The experience of attending a global tech event as a minority
With International Women’s Day coming up, Kablamo’s General Manager - Lucy Wilkinson - shared her insights and experiences being a woman in tech.
“Women in Tech” is a catch-cry growing louder and more prominent than ever, with many businesses going to great pains to attract and retain more females.
Despite these efforts, every global technology event I attend only reinforces just how much of a minority women are in this industry, and that any meaningful change will probably be slow in coming.
Last year, I attended one of the world’s largest international tech conferences, along with 10 other Kablamo staff who make up our Leadership and DevOps team. Of this 11-strong team, two of us were women.
Waiting to board the plane at Sydney Airport, I remember thinking “I wonder how our 1:5 female-to-male ratio will stack up?”
I’ve been in tech long enough to know it has a Y chromosome problem, and I already had low expectations of what lay ahead, but until I arrived on the convention floor I didn’t know just how bad this problem was.
It became apparent my team was pretty much at the top of the gender diversity pyramid. Over the three days of the conference, out of the more than 40,000 attendees, I could count on two hands the number of women I met who were there to attend the conference in a leadership or technical capacity, not as a promotional prop.
Tech ‘Weinstein’ problem? Does tech have a Harvey Weinstein problem? Well, to be honest, I’ve never encountered the tech-version of Harvey Weinstein at one of these conferences; but I couldn’t believe it when an event staffer warned me and my female colleague not to go to a party unless accompanied by all the male members of my team to “protect” us.
Time and time again, these conferences underscore the uphill battle the industry faces in trying to approach gender parity. In fact, forget parity, even the one-in-five ratio from the Kablamo cohort will be a miracle to achieve.
Some of the most insightful conversations I have at these conferences are with other women.
Remember when I said I could count on both hands the number of women at a recent conference? In my quest to understand the gender diversity challenge, I spent some time talking to my female counterparts about our minority status.
At that same conference, I spoke with a woman who said she was surprised there were so many women attending.
Sometimes though, the non-verbal interactions are even more illuminating. There’s a strange sense of camaraderie when you pass each other in the conference hall, even if you haven’t yet met. This camaraderie is harshly juxtaposed by the genuinely surprised looks you receive from the male attendees.
Snide remarks It’s not just surprised looks though. In spite of all the efforts of conference organisers and industry leaders, snide remarks reveal the extent of the challenge we face.
For example, at another industry event last year, there was a concerted effort to be more inclusive. As part of this initiative there were a number of key notes specifically focused at fostering diversity and celebrating the role women play in the industry.
Several inspirational, smart and successful women – leaders in their fields – gave incredibly insightful presentations.
Despite their clear expertise, I overheard multiple comments about their looks, the height of their heels and whether they could ‘target the right audience’.
Perhaps these male audience members were too dazzled by the presenter’s killer heels to concentrate, or threatened by her exceptional knowledge, who knows?
Either way, I wasn’t impressed by these members of the tech community.
Of course, it isn’t every male in the audience who acts this way but every single one who does makes women feel as though they don’t belong.
So, here’s what I think:
Changing perspective I shouldn’t feel self-conscious about wearing a branded T-Shirt with the name of the company I love printed across my chest, but at a tech conference I do and the other women I spoke to do too.
I shouldn’t be hesitant to raise my hand at a panel event at a tech conference, but I do.
I shouldn’t have to sit through snide remarks while being dazzled by the brilliance of a female speaker.
I shouldn’t have to think about counting the women I see like I’m in a real-life Where’s Wally?, but I do.
And, finally, I shouldn’t have to be told by a conference organiser that I’d better bring some male team-mates along to a conference party to “protect us”, but I was, and I don’t want to be any more.
That said, I’m grateful that I work with a team of men, and have known many others in tech, who lead with respect for women and represent what we can become. We can laugh together, have a joke, work well in a group, never get too ruffled, and feel at ease to be ourselves.
Now that’s a tech world we should all want to build.