Why She’s Geeky is important: Notes for a talk

I’ll be at She’s Geeky all day today and tomorrow, and I’m getting notes ready for an opening talk that will reflect the views of the women working on the conference, notably Kaliya Hamin, Mary Hodder, Julia French, Laurie Rae, Mary Trigani and Melanie Swan. We met yesterday to do some planning, and sets of themes emerged that are well worth capturing.
First of all, we are in a shifting environment. There is no question that more women are working in technology and that there is a shifting gender balance. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean tech communities are gender-balanced–basically, they are not. Going from one woman in the room to three out of twenty doesn’t constitute a quorum (What would be a quorum, you ask? In my opinion, seven out of twenty is where we want to end up in the near future. Fifty-fifty down the road and that means greater change in our education system, right?)
At the same time that the balance is shifting, women are still feeling, in many cases, like they are entering into, having to adjust to, and sometimes just being tolerated by, a community that has been used to being all male (again, these are broad strokes, clearly not true in every case.)
This means that many women feel like they have to cope by developing and or accepting a role that doesn’t match their authentic, at work, self. For women I’ve talked with, this can mean

  • Being part of the team as the ‘Mom’ who takes care of everyone and resenting it but staying in the role
  • Striving to be seen as accomplished and attractive
  • Feeling stigmatized for being accomplished and not caring about being attractive in a traditional sense
  • Not being seen as a leader in a room of men
  • Being seen as a leader by everyone but feeling defeminized
  • Wishing you were not the only women in the room every time

And so on (there are dozens of examples and instances here, add your own if you wish in the comments.)
It also means that people in the tech community, men and women, are able to get away with comments like the following, which sting the women that receive them (who usually just bitch about it later but who are looking for ways to educate so these comments go away):

  • “Wow, you’re so smart for a woman, I mean, you know the really hard back-end stuff.”
  • “You’re not just a PR girl (aka ‘tight sweater’), you really know your stuff.
  • “You’d better put your name on that, cause you’re too attractive for anyone to think that you actually did the work.”
  • “The only other woman in the Valley who is as smart AND attractive is you is X.”
  • “How does your husband feel about your success? Are you married?”

It also means that women working in tech, who fill roles in so many disciplines, doing exactly the same work men do (as I had to remind a reporter who asked whether the women did the *fluffier* jobs, like the lifestyle editors do at his newspaper), haven’t had the chance to come together across disciplines and affirm what they share.
Blogher and other groups do an amazing job of building community and networks, but we haven’t seen anything that focuses on bringing together and creating community for women in tech who self-identify as geeky–as everyone at the conference does–which is why Shes’s Geeky was born.
What’s needed–and what we hope this first Shes Geeky conference will provide–is a chance to women to come together to talk and meet, to share and discuss issues and from that, if they wish, create an ongoing frame work of power and support that will both make everyone’s lives a little easier and provide an environment for talk, action and community going forward. In other words, we want to celebrate and support what we share, discuss what we hope to change, and explore where we can go–all in a day and a half of pre-planned talks, unconference sessions and unbounded and welcoming community.
Hats off to Kaliya, Mary and everyone involved for making this conference happen, and greetings and salutations to everyone who’s attending and speaking today and tomorrow–
Welcome to a safe place to share and perhaps, to grow.