For several years now, I’ve wanted to create an initiative to promote women in technology, particularly in programming. A few months ago, with the help of many others, I finally started to do it.
From the beginning, we’ve had a number of questions and objections–some gentle, some not–related to the intent in doing such a thing. I was prepared to deal with these. Like it or not, at this point in the culture and industry game, there are a lot of preconceived notions floating around, in both women’s and men’s minds, about why we should or shouldn't create an initiative like this and, in many cases, there is a measure of solid experience and reasoning behind them. I think it’s the responsibility of anyone taking on this battle to acknowledge the existing context, and address the concerns it raises. I’ll tell anyone who wants to know, and probably some who don’t, what exactly I intend to do with this initiative and why I think the tired old issue of “women in technology” really matters. At the very least, I think what we're building should be appreciated or judged based on what it really stands for instead of what it doesn't.
It's difficult for me to pick a woman to write about for Ada Lovelace Day. While, as I grow older, I continue to meet and discover women in technology who are naturally, admiringly wonderful at what they do, they were so lacking in my immediate environment when my impressions were being formed that no particular one stands out as someone who impressed upon me such a thing was possible. No one heroine, no one woman to thank.
However, there is one individual I think about a lot when I think about cultural expectations, pressures and possibilities for women in STEM fields. She's not a woman, not quite yet. But she will be. And considering what her life and opportunities will be when this is the case is why the inspiration I have to offer for Ada Lovelace Day is my four-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
Every so often, the conversation about women in technology and computing - which grumbles on quietly and constantly in the background, even when the media isn't commenting on it - breaks out into mainstream reporting. The cycle generally goes like this: a new study or survey reveals the numbers of women in tech are consistently low or even dropping. People start wondering, in a concerned tone, why is this? Smarter people push the questions of what we're going to do about it. Then the backlash starts of why we have to treat the question of women in tech especially and that they're SO BORED with this same old conversation. And then the talk ebbs until it's, a few months down the road, dragged into the foreground again. But it will come back, because in all the years since the conversation was started, for all the talk, we haven't solved the problem and, worse than that, there's no clear indication we're even making any progress in making people understand what the problem is, or that there's a problem in the first place.
Throughout today, the 24th of March, thousands of people will be blogging, tweeting, vlogging and just generally talking about Ada Lovelace. If you're curious as to why because you're not sure who she is, reading this will help. But if you're familiar with the historical woman, and still unsure why she inspires, and or deserves, all the furor, that might take a little longer to explain. I'll give it a shot, though.
I’ve mainly stayed away from the discussion of gender issues in technology. I didn’t think that I had any real expertise to share. But over the last six months, after many conversations, it has become clear that many of my female friends in tech really do feel disempowered. They feel invisible, lacking in confidence, and unsure how to compete for attention with the men around them.
- Suw Charman-Anderson
Blogger Suw Charman-Anderson has just begun a tradition: Ada Lovelace Day, a day - March 24 - where bloggers write about an inspirational woman in technology. She hoped to get 600 people to pledge to participate, but after the story hit BoingBoing yesterday, 600 was achieved pretty quickly and now the goal is 1000.
I was going to donate one of my Ada t-shirts to certain pledge numbers, but since it looks like the pledge doesn't really need the incentive anymore, I'm going to offer it to my readers instead. Pledge to participate in Ada Lovelace Day and let me know about it by leaving a comment on this post, pinging me on Twitter or sending me an email. I'll randomly pick one from the responses and send her or him a free Ada Lovelace t-shirt.
The Nerd Girls may not look like your stereotypical pocket-protector-loving misfits—their adviser, Karen Panetta, has a thing for pink heels—but they're part of a growing breed of young women who are claiming the nerd label for themselves. In doing so, they're challenging the notion of what a geek should look like, either by intentionally sexing up their tech personas, or by simply finding no disconnect between their geeky pursuits and more traditionally girly interests such as fashion, makeup and high heels.
The mainstream media pick up on this whole "Isn't it amazing pretty girls can actually work computers" trend I mention very occasionally around here.
Register online for the October women in computing conference.
Films have a certain place in a certain time period. Technology is forever. (Hedy Lamarr)
New York's Hourglass Group is premiering tomorrow a new stage comedy about mid-century actress Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil - who together developed the technology underlying modern wireless technology. More information on Frequency Hopping, including ticket info, here.
(Hat tip: Fairer Science.)
Many years ago Wendy McCarthy told me that in her youth typing or shorthand were skills to which an ambitious young woman should never admit having mastered. This was good advice and it ensured that I remained a purely non-administrative resource and never had to serve coffee as part of my duties.
One skill I have learned to deny is any facility in supporting any technology like PCs or photocopiers. I confess to complete ignorance of such technology - otherwise you end up helping anyone who can't be bothered to RTFM. What is really interesting is that this confession soon becomes reality given how quickly the technology evolves.
Heed this advice. I have learned the hard way in my career that marketing supplemental administrative skills along with your technical skills will do little but place you firmly in the "administrative" bracket. If they think you can do a secretary's work, chances are that's what you'll end up doing. I wouldn't be too surprised if women in particular fall prey to this.
The May Scientae blog carnival, with posts from women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, is currently up at A Cat Nap. It's a really great collection about changing career goals.
P.S. - I will be hosting October's Scientae carnival here on DP.
If you are creating a new Web 2.0 site and you want to go viral, you target women. Young women drive virality and so all the new innovation is targeted towards them. That means that the gender gap on social networks (and increasingly in all of social media) is only going to widen. More and more innovation will be targeted towards women and they will continue to get more engaged. And while we expect men’s adoption to social media to continue to increase, it will likely be slower than the rate of adoption by women.
A Rapleaf study concludes women care more about social networks.
(Hat tip: Christine.)
As Kottke famously pointed out over a year ago, the number of female speakers at tech conferences is pretty dismal. But that's exactly what new site Geekspeakr is trying to fix. It offers a directory of women tech experts, tagged with hundreds of different specialties and all available for speaking engagements. If you're an event organizer, you can use the site to contact desirable speakers, and, if you're a female speaker, you can create your own profile and wait for the speaking invitations to roll in. It's a fantastic idea - I also wonder if a site directory like this might also benefit other male-dominated fields like the sciences and skepticism.
The latest in Shiny Shiny's women in tech series is a talk with one of the minds behind website builder Mr Site, Bea Hatherley:
It's taking ages but I do think things are gradually improving and thankfully more women are starting to see IT/technology as attractive career choices. 10 years ago, it was a different story and our industry was 99% male-dominated. I did a straw-poll in my office today about the percentage of women:men on their IT courses and somewhat surprisingly, the ratio of men:women was 6:1 whereas even 10 years back, I think you would have been hard-pushed to find any women studying for careers in technology.
Hey, did you know that, starting today, women can use Yahoo!, too? Now there's a nice little portal/blog/magazine called Shine with female-centric topics like horoscopes, and parenting. Fear not the wild web anymore, ladies - now, it's Yahoo!-approved.
Okay, so it's not that bad. It's a hell of a lot better than the also recently-launched WOWOWOW, but it's also pretty easy to beat a website for women that displays the weather in terms of its effect on one's hair. But - where's the tech news? Astrology gets its own section, but nothing for world news, politics, or science? Is this really an accurate representation of women and the full spectrum of their interests?
The biggest problem, for me, with sites like Shine is that they're targeted towards women who are non- or casual web users, while the females already regularly on the web - who don't need entertainment news, or any news, spoon-fed to them - are overlooked. We need more involved methods of gathering and sharing information - like Digg ... except what we end up with is Sk*rt.
Update: I just noticed my new favorite female tech blogger also mourned the missed opportunity of Shine.
I must have missed the day when all the TechCrunch male bloggers (and for the record, most of the male tech bloggers) turned into something I'd want to see shirtless. I haven't seen any women begging for an Arrington or Scoble calendar; have you?
Cyndy Aleo-Carreira, in "Girl Tech".