What Can Conferences Do To Attract More Women Speakers?

Now I’ve been speaking at (mostly Java) conferences for a while (six years now), I get asked to present at a lot of conferences. Obviously all these conferences are mostly interested in my terribly educational talks, but it’s also because I’m a technical woman and there aren’t very many technical women speaking at conferences. In my experience, conferences want to do the right thing - they want a diverse line up of speakers, they want to attract diverse attendees.

What Can Men Do

So, I wrote a long email to the London Java Community in answer to an excellent question: “What can men do to support Women in Technology?”. It’s a bit of a brain dump, by no means comprehensive, and is in answer to a specific question in a specific context, but I’ve been asked to make the information public so it can be useful in a broader context. So here it is.

Are Blind CFPs Really The Answer?

Off the back of yesterday’s post, I received a number of comments and questions around blind CFPs (Call For Papers - usually to get into a conference you submit to a CFP) for conferences. I often hear it said that a blind CFP will fix, or at least improve, the diversity imbalance at conferences.

I don’t believe this.

I'm so tired of it all

We work so hard to promote equality, to fight for the rights of people who are not middle-class white men, and time and again it just feels like we’re not getting anywhere. International Women’s Day highlights the issues that face women all around the world, and make our women-in-tech problem look like a genuine First World Problem, and yet we can’t even get that right.

Improving Speaker Diversity

Last month at Devoxx I was in a session discussing what we can do to encourage more diversity in our speakers (specifically, although not limited to, increasing the number of women speakers). I’m going to outline the things I remember being discussed, although as usual we did not find the answer to the problem, only identify some issues and explore some options. This is a very chaotic blog post, because if I don’t post it now I’ll never post it, and it’s better if my thoughts are scrawled down and posted than if this all goes to die in my drafts folder.

Should you notice I'm a woman? Should I care?

So, following on from my observations of being an outsider at FOSDEM because I’m not an open source developer, I do have another story to tell where my female-ness is actually relevant.I’m going to give specifics, but it’s not to name and shame or anything like that, it’s just that anonymising it will probably erase some of the subtleties.  But I’m not telling this to make anyone feel bad, because this is not an oh-poor-me story, this is just the way it goes sometimes and I want to share what it feels like.At JFokus (a conference I really enjoyed, where I got a chance to spend time with some awesome people) I was on a panel (well, game-show really) about static vs dynamic languages.

Feel like an outsider?

So, FOSDEM.I've heard great things about this conference, so I was pretty exited to goThe Java dev roomNow I know people talk about impostor syndrome whenever they mention the woeful lack of diversity at tech conferences.  Interestingly, I felt like an impostor at FOSDEM - not because I'm a woman (there were quite a few techy women around at FOSDEM, more than I expected) but because I'm not an open source person.I mean, I am, technically - MongoDB and the Java driver are both open source, and I have real live code on github.  But I didn't get there via the open source community, I was hired to do a specific job that happens to be open source (for which I am extremely grateful).  So although I knew the MongoDB folks I was there with and a lot of people who were running or speaking in the Java room, I didn't feel really at home in this conference.  I think I feel more comfortable with the ones aimed at enterprise Java developers (by which I mean Java people who work producing software for companies) because this is more similar to my background - I understand the attendees and I think I know what they want.It's also possible since I've been to a lot more of the enterprise-aimed conferences that I used to feel just as awkward there, and I've become much more comfortable now I've been to many.Which leads me to another observation: when I first went to JavaOne, in 2011, I felt extremely conspicuous as a woman.  I mean, I didn't do much to help, my skirts and shorts are occasionally… not really enterprise-developer-length.  But I felt like everyone noticed me and I felt the pressure to assert early on in every new conversation that I was, in fact, a developer and not a booth babe or a recruiter.  But these days, I feel much more comfortable.  And do you know what's really helped with that?  Being a speaker; having my face on the website.  I don't have to prove I'm a developer, I was asked to speak at that conference - if the conference organisers think I belong there, then I belong there.So… what.Well, we can do things to combat this I-don't-belong-here feeling - I'm pretty sure we've all been there, regardless of gender, race, background etc.

Why is it News when a woman becomes CEO?

I’m pleased to see that GM has hired the “best person for the job” as their new CEO - that does seem like a good idea.  I’m happy her gender did not get in the way.  What makes me uncomfortable is the international news coverage of the decision of this large manufacturer to hire a woman as their CEO - if she were a man (and/or black/gay/disabled) would the headline read “The camera loves her.

Devoxx: The Problem with Women - A Technical Approach

As well as talking about, you know, actual work-type-stuff, I was encouraged to give my “Technical Approach to Women” presentation at Devoxx.  This went so well at JavaOne that I thought it would be difficult to top.  Also, I wasn’t convinced it would work at Devoxx, because the theatres are not well suited to audience participation - the seats are warm and comfy, the room is dark, the speaker is on stage in front of a massive screen….I was incredibly impressed with the audience.

JavaOne: The Problem With Women - A Technical Approach

Yesterday dawned, with a sense of foreboding (actually it dawned with me coughing my lungs out, but we’ve heard enough about the sub-optimal state of my respiratory system this week).   On this day, I was giving the talk I was dreading when I got asked to do it.  It’s the talk I actually put more work into than any of the other sessions I was presenting at this JavaOne.  It was the Women In IT talk.It’s timely, given that conference season has one again led to cries of sexism and discrimination.

On The Evil Of Stereotypes

I attended (one way or another) two events last week that got me thinkingThe first was Girl Developers will Save the World - a session that had me a little confused as to whether that referred to me, or actual girls, i.e. those that are not yet legally classed as adults.  The second was the Remarkable Women Twitter party the following day.Firstly, a caveat/disclaimer (as usual) - both events were useful, thought-provoking and overall worthwhile.  But the alarming thing to me was the number of times I heard "boys are…" or "women think…" or "girls prefer…".  And I know we often make generalisations to stress a point, but I'm becoming extremely wary of statements that group people together along some arbitrary boundaries.

The subject of women programmers is boring

I’ve been challenged to do a session at a very large conference around women in programming.  Which leads to two reactions from me 1) wow, what an honour! and 2) sigh.The problem with these sessions is that you’re preaching to the choir.  Those who turn up are a) women or b) men who are sympathetic and supportive to the cause.  People who are actively discriminating against women or, more commonly, those who don’t know their actions are hurting diversity in our industry, are the least likely to receive the message.This tends to lead to the same types of sessions - yes, our industry under-represents certain segments of society (i.e.

Interviewed for InfoQ at QCon London

I was flattered to be interviewed for InfoQ at QCon London. It was a fun interview actually, and didn’t feel anything like the half an hour it actually took. In it, I get to talk about Agile at LMAX, the Disruptor (of course) and diversity in IT (again).

Update on events

Just a quick note to say I was interviewed for another podcast, again to talk about all-female events.  It’s only a short one and there’s probably not much in there that I haven’t said before, either on here or in person.From the 21st May, I’m at GOTO, both Copenhagen and Amsterdam.  I’ll be talking about code & the Disruptor, thank goodness, and will be trying not to rant about the subject of women in technology.

Featured on a BBC Podcast

This week’s BBC Outriders podcast features yours truly venting about The Subject That Won’t Go Away, Women in Technology.  I was interviewed at Sunday’s Girl Geek conference, and got a chance to voice my opinions once again.  For those who can’t be bothered to listen, they can probably be summarised as:There are genuine problems that face people in our industry, let’s talk about those that you have actually faced, not ones that you imagine exist.In my opinion, now is a great time for women to make a name for themselves - conference organisers are crying out for you to attend and (if you want) speak, and our industry needs talented people of any type and isn’t that fussy about who you are.Please, please can we start talking about the good stuff that we see as women in IT?

In which I defend the Male species at an all Female event

Google Campus is an awesome spaceToday I was at the Girl Geek Meetup conference.  I didn’t advertise it much because I’ve said in the past I don’t really agree with women-only events, and actually I felt quite uncomfortable telling you guys I was going to be there, knowing the majority of my readers weren’t allowed to attend.It’s probably worth explaining why I went, so a) I can give you guys and excuse but b) conference organisers can see what people like me are looking for in a conference.Graduate Developer Community Meet a Mentor ProgrammeThe primary reason I went is because the new Meet a Mentor programme I’m involved in does not have a lot of women mentors.

Video: Why we shouldn't target women

If you have a Parleys subscription, you can watch the whole “Why we shouldn’t target women” panel from Devoxx 2011 a month or so ago.  Watch me attempt to monopolise the whole panel as if it was my idea or something…

Interview by the Oracle Technology Network at Devoxx

Tori Wieldt from the Oracle Technology Network interviewed me at Devoxx.  Because I was there to be on the Why We Shouldn’t Target Women panel, the interview is just another platform for me to air my views on this subject again. Yes, I am actually wearing pink….

Why We Shouldn't Target Women

I’m back from Devoxx, having had lots of food for thought.  In particular, my panel on Why We Shouldn’t Target Women generated a lot of discussion and I’m still trying to process it all.Martijn Verburg; Regina ten Bruggencate; Trisha Gee; Antonio Goncalves; Claude Falguière; Kim Ross The panel went really well, we got decent interaction from the audience, and of course my fellow panel members were awesome.  I managed to restrain myself from using the opportunity as my own personal soap box and allowed other people to speak occasionally.

Devoxx: The story so far

Stephan wearing the Brazilian flag at the opening keynoteEuropean conferences are different (and cool) because you get to hear even more languages spoken than you usually do in London (apparently the most diverse city in the world for spoken languages).  I think the idea of a Paris Devoxx with 75% of the talks in French is brilliant - I’m always banging on about diversity, we shouldn’t expect developers to learn in English only.Really great to meet up with some of the people I met at Java One and am starting to feel more a part of the global community.Seems to me there are slightly more women here than at the other conferences I’ve been to, and not just because Regina and I pulled together four women for a panel on women technologists.

A NYSE Product Manager and an LMAX Developer walk into a low latency trading seminar...

“What… exactly… were you guys looking to get out of today’s event? Because…”“Because we’re girls?”“Um… yes…”Kim impetuously opts for The Truth: “We’re here to meet men.”Our interrogator looks round dubiously. “No, really, why are you here?”Phew.  My reputation is intact1Kim eloquently describes what her situation is as Product Manager and the criteria she’s measuring third party products against.  I explain how LMAX aims to be the fastest retail exchange in the world, and therefore low latency is a tiny bit important to us.

More videos from Java One 2011

It must be time for me to move on from talking about Java One, it has dominated my blog of late.  But also I want to talk about JAX London from this week.But before I move on, it’s probably worth rounding off with the last two resources from the conference.1) Martin Thompson and I are interviewed about the Disruptor winning the Duke Award (we come in halfway through):2) I’m interviewed

On The Similarities Between Girls And Aliens

I discovered, through the power of the search words that lead to my blog, that there was an incident at JavaOne that once again opens the can of worms that is Sexism In IT.This Makes Me Sad.  I had a really positive experience at JavaOne.  In fact, I would say it was the one conference I’ve been to in the last 12 months where I felt like my gender wasn’t a problem - I even got away with wearing hotpants (tweed is business-casual, right??) without being mistaken for anything other than a developer.I know incidents like this cause a lot of tension, and I want to explore why.

In answer to one of the search terms which led to my blog...

…”what do female programmers look like”:Well, sometimes…If there are any girl programmers out there who are interested in being part of a montage showing who we are, I’d be dead (see what I did there…?) interested in putting us all on one page.  And not just because I’m narcissistic. Although that helps.

On Changing The Image Of Programmers

Gah!! This is exactly what I was talking about - it’s pink, it mentions shoes, and it’s about as patronising as you can get.Would the chart be different if your possible outcomes were Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Linus Torvalds?  I bet for a start it wouldn’t mention Jimmy Choos or choice of handbags.  And it probably wouldn’t be in baby blue either.Which leads me nicely onto the next subject I have strong opinions on: Role models.

On How Not To Target Girl Geeks

(First, let me say this post contains opinion, stereotyping and sweeping generalisations.  But that’s sort of the point.  Also I don’t pretend for one moment to speak for all girl programmers, I can only speak for myself)When I first started this blog, I wanted to just post “proper” technical information.  I wanted to prove that there are girls out there doing “real” programming.I specifically didn’t want to talk about my gender.

Comments on representations of our industry

I have not (yet) seen the presentation this post is referring to.  But I think many of the comments Ted makes are very valid, and our industry as a whole should occasionally stop and think.  I’ve seen Ted speak at QCon, and I’ve had a lot of time for his comments ever since.I’m aware that this blog is rapidly filling with comments about gender and perceptions and people-y stuff, when I originally wanted it to be a purely technical blog.  But I guess this other stuff interests me more.

Sexism in IT?

Let’s celebrate our IT women"Everyone" knows that there are more men than women in IT.  That it’s a "boys" job.  Not a lot of people know that the first programmer was a woman.  Not a lot of people realise the number of women in IT is DECREASING.  And has been since the 80s.  In a working world where I honestly believe that in general there are more opportunities for women (OK, inline with the other stuff I’ve been reading I’ll caveat this with white, middle-class women), it seems shocking that such a growth industry as IT is actually losing women, and appears unable to determine why, or stop the flow.I get asked a lot, as a girl programmer, why there aren’t more women in IT.

Gender Stereotyping

I’m very interested in the subject of gender stereotyping, which probably isn’t surprising as I’m a girl in a predominantly male industry.  And I like cars, and sports, and get irritated if people assume I’m not "allowed" to be interested in these things.Far from being discriminated against, however, I find many people ask me why there aren’t more women in the industry and what can be done to encourage girls into IT.  If these questions were easy to answer, they wouldn’t have to be asked.But one of my personal theories is around how we raise our children.  Yes, it’s possible that girls are genetically, for some reason, averse to technical types of roles.