Why Write/Speak/Code isn’t another women-only tech conference … and why it wouldn’t matter anyway
Posted on November 8, 2014
I’ve seen a couple comments and posts recently about women’s tech conferences. Basically, all say they are bad or unnecessary. As the founder and co-organizer of a woman’s only event (and attendee of an all-woman’s college), I have a number of thoughts on this.
What other woman’s only tech conferences are there??
The ones I have seen mentioned in posts are actually not technical woman’s conferences — they are about blogging or more broadly tech businesses. Areas I like to call tech adjacent. I don’t say that to diminish the struggle or need for those conferences and communities, but instead to differentiate between the struggles of those woman and woman who work in technical roles.
But let’s say that it’s true that there are so many woman-only tech conferences. Is that a good/necessary thing?
For oppressed groups, having safe spaces to share our unique experiences and see others who do what we do and look like us are essential to keeping woman in the field.
Also, studies show that woman at all-woman’s colleges perform much better in fields they are not well represented in. I, personally, have no doubt at all that had I not started learning computer science at an all-woman’s college, Smith, I would never have become a developer. (Thank you Judy Franklin!)
Lastly, it is not-even-kind-of-a-little-bit the same as men having an all-male conference. It is not reverse sexism. That doesn’t exist.
For stereotypes to turn into oppression, the mechanisms that support it must have social, cultural, civic, and institutional support. We must live in a society where …
- girls and boys toys are defined differently
- where teachers unbeknownst to themselves call on boys more than girls
- where girls are consistently given less access to technology and permission to experiment, break things, and roam
- where “like a girl” is an insult
- where 1/5 of college woman are sexual assaulted, 2% of the men are prosecuted, and 1/3 of the opinions in a prominent magazine prioritize stopping false-accusations over woman’s safety and justice.
In order for sexism to exist, we must be a part of an industry that …
- thinks it’s OK to put pictures of a woman in her underwear on technical slides
- believes it doesn’t need sexual harassment policies, codes of conduct, and often health benefits and parental leave
- compares technical tools to whining, complaining girlfriends
- makes me choose between being “aggressive” (aka a bitch) or being ignored
Write/Speak/Code is only sort-of a conference. It’s more of a conference/workshop/retreat/summit
We call Write/Speak/Code a conference, because it’s fast and clear and people kind of get it. But it’s really much much more than that. Yes, we have talks and panels. But we also have interactive workshops and focus on creating next-step action plan.
Write/Speak/Code is specifically about addressing industry problems
The whole focus of Write/Speak/Code is to give woman developers the knowledge, skills, and path to becoming speakers, open source contributors and thought leaders. These are areas where the rate of woman’s participation is lower (waaay lower in the case of open source) than even the abysmal rate of woman in the professional industry. There have been many many articles on this topic.
While we can’t address the systemic, societal issues; we can address the issues that woman personally face in becoming tech leaders: impostor syndrome, owning their expertise, understanding the CFP process, etc.