How to attract more women to tech conferences | Opensource.com

How to attract more women to tech conferences

Posted 20 Nov 2013 by 

Ginny Skalski (Red Hat)
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Have a code of conduct at your tech conference
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One of the best emails to get before a conference you're psyched to attend is the one that outlines all the final details. It links to the final speakers' schedule, reminds you of important things like where to park and when to check-in, and of course, that email tells you about the fun parties. That email revs you up and organizes you for the conference to come.

So when I opened up the "final details" email for the recent All Things Open conference in Raleigh, I was expecting to see an outline of the typical who, what, when, where info. I wasn’t expecting the first item to be a reminder of the conference's anti/no harassment policy. But there it was—the first item on the list:

1. We want everyone to have a great time and we greatly value your attendance, however, be aware that we expect EVERYONE to abide by our anti/no harassment policy. In short, harassment of any type will not be tolerated for one second, and we will remove anyone guilty of it from the conference IMMEDIATELY and without a refund. Read the complete policy, as well as other terms, here - http://allthingsopen.org/terms.html.

Wow. As a woman who is certainly not down with harassment of any kind, my initial reaction was that of shock and gratitude.

Shock: Because I’ve never been to a tech conference that put an anti-harassment policy front and center like that. In fact, I'm not sure the other tech-related conferences I've attended even had such policies.

Gratitude: Because I love the idea of going the extra mile to ensure women and minorities feel comfortable at a male-dominated tech event.

The email also made me wonder if an anti-harrassment policy was even necessary. Turns out it is. Just look at this timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities, which includes incidents of inappropriate behavior at conferences. Even Tim O’Reilly has blogged about the problem, saying: “We’re voicing our strong, unequivocal support of appropriate behavior by all participants at technical events, including Oscon and other O’Reilly conferences.”

Anti-harassment policies at tech events can also have an awesome side effect. Conferences that take the extra step of encouraging a harassment-free environment can attract more women. That's what PyCon and DrupalCon organizers observed. Python Software Foundation Director Jessica McKellar joined Drupal core co-maintainer Angela Byron at the All Things Open conference to speak about "Women in Open Source," noting that anti-harassment policies combined with proactive outreach can bring more out more female participants.

Bringing more women to PyCon

McKellar explained that PyCon instituted its code of conduct to signal to attendees that inappropriate behavior would not be tolerated. As part of the code of conduct, McKellar said PyCon organizers also put together a financial aid program to make it easier to attract people, including women, who might not otherwise be able to attend.

PyCon also developed a pipeline of female speakers after a Python women group worked to help potential speakers prepare session proposals and offered advice on how to pitch their topics, McKellar said. As a result of these inclusive efforts, McKellar said a record 20 percent of the PyCon speakers and attendees were women this year.

Attracting women to DrupalCon

When Bryon attended the first DrupalCon in 2005, she was the only woman out of the 25 attendees. Two years later, women who attended DrupalCon sat down for the inaugural DrupalChix (now Women in Drupal) meeting. Together they created a public forum open to women and men, to create a safe space for women in Drupal to discuss gender issues, women in open source, and diversity in tech. By 2010, 20 percent of DrupalCon attendees were women, Byron said. These days, about 25 to 30 percent of speakers and attendees are women.

Ways to make tech conferences more diverse

So how can you attract more diverse speakers to your tech conference? Byron offered these tips:

  1. Only attend conferences that offer a code of conduct. Byron says this sends a message that you want conferences to be inclusive.

  2. Suggest and support diverse speakers. If you know a woman who would make a fantastic speaker, encourage her to send in a proposal or put her on the radar of the conference organizers. Companies should also proactively encourage and support their female employees to sign up to speak at events, Byron said.

  3. Speak up if a conference can do better. If you’re attending an event that needs more diversity, say so. Byron encourages attendees to share their feelings with event organizers. Companies can also sponsor diverse speakers, offering financial aid to make it easier for employees who need support to attend, she said.

If increasing diversity in open source is important to you, then take up McKellar on her call to action: Make one personal investment and one company investment in open source diversity this year.

Are you up for the challenge?

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24 Comments

Adrian Bridgwater

This is a bit much isn't it? I go to tech conferences every month and am usually too busy working to think about harassment. Who's doing all this harassing?

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Ginny Skalski
Open Source Champion

Adrian: Such policies aren't designed for people that don't need need to be reminded. Rather, they exist to signal to people who need support that the conference has a policy and if you violate it, there will be consquences. While you personally may not have observed harassment at a conference (awesome), it unfortunately does happen. Scroll this this timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities for a few specific examples: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline_of_incidents

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Under carpet

Scroll this this timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities for a few specific examples: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline_of_incidents

1973 Lena Söderberg's photograph is first used in image processing experiments.

Thanks for the link. It didn't occur to me that using an image with a female face was sexist. I'll try to replace the female images on our website with male ones ASAP. I should have known better =(

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Stop trolling

Please bother to click on the link "Lena Söderberg's photograph" before whining about not being able to use "an image with a female face". It was a picture straight from playboy magazine and thus showing a sexualized pose. And yes, all those sexualized pictures of women do have a negative effect.

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ricegf

Nicely said. You might also remind all conference attendees that, if they ever feel threatened or harassed, to report it to the conference organizers per the policy rather than acting independently. This ensures that the rights and privacy of everyone involved is respected, and also honors the hard work of those who establish and enforce these policies to ensure a great experience for everyone!

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Sum Yung Gai

Again, we see this bit about how "we need more women" in tech, and it's nearly entirely by White female feminists supporting other fellow White females. But I don't see these same White feminists making the same noise about the dearth of, say, Black *anybody* in tech, and certainly not Black men and boys (see White feminist response to Barack Obama's historic 2008 win for more of this same mindset). When I see them changing their attitudes on people who look like my nephews and nieces, then maybe I'll take them more seriously, but until then, they are inconsistent and certainly not worthy of my support.

--SYG

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Tuxuser

You're right that striving for greater diversity across the whole spectrum of humanity is the right approach, but criticizing people for not being activist for whatever specific thing you think is important is bogus. Are you claiming that what works to attract women is the same as for black men and boys? I rather doubt it. How about you launch your own advocacy, and build bridges to other groups? That's a more effective tactic than whining how people who are trying to make things better are doing it wrong.

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Ana Stewart

@Tuxuser: Its very funny to see you saying that - ' "Sum Yung Gai" is whining.'
The reality is that all this feminazism is all about just whining and never ever owning the shit that we women always tried to be in comfortable zone and we have practically nothing much to show up to this modern world. And rather than blaming men, we should accept that all the time we were cozy comfortable in homes, while males were dying in millions in wars for the state.
And now for our inanefecy of actual doing something worthy till now in open source - we are whining that we are not accepted in the community. O'come on. Opensource is not about conferences and displaying our dresses and what not. Its about dreaming of making something in exchange of nothing, but for the love of code and giving away for free. In entire 1980s to 2013 of open source , we have nothing to show off , as launching of our own.
This entire geek feminism is again bunch of whiners. Why not build your own open source kernel(not asking redhat,google to fund for your opensource activity), your own GNOME, your own compiler, anything , any one single significant open source thing, compleltly made by us the women.
Just anonymous males out of their day jobs made something significant, later some lady will arrive and say with entitlement that - how dare am I not here? Give me some special treatment and reservations and special policies, so that I can trump this successful project.
Tomorrow muslims will say that give me special treatment, I am not represented here. Then jews , blacks will come . By the same logic - "How dare this redhat/linux mailing is not having people from baluchistan(province in pakistan). This is discrimination against them.". Feminism and geek feminism is just a bunch of whiners, doing nothing themselves. Just wanting entitlement.
I am really happy to be free of the feminism fraud mindset of whining and entitlement.

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Under carpet

Thanks for this comment. I often want to say the same, but never do, since.... well, it's just the thing that gentleman should never say.

Not everything is lost for women though.
Hidden under all those noisy feminazi and non-coding "women in tech", there are REAL girls and women who program.

I see several types of programming women:
1) Hardcore programmers who just love programming and do that since 12 y.o.
2) Enterprise programmers.
3) Women who are just learning to program, but are programers nevertheless.

Why don't you hear them much? Easy. Like all real programmers, they're busy programming. They don't talk a lot.

There are different "professions":
* Programmers (gender doesn't matter)
* Journalists/bloggers
* Social justice fighters

And these professions don't overlap much. You're either programmer (female) or you're a "woman in tech" who doesn't write code and mainly writes about genders.

It's easy to tell who the person is. Just look at the blog, twitter stream or friends, etc. If there is code, then the person is most likely programmer. If every second word is "woman", "gender", "feminism", then this person is not likely to be a programmer - it's a social justice fighter.

A good read about women is a "THE LITTLE WOMAN" essay form Ida Alexa Ross Wylie who actively participated in the women's suffrage movement in UK. You have to read it to the end. It starts by showing how and why the women got where they are now (1945) and why this has to change (why women need to get out of their comfort zone, no matter how harsh is the outside world).
You can read it here http://www.ravenousplankton.com/iarwylie.html (but remember to read it to the end).

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RichWa

I'm not too sure that I agree with number one: "Only attend conferences that offer a code of conduct." I believe that would be too limiting and not create the change that is needed: women being at technical conferences is critical. I think a better approach would be, when possible, to attend conferences in company of other supportive attendees and not put up with any sexist crap.

I think one of the problems is that most of men (and even some of the women) are not aware of the innate sexism they are putting forward. Confronting, in a non-threatening manner, the sexism at these conferences would go much further in limiting the sexism than simply not attending.

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Adrian Bridgwater
Community Member

Just testing my log in info

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Adrian Bridgwater
Community Member

OK so this is an interesting discussion.

1. it sounds to me like (even after reading the harassment wiki) that this is way overblown -- I go to tech conferences all the time and have never heard of such things

2. I met my wife at a database conference, did I harass her to get our first date?

3. that black culture comment -- why just black? what about Arab, Asian, Chinese etc.... in fact there is a very positive women in tech culture in India as far as I am aware from my time working in the Middle East and beyone

4. I was at a CA conference in London yesterday and the female CEO made a sexist joke about bringing one of the men on stage -- do the girls get to have it both ways and complain but also dish it out?

5. Ummm, that's it -- honestly people, why not just all love each other and not spread this kind of stuff

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Tuxuser

Adrian, your lack of awareness doesn't mean it's not a problem.

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Unidentified

Just like Adrian Richards was herself making peni_s jokes on her twitter, while make herself oveblown complain about two persons joking about github forking about each others repository.
Feminism is the worst thing happenned on this earth. It is the social evil, which needs to be eradicated. Bunch of girls whining about anything and everything to give them a star treatment everywhere. "Boys are stupid, throw rocks on them" is not sexist for them, but even if a girl sneezes,then it is due to fault of men. These girls have nothing better than to just creating hype around an imaginary so-called rape-culture. And i have subscribed opensource.com email newsletter , not to read such crap links in future. Please publish and send links which are connected to open source philosophy.
Tomorrow they will say that - why only 0.000001% of women's patches have been accepted in linux kernel , this is sexist.
Go and first make nursing profession gender balanced and die at war fronts in equal proportion, bring suicide ratio of males down to females suicide ratio and then being your silly whinings like this.

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Robynsveil
Open Enthusiast

Your little rant merely serves to reinforce the need for these policies, as evidenced by your incredibly entitled views.
I'm a nurse (male) in a predominately female environment... not sure what you mean by "make nursing profession gender balanced". Generally speaking, men get into nursing for whatever reason and then, find the pay scale too low (because of the gender inequality in pay: equal pay for equal work is not there at all, anywhere), so leave. Only the fewest stay on to continue doing the work for the right reasons: caring for patients (there's no price tag associated with caring).
Feminism has been one of the best things *ever* to happen for women, since it has brought awareness to most - except, obviously, people like yourself - of the issues women face in the workplace. Unfortunately, awareness and change don't necessarily go hand-in-hand, which is why I am still in one of the lowest paid professions in the world.

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ricegf

You're seriously arguing that men don't face discrimination in the nursing field because of their gender??

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Robynsveil
Open Enthusiast

Men suffer *pay* discrimination in the nursing field because we're in a predominately female-populated profession and women are paid less than men.
This disparity in pay is the same in the US and in Australia, where I now work.

I've been a nurse for 30 years in a number of disciplines, and never seen the sort of discrimination you're referring to. Not saying it doesn't exist, but I haven't seen it.

What I have seen a LOT of is this attitude as the prime result of male entitlement, the sort that blinds to the real issues, the sort I see reflected in your comments. I doubt you'll ever get it, though... that's a fact I've grown resigned to accepting as just the way it is, much like my female colleagues do.

That's just the way it is, mate.

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Tuxuser

You're seriously whining about nursing, when that's the only profession you can find that pays well and is female-dominated? LOL!

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Ana Stewart

@Robyn: I am female and as i have never been raped, nor even faced sexual discrimnation; hence i should assume that it never happens to any other female in the world, isn't it?
Your logic of that "as you do not have issues with nursing, hence no other men have faced any sexual discrimination in nursing " - very funny.
go read this: Former male nurse wins sex discrimination case
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2006/jun/10/equality.health

Even courts are agreeing in many such cases and passing such judgements

all these persons are probably blabbing in vague about nothing (discrimination against male nurses)
http://www.lifepaths360.com/index.php/discrimination-against-male-nurses...
http://www.lifepaths360.com/index.php/discrimination-against-male-nurses...
=============
And for many females who are fully against femninism ,
(1) you need to see karen straughan youtube channel probably https://twitter.com/girlwriteswhat
(2) also see Alison Tieman (female) chanel from https://www.youtube.com/user/Genderratic
etc
etc
there are far more numerous women, including me, who are themselves against this fraud called feminism a.k.a. feminazism

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk4nJr2NnRo

Disillusioned with Feminism
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qk3beajVbzg

We females should own the shit that forget about conferences, why not a single female developer among hundreds i have met in real life, has never contributed to any sourceforge/botbucket based project. Though there may be out there, do not redirect me to that geekfeminist's wikia overstating page. We are again concentrating on conferences, this, that,awards. Why there is not a single significant open source software in which women have launched on these free repositories. We always goto successfull projects, and then cry that we are not there in the project. Let us own our shit, that most women get involve in the project only when put from there employers(like redhat, intel etc) or ome conference slides or doing some doc of already popular project. How much discrimination we have t fight for setting up a repo on bitbucket and start something opensource as women and make it successful , totally zero. We just feel entitled to goto already successful projects - and cry around that give us some special treatment. Why there is not a single open source significant successful software , which is by a woman team sitting inside their own homes by their own wish, not being paid by their open source based employer. Let us own our shit.

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Robynsveil
Open Enthusiast

I'll provide a link:

http://rageagainstthemanchine.com/

That was my reality check. Men don't get it. Sifting carefully through your text - English isn't your first language, perhaps? - I don't think you see the problem women face as real.

I'm puzzled by this statement:
"We females should own the shit that forget about conferences"

Are you quite certain you are indeed female? You don't sound like any I talk to, and I work with them. It's in the tone.

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Under carpet

Your racism is showing.
Please, stop trying to silence or humiliate women who DO the tech. There are so few of them and yet, you are lashing against them.

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Alison Chaiken

The limits on my conference attendance are time, energy and travel budget. I favor behavioral policies but can't imagine using them as a criterion for conference selection. If someone is rude to me at a conference, I'm simply rude back. Since I'm 51, I'm used to being a curiosity, and have ways to put people at ease. Sample:

Man at reception: Nice shirt!
Me: Vim sucks. EMACS RULES!
Man: You emacs users are crazy. I would never switch from vim.
Me: I bet you like IDEs, too.
[We launch into technical debate.]

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Tuxuser

That's part of the solution, but not the whole solution. Women are punished from childhood for standing up for ourselves, and it's not realistic to expect us to have rhino hide as the price of admission. Conference policies and staff trained to deal with problems and complaints are essential pieces of a good support structure.

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Under carpet

Well, try to say that you program in Visual Basic on a *nix conference =)

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Ginny Skalski is a blogger and social media strategist. A former municipal and state government reporter, Ginny is passionate about local politics, journalism, and learning more about ways the open source movement can change the world.

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