’t shy, she could have done the same things in the main lunch area.

“What bothers me about “women in technology” is the apparent need to beat their bosoms and proclaim that the industry must change to accommodate them, must recognize that they exist, must treat them equally!! — but differently.”

I have never met the women that she describes here. Never. Anywhere. Nada. I’ve met tens of thousands of developers, and a number of IT pros, and I’ve never met women that wanted the industry to offer more than common decency and fairness. Send me the links where women are asking the industry to accommodate them or think they need or should have “special treatment” (from a comment on Samantha’s blog). I’ve heard people make this claim, but show me the evidence – when and where!

Having lunch together does not equate to bosom beating. Being inspired by amazing women like Cathy Sullivan or Rhonda Layfield (both have been on past panels) is not bosom beating. Asking questions across the table or of the panel is not bosom beating.

Why did I write this? I’m tired of seeing mischaracterization of women in this industry. We aren’t a bunch of whining angry bosom beaters, any more than the jobs we fill are “men’s jobs.” Samantha knew nothing about the DevConnections lunch because she chose not to attend it.

It’s OK to have a conversation about women in this industry. Samantha chose to make herself part of that conversation. But that conversation must be on what’s real, not on this persistent crazy fantasy that there is a cadre of harpies somewhere.

Trust me, almost every woman in this industry is, like Samantha, just out there working hard, bringing a unique set of skills and capabilities to the problem at hand, and thinking about how to build the career she wants in a very crazy, tough, fun industry.

My girls built Lego furniture for their Barbie dolls

The Women in Technology luncheon at the MVP summit included a discussion of gifts we give to girls.

During the conversation, Deborah Kurata said to me “my girls used Legos to build furniture for their Barbie dolls.”

Gifts are the opportunity to put into the hands of little women the things we want to have in their hands. It is easy to fall into giving them the gift they want and ask for. But those choices are heavily influenced by a feedback cycle that markets dolls to girls and building sets to boys, causing children to desire toys in these patterns, causing people to buy these kinds of gifts, causing these kinds of toys to be comfortable, causing next year’s marketing to be more effective.

There’s nothing wrong with giving a Barbie doll to a young girl, except that she probably as three of them.

Legos have undergone some annoying changes. I’ve been told that they now have sets marketed to girls. First, it’s an offensive notion that girls don’t want to build good stuff and like it better if it’s pink. Then in some bizarre twist, the pink sets are simpler. That’s dumb.

If they sell true building sets, at some point you have enough Legos. If they sell 3-D jigsaw puzzles, there’s an unending supply of movie branding to sell new Lego sets. This might help wire some spatial rendering in the brain, but it doesn’t spark much creativity. If you give any child Legos, sit down with them and ask “what else do you want to build?”

I’m not claiming that boys and girls on average are the same. Girls tend to more interest in human relationships. Play is always social and children intertwine different kinds of play where they practice different kinds of skills. And more girls are attuned to aesthetics – more easily drawn to pretty things and away from ugly things. If Legos are blocky, there are a lot of other kinds of spatial play.

I hope every child has a few dolls because fantasy play is a wonderful kind of play. Dolls aimed at boys could be hero focused (GI Joe, sports figures, etc.) if that makes it more interesting or comfortable for the particular boy. But I also hope every child has a wide variety of toys including card games, building sets, toys they make themselves, fantasy toys, computer games, and “educational” toys like microscopes. This year when you’re giving gifts to the little ones in your life, consider taking a risk, stepping outside the marketing driven box, and giving a kind of gift they don’t have much of.