I’m writing this in response to MShaw’s post on DevCSI asking why there were so few women at Dev8D. I’m answering over here rather than over there because this is something I’ve been pondering for a while. And, as my colleague John Robertson pointed out on twitter:
Appropriate for International Woman’s Day? discussion on devsci blog about proportion of women (~7%) at #dev8D
Over at the DevCSI MShaw notes:
The technology/web development industry is notoriously male-dominated, but even in this context the gender imbalance at Dev8D seemed disproportionate.
Are we doing enough to attracted women to these kinds of events? What could we do to improve the gender balance? Do you even think it’s an issue?
I think it is in issue. I’m not entirely sure what we can do about it, but I certainly think it’s something we should consider closely.
There are a lot of complex and interconnected issues which I can’t possibly hope to untangle here. They include: are fewer women really attracted to careers in technology? If so why? Is it something to do with the discipline itself? Or is it more to do with the culture of technology industries? And I include educational technology here.
Obviously I do work in technology, I have done for some time and I am one of those women who did not attend dev8D. Why? Although I work in technology I do not consider myself to be a “techy”. I am most definitely not a programmer and have often joked in the past that I couldn’t implement a spec if my life depended on it. Having said that, I am not remotely afraid of technology and I enjoy talking and working with developers. I’ve run more than a few codebashes in my time for heaven’s sake! You don’t get much more techy than that. So while on the one hand I may consider myself “not techy enough” to play with the boys at Dev8D, on the other hand these are the same people I have enjoyed working with for the last ten years or so.
The logistics of the event also made it difficult for me to attend. Although I used to travel a lot I now have a small child to look after and a partner who works long shifts so arranging childcare for anything longer than a single over night stay is difficult if not impossible. Logistics and responsibilities can’t be ignored.
MShaw’s post also brought to mind a CRIG Unconference I attended a couple of years ago. The focus was repositories, a technology domain where I think women are reasonably well represented. However of the 40 or so people who attended there were only 4 women: me, Julie Allinson, as sociologist who was there to observe the event and the administrator, who took names at the door and handed out stickers and badges. Not very encouraging.
At the time there was something about the lack of women at the CRIG Unconference that concerned me. I used to spend a lot of time on the road participating in international standards meetings, where I was frequently the only woman in the room. This was such a common occurrence that eventually I scarcely noticed. So what what was it about the Unconference that bothered me? I’m still not sure. I hesitate to say it but there does seem to be something a bit blokey about the format of some of these developer events. Although to be fair, at the recent CETIS Future of Interoperability Standards event women were as poorly represented as at Dev8D and the Unconference.
I can’t help being reminded of my previous career as an archaeologist. Although I did most of my field work in Scotland I once worked on a survey project in the South Hauran desert in the north of Jordan near the Syrian border. We stayed in a tiny one horse town called Umm el-Qetain where we rented the top floor of a typical house from a Bedouin family. Our hosts were extraordinarily welcoming and offered us hospitality at every opportunity. What was interesting is that these traditional houses are normally quite strictly segregated with family rooms, women’s rooms and the men’s rooms. The only woman allowed in the men’s room was the eldest matriarch of the house and even then she appeared to observe certain conventions of behaviour. However the three women in our field crew were treated exactly as men. We were regularly invited into the men’s room for mint tea and pastries and none of the men ever commented on our unusual behavior. (However they did howl with laughter when they saw our male colleagues washing their own socks.)
I’m still sometimes reminded of sitting in the men’s room in Umm el Qetain when I attend certain technical events. Everyone is welcoming and hospitable to a fault but you can’t help being aware that you are the minority and that somehow you are “fitting in” or rather being slotted into a space that doesn’t quite fit.
I don’t think I’ve expressed this very clearly, primarily because I don’t have a clear idea of exactly what is going on here. Hmmmmm. If anyone can enlighten me please comment.