Dom kicked up a women in technology debate again recently. I’ve seen a few responses, from one chap who thinks women have achieved equality already to a woman who doesn’t think girl’s brains are generally good for “programming” – and someone else who thinks there isn’t a problem as long as you’re thick skinned enough to put up with a sexually hostile workplace.
I think a fair summary of his, and some other commenters, opinion is that these “women-only” events don’t help the effort to get more women involved in technology. Comparing it to positive discrimination in many ways.
The way I see these events is more “women-friendly”, rather than “women-only”. With Geek Girl dinners, this is explicit, as men can attend at the invite of a women. A simple, but generally effective heuristic to select for friendliness to women.
With Women on the Web, it’s less clear, but nowhere does it state men are not welcome. The same goes for the Forward Ladies membership terms and conditions. I’m not sure how Dom knows this event is women only (I’ve emailed Forward Ladies for more info).
Until I’m shown otherwise, I’m assuming the Women on the Web conference is women-friendly, not women-only. Of course, if you browse the site you see photos of women, and all the past speakers appear to be women, and this might not be that inviting to men – but how inviting do you think Infosec is to women, with photos of rooms full of men, and women in skimpy clothes giving out leaflets? Perhaps all the speakers are women because they just don’t get many men interested – maybe men just need to be thicker skinned and ask to be involved.
As an amusing side note, after checking the Infosec url was correct I caught sight of this year’s branding – hundreds of what I assume are just people, but they happen to be using the pretty well established symbol for “men” (let’s not get into that though).
You only have to see the turnout of women at Leeds Geek Girl dinners compared to the turnout of women at Leeds Geekup to know there is a demand for these women-friendly events. For whatever reasons, some women are more likely to go an explicitly women-friendly geek event than another random geek event. Of course women should be encouraged to come to all events, but not all events are equally friendly to women, and it’s often difficult to assess how friendly they are from outside.
Women are a social group – they’ll often share some common experiences and outlooks due to their sex – due to society’s treatment of them as a group of people. This goes for men too. And gay people. And geeks. Etc. When you see women in this way, you’d expect some of them to organise and attend these types of events. Most social groups do.
Geek Girl Dinners just have a convenient way of selecting women-friendly people: women, or men invited by women. Of course, not all women are women friendly – that is just a stereotype, but it seems to work for them.
Largely though, I think if you name things and brand things right, you get the people you’re hoping for. Maybe that’s why Infosec is a sausage-fest.
Forward Ladies has confirmed that men are welcome to Women on the Web, and are welcome as members of Forward Ladies too. They also run 50/50 events “to which men are specifically invited”.