As someone who would be in attendance at a tech conference I will tell you: I do not care at all what the gender is of the presenter.
It has ZERO impact on my judgement of the content, discussion or presentation. I do not believe that a person's gender provides any meaningful impact to a presentation unless the topic is specifically about that person's gender.
To think otherwise is sexist and discriminatory.
Now if the best participants for panels are female and are being actively excluded because of their gender, this is a problem. But simply refusing to go to "all male panels" is a useless call to action and will not solve anything. Neither will forcing a gender count.
Find specific instances of qualified and capable women being overlooked by organizers in favor of less qualified men simply because of gender stereotyping and then publicize the crap out those incidents. Boycott those specific conferences.
> As someone who would be in attendance at a tech conference I will tell you: I do not care at all what the gender is of the presenter. It has ZERO impact on my judgement of the content, discussion or presentation.
It's awesome that you're so noble, but there are other viewpoints. I presented at Microsoft TechEd 2012 in both North America (Orlando) and Europe (Amsterdam), and because I'm a fairly well-rated speaker, I watched the ratings board like a hawk. I was pretty disappointed in some of the feedback comments for the attractive female speakers in Amsterdam. They said things like, "I could watch her talk about anything" and "She needs to talk less so I can just look at her."
I didn't see a similar set of feedback in the US, but I can't say the US folks are above/below that. Just wanted to mention that it's great that you're so noble, but...not everybody is.
> As someone who would be in attendance at a tech conference I will tell you: I do not care at all what the gender is of the presenter.
Aaaaand that's the problem.
When half of the population isn't participating in one of the most important fields for the advancement of our prosperity, and the other half doesn't give a fuck, nothing gets better.
All the time we hear that it's tough to find skilled engineers. Guess what? We can double those numbers – as soon as this perma-adolscent male monoculture gives way to a healthy balance of both men and women.
But it's going to take your learning how to care about inclusion. Yes, you. And everyone else.
No, it really isn't the problem at all - you are clearly misunderstanding me.
It is no one's job to encourage any gender specifically to join any specific discipline.
Women offer nothing over men when it comes to engineering discipines, and men offer nothing over women - they are EQUAL. Therefore focussing on gender as an attribute is pointless.
Any policy or approach that trys to encourage women specifically to join our disciline is unethical and sexist by it's very definition. This is what I'm talking about in relation to the article. The proposed solution is wrong and pointless to pursue - should we add a woman to every tech panel even if she has no business being on that panel intellectually? Adding a "woman's voice" would add nothing, solve nothing and merely perpetuate pointless gender wars.
I don't understand this and I think I ultimately disagree with you deeply. Women clearly are not that interested in computing per se. There are other fields that "advance our prosperity" where the situation is the other way around. That it would somehow make the world a better place if we force an artificial ratio of genders in all fields, is incorrect.
Look, I don't think I personally have any 'attitude' here. Girls like to be doctors or biologists, rather than staring at the screen for 8 hours a day. Perhaps boys have higher frequency of introvert temperament traits. I don't know.
Actually 99+% of the population isn't participating in any given field. So what? That's called specialization. If women are better at something than men - let them focus in that field -- no need to forcefully mixing genders.
From now on, every time I see a panel discussion with exactly one female participant, I'm going to think, "Oh, she's just a token who got included because one of the male participants put their foot down."
I don't think that's really true - but doggone this post for putting that idea into my head.
I hope any women who read this article and someday find themselves as the only female on a panel don't question themselves now too, wondering if they only got accepted In order to be a token to get one of the other male speakers to join.
The problem isn't really with panels. In mechanical engineering, only 10-15% of students are female. Assuming an equal distribution of students go on to become notable enough for panels, a panel with any more than 15% of members being female would be unrepresentative. My understanding is that 20 years ago that proportion was even lower. If a representative panel is made up of notable people who graduated 20 years ago, even fewer of them will be women.
I don't know what the statistics for computer science or programming are, but I'd imagine that they're not vastly different.
I think limited female representation is a big issue in a lot of fields (including technology), but in technology the real issue is that women aren't coming in at the bottom.
Let's say for just a second that you've got a 4-person panel, and you've picked the 4 best panelists regardless of gender. They all end up being male (just by coincidence).
If you want to make the panel more inclusive, you don't yank someone out - you make the panel bigger. Add more diversity and the session can get better. (Granted, this only works up to a certain number of panelists - I've been on a 20-person panel, which was a joke.)
Because technology isn't just about the software and hardware. Solutions involve three things: people, process, and technology. People from different genders, nationalities, cultures, backgrounds, you name it - they all have different inputs on the people angle of it, and that's why diversity helps panel discussions.
The whole point of panel discussions is to get multiple viewpoints on issues of opinion. If you want purely subjective technical answers, that's what single-presenter-sessions are for. Panels are for the merger of people, process, and technology, and for that, diversity rocks.
Yes. They have different life experiences, different use cases, even different cosmetic issues (for some women/most men). Technology is about helping us to live. I also think racial and national origin diversity is useful for the same reasons
If temporarily increasing the concentration of women panelists contributes towards permanently reducing discrimination, then it's a net gain for humanity, even if it's a net loss for panels in the short term.
I figured we were taking it as a given, since no one refuted it when it was implied in gte910h's post. I'll try to support the idea anyway.
There was a study performed on young students, concerning their perception of STEM fields. Most respondents indicated that "techie" people are all white males in lab coats, and that the respondent wouldn't fit in well with that group. (Sorry, I don't have a link to the study. But I know I saw it in the last 8-12 months)
If more women are publicly visible in tech fields, then young people's perception of techie people will swing away from "homogenous white male group" towards a heterogeneous group that is necessarily less discriminatory. This should cause a corresponding increase in enrollment by non-white non-males who would otherwise have been dissuaded from joining.
From my small amount of experience, I saw even less percentage of females in computer science. By the time I got to the upper level courses in Comp Sci at UMD, I usually had 1 female classmate. Sometimes 2, sometimes none. In my 3 years of working since graduation, I can count the number of female developers I've worked with on one hand. If I restrict the sample to American-born women, that number goes to 0. I'd be interested to see some breakdowns of technology gender ratios in various countries. If some of them have a better ratio, maybe we can start to understand why.
This is a really unfortunate problem statement and solution.
I don't think a declaration that the existence of all-male panels is in an of itself a bad thing that needs to be wiped out (as opposed to a symptom of systemic sexism/pervasive sexist attitudes). Immediately jumping to a belligerent, absolutist position on the matter that won't be well received by anyone except people looking for good-person credits by taking a stand isn't helping either.
The underlying idea of Affirmative Action is sound: instead of just taking people at their word when they say they aren't bigoted (they probably aren't, inertia is sufficient), expect them to show some sign of it: Not just passively waiting for someone who isn't a white dude to wander into their social circle, but have an actual process.
For example, you look outside your Rolodex of usual invitees for some qualified new blood. If you don't find any, have your white dudes conference. It's the existence of a credible process for an outsider to get in that establishes your good faith: not some magic ratio or token representation, and not empty promises that you're totally not one of those bad sexist/racist/whatever people.
The bad news is that before anyone gets anywhere along that path, the usual brigade of people looking for any excuse to exert coercive authority over other people jumps in and starts perverting it into the usual garbage of "Not quotas, by which we mean quotas", leading to "oh you only invited $group to fill the quota" or just even "Fund our group for an indulgence". Ugh.
I like your idea about looking outside your rolodex. It would be nice if there was an org that compiled a list of minorities in technology, who could be contacted for events like this and give suggestions for presenters.
How is this any different from "binders full of women"? A rolodex of people available to be tokens is just as bad as a rolodex of all white men.
The lack of women on panels is a symptom. You don't fix a problem by treating the symptoms, even if there's some circular feedback. In this particular case I think there's very little feedback. How many girls are discouraged from programming because they didn't see women on panels? Or for that matter, how many boys are encouraged to do programming because they didn't see women on panels?
Panels just don't matter that much. Fix the problem at a lower level - get teachers to encourage girls to go into STEM or programming, and get them to encourage the kids' parents to encourage them. Squash sexism in the classroom - "I don't want to be lab partners with _her_, she's a girl" should be right out, but so should "I don't want to be lab partners with _him_."
It's a matter of mindset, and one that can only be fixed in the young. Tech has, latent sexism (and possibly racism) aside, a highly meritocratic culture. Pledges like this will cause men and women alike to question whether a female speaker is there for her opinions or to fill a quota, whereas before, few as they might be, if women were there, there'd be no question that it for was their opinions and expertise. This doesn't remove the latent sexism, it hurts the meritocracy.
Because you're going to vet these people and determine if you want them on your panel?
It's very easy on the Internet to not know if someone is a black, a woman, gay, etc, especially if they don't advertise it (and many people don't). If people really have a problem with what's perceived as limited diversity, the best way to combat that would be to do something like this, rather than just moaning impotently every time an all-male or all-white panel is chosen.
Yes, you'll see lots of dismissive comments here, and this will not be a very productive discussion. I apologize in advance to those who might think this comment is dismissive as well. But I think that one of the reasons sexism is so hard to fix is that people get into a "you're with us, or you're against us" attitude very quickly with it. Finding fault with a proposed solution does not always mean that you refuse to acknowledge the problem. Sometimes it just means that the solution would not work and / or it would create additional problems.
The fact is, there is a wide variety of possible situations here, differing from field to subfield. The role that representation quotas can play is probably different in these situations:
1. A field in which there are lots of competent female practitioners, but prevailing sexism makes it impossible for them to stand out and reach the summits of recognition.
2. A field that most women would generally like to work in, but they are often turned away by prevailing sexism.
3. A field that most women are generally averse to, and would avoid even if there was no sexism whatsoever in it. (Think long-distance truck drivers.)
4. A field that is so sexist that women are only allowed into it based on good looks rather than competence. (Representation quotas are arguably counter-productive here.)
I find it amusing that a woman who chose not to go into technology says the the root cause of women not being well represented in technology is something other than "women choose not to go into technology".
This is my main complaint about all these editorials about the gender ratios at tech conferences. Well, I'm sure if you go to a trucker/blacksmith/hairdresser meetup the ratio is just as skewed, in one direction or the other.
There's no escaping the fact that certain professions tend to attract more people of one sex than the other. Forcing the selection criteria to enforce an equal ratio instead of aiming for excellence will only hurt the content and those paying to access it.
(And NO, I'm NOT saying the aren't awesome women in tech. I'm just saying that gender/ethnicity should never take precedence over merit.)
Having worked in security & federation for years I can say, there just aren't any women in the field. There was one woman I meet during a conference who was into federation but she went by some weird name like Mrs. Federation or Authentication, something like that, I can't remember.
What I just glanced over is ridiculous, even though Rebecca J. Rosen is worried about it I can 100% say that I'm not. When I'm actually spending my time listening to someone talk, I'm more interested in what that person is saying, not what sex they happen to be.
It's unfortunate but most women at technical gatherings seem to be more marketing types, and if you're technical you know, there's nobody you'd rather NOT listen to more than some marketing person babble.
Every time this issue comes up everyone talks around in circles, statistics are thrown around, disputed, refuted, it's all discussed at length, and then everyone gets frustrated and gives up until the next article gets posted. You know what's going to fix this? Complete transparency and a nearly omniscient source of available speaker data.
So we create some kind of online universal tech speaker rolodex. Sortable, filterable, searchable, anyone and everyone that's brave enough to get in front of more than a dozen people are on there along with a list of subjects they're comfortable speaking about. Steal the subject tags right off StackOverflow, I don't know.
Then it's got a list of tech events. Every event in the world, if it's public and related to technology. It's got a full list of subjects the event covers and who's speaking on it, and more importantly who they invited. Maybe 50% of the speakers they invited were unavailable; couldn't afford the flight, scheduling conflict, don't speak the native language, whatever.
Actually, maybe the site wouldn't even need to list who was invited. After all, the site would have a comprehensive listing of subject matter experts, right? So Super Big Tech Conference San Francisco 2013 gets announced and currently has 10 out of 10 male speakers on Subject A, we do a search and find out those are indeed the only available speakers. Or there is a female speaker on the subject available and she writes to the conference organizer and offers to speak, or posts a blog post about her disappointment at not being invited to speak, at which point people are (potentially) justifiably upset.
You know what, I'd sign up on that site in a heartbeat. Not as a speaker, of course, but I'd love to see a comprehensive list of subject matter experts whose blogs and articles I can follow, find out when I might be able to catch them speaking, or even find out when any event at all related to a subject I'm interested in might happen near me. That sounds too obvious not to exist already, maybe I'm just missing something there, maybe it'd just be ridiculously hard to monetize, or maybe one of you has the skills and dedication to make it happen.
What's your point? Are you saying the crime here is not posting a profile because they were waiting on a photo (which is now posted)?
The author of the post is asking panelists to protest all male panels but this is not one, so I'm not sure what she's asking. To protest less than X women or less than X% women? What line are we asking not to be crossed?
As a female computer scientist, I would be very sad if a speaker I was very much looking forward to hearing at a conference opted out because there happened to be no women on the panel. This seems to be an inappropriate level at which to demand action or try to intervene. How about a pledge instead to mentor some young women so that they go into the field and then go on to become part of the panel?
Here is an interesting thought for the discussion: in fact, the more highly skilled women I see in tech, the less I feel I should be in this field unless I am as good as them, which I simply am not. If there were more average chicks doing average tech things, I would feel much better - but as it is, I feel like I need to be some sort of super women who speaks on a panel in order to fit in.
The Python Software Foundation seems to be doing a good job of including more female speakers and panelists. However, there's already a nice baseline of 20-30% female users. Assuming you could force everyone to hew to this rule, how would it work in fields where there were very, very few female participants?
Let me first say that I may not have the proper PC sensibilities as I am not a US citizen; apologies if I cross a line.
As I understand the issue of "women in tech", I believe people are usually referring to two separate issues;
- Lack of acknowledgement, representation of and hostility towards women within the tech community, in the professional context especially, context which extends to conferences and other gatherings.
- Lack of women actually choosing or sticking to a tech career path, which is attributed at least partially to the previous point.
Affirmative action has been around for long enough to have created a decent amount of literature on all sides of the fence. I doubt that there's a final conclusion to that chapter.
I'd be curious to know what the public opinion is nowadays on that issue, specifically in the US. Personally I would favor positive initiatives focusing on easing the process of women going into tech, rather than trying to force some sort of (subjective) balance upon a community that more often that not behave organically (thus likely to not be very receptive to this kind of action). Things like http://techwomen.co/ or http://www.girlswhocode.com/.
I think the ratio of female speakers at a conference should be equal to the ratio of women in the industry. Otherwise, you're dumbing down your speaking qualifications just to allow women speakers. That doesn't help anyone. If 1% of people in the tech industry are women, then 1% of the speakers at any conference should be female. No more, no less. Doing it any other way would be unfair.
At Pycon next year I will skip all the women speakers because I know they got that speaking spot because the Python Foundation is on a crusade to get as many women speakers as possible, not because their proposal was great or interesting. It won't just be me though. Whats going to happen is that these women will be treated differently than the men, not because of their gender, but because their talk just wasn't interesting. I go to those conferences to hear interesting talks, I don't care about gender. But the end result s that people like me in the community end up looking sexist and overall makes the problem worse.
But why wouldn't you just read the talk description and title to decide whether or not to go? This reaction: "I won't go because I think that some women were specifically recruited!" doesn't make any sense.
Why am I not surprised to see the usual litany of sexist, condescending, dismissive and outright offensive HN comments on what is unquestionably a serious problem of gender imbalance in the tech industry?
What comment do you find offensive here? The most dismissive comments I see seem to be arguing that sex should not be a factor in selecting panelists. Maybe that's a debatable stance, but I think it's a little extreme to declare it offensive...
Because it greatly simplifies the issue. It's basically saying "there would be more women in tech if they wanted to". And it completely ignores the issues of "Why don't they want to be part of these communities?" And if that question is asked, the answers usually circle around "Women shouldn't be offended by sexism." I can see how those two combined attitudes could offend people.
It's not about fixating on a 50/50 ratio. It's about changing the climate and attitudes so it's a more welcoming environment, so they do want to be part of the communities. If more women go into tech, that doesn't automatically mean less men. My personal belief is that it would increase the amount of capable people in the respective communities.
What I find most surprising though, is the vehemence with which these attitudes are defended.
This line of reasoning seems to assume that it's sexism that drives women away from tech. But most people chose to go into a technical field when they're still in high school -- long before they would have encountered the sort of workplace/conference/community sexism people gripe about. Colleges have historically had a lot of trouble attracting girls to their technical/engineering programs, despite often bending over backwards to try to improve their ratios.
Isn't it possible that there are other factors which cause such a large gender disparity between choices that teenagers are making...?
Sure, there are lots of factors. But "It is what it is, and we shall not touch the natural order of things" is not a productive part of the discussion, at least to me.
Don't you think an IT community more friendly towards the female part of the population would be beneficial and could interest more young females than the status quo? Consider in todays age it is easy to lurk a community over the internet.
So, would you think being a teenage female trying to learn language $X and finding lots of sexism is an encouraging experience and would not be a factor in driving them away?
I want to ask a question that may sound like trolling but isn't.
Why is gender imbalance a problem?
Do you have in mind: 1) Women have a distinct perspective that the tech industry would benefit from having more of. 2) Tech jobs are nice and women should get to have them too. 3) Gender imbalance proves discrimination is happening, knowingly or not. 4) Something else.
It is evident to me that you can't optimize for two selection criteria at the same time. Eg, selecting the fastest vehicle is unlikely to also get you the most fuel efficient one. Hence, selecting women (or men) specifically is unlikely to optimize for speaking ability, technical knowledge, etc.
Do you believe that equally-qualified women are being discriminated against now, or do you accept that tradeoff in pursuit of correcting something else?
This post is actually better than most. Granted its only been an hour.
Its fair to point out that going out of your way to get a female speaker simply because she is female is not the way to go about things. I don't think this is what the article is proposing so much as making a valiant effort to have a more diverse panel.
Frankly, to all out boycott all male panels seems counter productive and a bit extreme. Some conferences have an open call for presenters, and sometimes women just don't apply. At what point is that the fault of the organizer? I can see invitations posing an issue, but not all conferences operate that way.
Gender imbalance is an issue, but forcing panels to be unrepresentative of the fields they're discussing is hardly going to fix it. The fundamental issue is that notable people in technology are almost entirely male. We need to encourage girls to come into technology fields at the bottom. Perhaps ensuring public panels contain notable female role models would be a way of doing that, but if the panels purpose is for very specific technical discussion arbitrarily increasing female participation to levels significantly above what is representative of the field being discussed isn't really going to help anything.
Certainly in very public non-technical discussion, female representation on panels is important. However, very technical panel discussions are so industry specific that girls are not going to be looking at them for role models. In highly technical panel discussion, membership should be selected on merit not gender.
You're raising a strawman argument. Advocates like the OP aren't arguing that a person's gender affects their merit as a conference speaker. They are arguing that organizers, like any other social group of people, tend to groupthink...not out of malice necessarily, but in such a way that women (or whatever excluded group) are not reached out to enough.
In a conference with two, three, five speakers...sure, no big deal if it's all one gender. Ten, 15, 20? Something would seem amiss.
If you are saying that this statistic proves bias, then you don't know enough about statistics.
If you are saying we should introduce bias towards women, then you don't know enough about programmers (man or woman). Would you really want to be the lone woman on a panel, who was picked not because she is the best speaker, but because she needed to be the token presence? Do you think you're going to get the best female programmers to do that? How do you think people are going to respond to that?
If you think that the panel already is biased, then that may be the case but in order to prove that you'll have to point out people who were not asked to talk that should have been, that are more prominent in the community than those already speaking.
You actually have to have statistics and data to back up your argument, and not just emotion. I'd love to see a 50/50 panel at a convention, but it's not likely to happen - I'm impressed when I see one woman presenting at a convention. Like it or not, programming is still a sausage fest.
> If you are saying we should introduce bias towards women, then you don't know enough about programmers (man or woman). Would you really want to be the lone woman on a panel, who was picked not because she is the best speaker, but because she needed to be the token presence? Do you think you're going to get the best female programmers to do that? How do you think people are going to respond to that?
Who said anything about advocating for tokenism? I'm saying that that is the strawman argument here because the OP is (ostensibly) not arguing for the selection of a woman just to balance the panel, but arguing that a panel of N number of human beings is unlikely to be all-male unless the panel-organizers had overlooked female prospects.
To further my point: what is "the best speaker"? I mean, how do you rank that? Are the best qualified speakers the ones who are the best programmers? The ones who are the most accomplished? The ones who are the most engaging speakers (regardless of actual topic)? The ones who make the most money? The ones who work for the most interesting startups who have used web tech in the most interesting ways? The ones who have the best perspectives (and how would you rank that)? Unless you have a very limited view of who would make a good panelist, it's hard to imagine a web tech field in which no woman excelled in any of those above metrics.
If having a woman in the panel is likely to outweigh not having one, which has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, then I'd say have one. However, the author of the article considers having females on a panel to be an intrinsic good and a moral imperative.
That said, within the sphere of technology, gender does not matter, in the same way that race does not matter. A human mind is a human mind.
I think actively pointing this out to women or men who bring up gender issues is more likely to be useful than trying to worry about and indirectly correct for other people's irrationality (i.e. dispelling rumors of sexism or worries about male domination).
Regarding male domination: Some workplaces are going to be biased against <X>, although hopefully increasingly few over time, and sometimes, <X> are going to have to change workplaces. <X> could be women, but it could also be all kinds of other things, including traits that I (as a while male) have. For example, I think being a political minority and being introverted, both of which traits I have, can easily cause as much workplace bias/difficulty as being a woman. But it depends on highly on the specific workplace you find yourself in.
When I hire people, I am looking for the best overall improvement in the existing group. I do not hire for the benefit of the person being hired; I hire for the benefit of "the company" which really just means for the benefit of everyone already hired; hire whoever, once added to the group, will cause the most improvement in the group.
To give a specific example, I have seen a group of men in their twenties significantly improved by the addition of a woman in her thirties. Put simply, they grew up a bit and started acting more like professional adults; the output of the group was improved more by the addition of the woman in her thirties, I believe, than it would have been had I added an individually more talented male very similar to the existing members of the group.
Maybe what I'm saying here is that the hiring criteria included "what effect will this person have on the group" and, if one accepts that race/gender/religion has an effect on the group, then it seems sensible to consider those things when hiring.
I believe the problems are in _excluding_ people on grounds of race/religion/gender and not in simply allowing those factors to be part of the selection process.
I actually agree with you, and the scenario you described is interesting and makes for a good example.
Of course, that is different than what the linked article is demanding, which is having more women on panels just because, as if it is an intrinsic good, and without considering whether and how much it would affect the quality of the conference.
I'm not sure any top down approach that's done out in the open like this will ever really work. At best you'll end up with the situation that now exists in college admissions where it's just assumed all minority applicants got in on preference and the white/asian applicants got in on merit (excluding legacies). While these programs do achieve the goal of "diversity" over the long term they just further stigmatize minority participants in other ways.
To me at least, the only approach that will work will be long-term and bottom up. We're just going to have be more aggressive about getting women in tech in high school and let them slowly build their numbers until there's enough of a critical mass to open the flood gates.