Sexism in Tech conferences

Standard

Writing about sexism in tech conferences is hard. Especially as a young white male. I can only speak anecdotally – but most women in the Tech industry I speak to, talk a bit about moments of subtle sexism or sometimes out-and-out harassment. As a member of the tech community I’m completely behind any promotion of minorities in the industry, and feel that more can be done. It is interesting that most men I speak to in the industry don’t notice any problem.

Two articles spring to mind:

http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2014/11/its-not-about-that-damn-shirt.html

This was written about STEM but I feel the same rules apply to the Tech community (especially since I personally straddle both communities).

It’s “not a big deal” when someone tells you he came to your talk because you’re attractive.
It’s “not a big deal” when a coworker comments on your appearance.
It’s “not a big deal” when someone makes a “joke” at work demeaning women.
It’s “not a big deal” when you are asked in a job interview if you have or are planning to have kids.
It’s “not a big deal” that you were warned about what professor to avoid basically as soon as you got to school.
It’s “not a big deal” that that same professor was untouchable by the administration because he was too famous.
It’s “not a big deal” when someone assumes you are your own secretary on the phone.
It’s “not a big deal” when someone calls you “Miss” and your male colleague “Doctor.”
It’s “not a big deal” when going to parties at a conference comes with warnings of which of your fellow scientists are dangerous.
It’s “not a big deal” when your boss, adviser, or senior colleague asks you out.
All of this stuff IS a big deal. One of the things I hear about the tech industry – partly because of the passive agression that Hackers sometimes adopt is that as a community we need to grow up and become more professional AND inclusive. I agree wholeheartedly with this and applaud the conferences that encourage more female participation and more female speakers. Diversity is a good thing and I think it makes us smarter :).
The other link I saw was http://adainitiative.org/2012/08/defcon-why-conference-harassment-matters/ about Defcon a famous security conference. I found the following paragraph to be very powerful.
When you say, “Women shouldn’t go to DEFCON if they don’t like it,” you are saying that women shouldn’t have all of the opportunities that come with attending DEFCON: jobs, education, networking, book contracts, speaking opportunities – or else should be willing to undergo sexual harassment and assault to get access to them. Is that really what you believe?
I am glad things are getting better but there are still a number of actions that we can all take. I think this is a subproblem of the larger problem that Pete Warden commented about. I consider his article to be self-recommending http://petewarden.com/2014/10/05/why-nerd-culture-must-die/
Comments are welcome. The articles I linked to, contain some excellent resources on how to enforce or come up with policies in regards harassment – which is a legal issue. Lots of us like to avoid legal issues like this – but an advantage of policies and ‘processes’ is that they are transparent and fair. Some of us consider these things to be too formal – but as I get older I see that some of these ‘formalities’ that we have in corporations and other organizations are useful and save a lot of hassle.
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