Where are all the Ladies?

   31 July 2008, early morning

I was talking to Tyler about Ruby Fringe yesterday: apparently it was a crazy success. I’m still disappointed I didn’t crash their last party. I did have some of their left over beer last night on the roof of their office, so I guess that’s something. People are going on about the conference like it was Woodstock. The fact they aren’t planning on doing another conference may mean it will end up developing the sort of mythos that surrounds Woodstock. At least amongst super-nerds like myself.

A lot of conversations are had about why there aren’t more women in tech. Why are most speakers straight, white men? These are valid questions, and we have some tips. Support women taking charge whenever possible, but don’t attempt to stack your attendance or speaker list. The truth is that women will come if they want to, not if we constantly ask them if they are comfortable. That’s creepy and annoying.

This is one element of the tech industry that interests me a lot, and was probably the first thing I asked Tyler about the conference. I’m glad to see Pete took to the time to talk about it. At University there were certainly more men then women in my classes, but not enough to translate to the total lack of women you see at conferences and events like this.

The common response to the lack of women at events like this is pretty libertarian in nature: women just don’t want to come out, and it’s not our place to change that. Obviously this conference, and others like it, aren’t going out of their way to actively discourage women from coming. The problem is of course that while a woman may have some interest in attending a conference like RubyFringe, she may have no interest in being one of a handful of women at a conference — creepy and annoying come into play here as well. RubyFringe was organized by a woman & went out of its way to be different, but still couldn’t manage to get women out. This is clearly a tricky problem. Not tackling it results in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anil Dash’s post about this topic is always worth a read.

This is actually a bigger issue than it may sound like, because a lot of networking happens at events like this. I think it is much easier to find work within the industry if you go to events like these. If women feel shut out of these sorts of events, you are effectively shutting them out of working at cool little startups and the like.

(You can probably make these sorts of arguments about the representation of minorities at events like this, but I think its much less of an issue.)

Update: Thinking about this for another 5 minutes, this is probably the sort of thing that you need to deal with much earlier. Ultimately there aren’t enough women in computer science to begin with.



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