Archive for the ‘women’ Category

In case there was any doubt that I receive an unusual number of Skype chat requests because I have the gender flag set to “female” on my profile, I present one of the more recent ones. This guy’s profile is absolutely hilarious, although I’m not sure how I feel about being categorized as a “mature woman” by someone who is less than a year younger than I am 🙂

Skype Stalker

I’ve stopped posting all of the chat requests that I get in my Skype Stalkers Flickr set, there have been so many lately. I’m thinking about taking the gender flag off my profile to stop the barrage, although it is an interesting social experiment.

I saw this in large poster format in an apartment window while on the train in from O’Hare airport to downtown Chicago earlier this week:

I (heart) my period

My first thought that was this was a marketing campaign created by men, but it turns out the company behind it is a small group of women. I find it difficult, however, to share their sentiments.

Earlier this week, after my post about mesh‘s lack of visible reasons for a having a bunch of white guys as their keynote speakers, I had a conversation with Mark Evans, one of the mesh organizers. Based on this chat, my assessment is that the mesh organizers exhibit little or no commitment to diversity, and Mark’s stated reasons for no women keynotes are even less compelling than the ones that I wrote in parody. He said:

  • But the high-tech industry *is* a bunch of white guys. [Do you know how smug and stupid that sounds when you tell me, a woman in the high-tech industry, that the industry *is* a bunch of white guys, as if I didn’t exist?]
  • We tried! We really tried! [uh huh]
  • Will we try harder next year? Definitely! [Did I make this blog post last year? Definitely! Will I be repeating this blog post next year? Definitely!]
  • I have a lot of things going on right now, running a startup, organizing a conference. Have you ever organized a conference? Do you know how hard it is? [Oh, puh-leeze, enough with the patronizing “I’m busier/more important than you are” crap. If you couldn’t do a decent job, why did you take it on?]
  • Can you suggest any women speakers? [It’s the organizers’ responsibility to find the speakers, and maybe if you’d opened up a call for speakers, you’d get outside your walled wurstgarten — there’s a pretty direct connection from the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” message of your Contact page to the homogeneity of your keynote speakers, drawn from your circle of friends and their friends. Or if you looked at any one of the lists of women speakers on the web that have been developed in response to exactly this issue in the past. Or if you looked at my profile as a speaker, I’m even local.]
  • Can you suggest any topics? [What, like “breastfeeding 2.0”? Women in technology talk about the same things that men in technology do, we don’t need special tracks or topics. We just bring some different perspectives to the table.]

He ended up with “thanks for your feedback, stay tuned and I think that you’ll really like what we have to offer.” Hmm, do I detect a dismissal?

This is such a perfect echo of past conversations on reasons why white guys choose only white guys as speakers as tech conferences. Lots of people are seeing the problem, and trying to do something about it. Just not the group of white guys who are organizing mesh.

By the way, today is International Women’s Day. Do your part by sending the mesh organizers a suggestion for a woman speaker, or post it here in the comments. Or better yet, if you know someone at any of the mesh sponsors, have them do it.

Yesterday, in frustration at a post that I read by one of the mesh conference organizers explaining why they were yet another tech conference with no women keynote speakers, I wrote a post that parodied their unnamed reasons for this. I didn’t give a lot of background to this in the post, but it’s key to note the instructions on the mesh contact page:

mesh isn’t your typical pitch-us-a-speaker type of event (sorry, PR folks). We look for people we would like to hear from — and think you would like to hear from — and then we ask them to participate.

In other words, don’t call us, we’ll call you; and since we already have our clique lined up, don’t hold your breath. In spite of those instructions, I emailed one of the organizers about the potential for participating, with no response; it took my post yesterday to even get them to engage in a conversation.

I was a little surprised by Leesa’s reaction to my post, which was (to paraphrase):

  • Total eye-rolling exasperation that I would even raise this subject.
  • The topic that I suggested for mesh was lame.
  • My idea was ignored because I didn’t email to enough of the conference organizers.
  • It’s women’s fault that we’re not being invited to be speakers.
  • I’m just a big ol’ whiny complainer.

I raised the subject because it’s still an issue, and I’m not the only one noticing that there needs to be more diversity (I’m focussed on gender diversity, but obviously there’s other underrepresented groups as well) in conference speakers. I go to a lot of technology conferences each year — usually on my own nickel — and I speak at a few of them. I have a widely-read blog in my area of technology (business process management and Enterprise 2.0) that enables much of this by providing the opening for the conversation, as well as presenting my ideas in a public forum. I host online webinars and panels, including one this Tuesday on BPM and Enterprise 2.0. In other words, I’m not sitting around waiting for someone to call me, I’m out there calling (or emailing) them, and it’s having results for me.

In other words, I’m not pissed off because I’m personally not speaking at mesh (although I’d love to talk about Enterprise 2.0), I’m pissed off because even though the mesh organizers assured us that they were the experts at finding us people who we want to hear from, they couldn’t find a single woman keynote speaker. I’m not holding out a lot of hope for the rest of the roster, whenever it’s announced.

Elisa Camahort (of BlogHer) recently recapped the issues, pointing out the advantage of diversity amongst the speakers, and puts the onus on the conference organizers to make sure that that diversity exists: conference organizers become shapers of our industry based on their selection process, and have a responsibility to do it right.

Last year, there was a certain amount of noise about the fact that the mesh organizers managed to find only a tiny number of women speakers — 6 out of 50, or some such ridiculous ratio — and this year is not shaping up to be any better, with exactly zero women keynote speakers. It appears, however, that they’re trying to head off the protests via a somewhat disingenuous post on Mark Evans’ blog:

The truth is we wanted women keynotes, spent a lot of time compiling a list of excellent candidates and tried to make it happen. But, for a variety of reasons, we couldn’t make it work.

Yeah, those reasons being:

  1. If we talk to them, we might get cooties.
  2. The strippers women who we usually hang out with don’t meet the requirements.
  3. None of them would agree to get the coffee and take notes.
  4. The only ones that we could find didn’t have good enough tits.
  5. We didn’t think that their husbands would let them attend.
  6. What do women know about technology, anyway?

In spite of my modified Skype description that has stopped most of the unsolicited requests for contact, there’s still a few morons who don’t get the message. I’ve decided to create a rogues’ gallery of Skype Scumbags on Flickr showing their requests; you can find the entire set (as it grows) here, and I encourage others to share their snaps using the skypescumbag tag.

Today’s entry:

Skype scumbags rogues gallery

As part of the whole transparent lifestyle, I publish my real name, my age and my gender on my Skype profile. Unfortunately, some morons take the “female” indicator as an invitation to start a chat with me that they think is going to lead to some sort of hot IM conversation. I allow chat messages from people who are not on my buddy list, since that’s a good way for people to make initial contact with me, but I had to disallow inbound phone calls from anyone not on my list because of the many unsolicited (and unanswered) calls coming in.

Since my first name is gender-neutral, I could just leave my gender unspecified, but it’s kind of funny to see how, within hours after setting it to “female”, the unsolicited chats start. If I turn it off, they stop. Back on, they start. Like Pavlov’s dog.

Here’s a few from a 6-day span last month:

firatveli47m says: [which pretty much makes me want to barf]

[name deleted] says: “does this work?” [his brain, I assume, and the answer is “no”] [The owner of this Skype name recently contacted me and said that he was just trying out Skype, and picked me at random to send a test message. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend that practice, but I’m letting him off the hook.]

batmisho9 says: “hi” [twice, 30 minutes apart], to which I reply “do you have a valid reason for contacting me? i’m not available for chatting with strangers, i use skype mostly for business.” He disappears after that.

versace_74 says: “hi” [yeah, that’s original]

sourito (tanger 2007) says: “hollllllllllllllllllla” [okay, at least that’s original]

farido771 says: “212063 80 39 87” [weird, I assume that’s a phone number?]

kingmoon6 says: “hi” [a couple of times, starting to get annoying], to which I reply “who are you and why do you want to exchange details?” he says “am froom toronto” [oh, great, a rocket scientist], and I say “so?” he indignantly replies “SO ? SO”, and I block his ID.

romantic206 (Sameer) says “hi” [the usual couple of times], and I give my now-standard reply, “who are you and why do you want to exchange contact details?” He says “hi” a couple more times, then “how r u”, twice. He then follows with “your name plz”, “do you have time to see you today”, then the ever-barfable before I block him.

I cleared my gender indicator for a while to ponder this, then I saw the description on Alec Saunders‘ Skype profile: “Please be specific in your contact requests. I do not accept blind contacts.”

My profile now says:

Please be specific in your contact requests. I do not accept blind contacts, especially from idiots who think that because my profile says “female”, it means “skype me”.

All quiet on the Skype stalker front since then.

My post earlier this week about Alec Saunders’ sexist demo scenario at DemoCamp 12 (criticism that he took quite gracefully) led to both a blog post on his part, then an email and Skype discussion between us.

The topic of our private discussion quickly turned to that of hiring women in technical jobs, with Alec admitting that they have no women in their company except in support and admin, and asking what I would do to attract female engineers to an organization. This is a subject that has come up on the TorCamp Skype back channel, mostly in conjunction with the question of how to make the TorCamp community more women-friendly.

My response to Alec was as follows:

The issue of women engineers within organizations is a tough one. I went through engineering in the bad old days (U of Waterloo, Systems Design 1984), and was recently shocked to find out that the proportion of female engineering graduates isn’t significantly higher now than when I was there. What reigned in the engineering faculty at that time, and what exists in many of the technology companies that I see now, is a cowboy attitude that is a real turn-off for a lot of women. We’ve had some discussion on the TorCamp Skype chat group about this, since that attitude also prevails at DemoCamp and likely prevents a lot of women from even attending, much less presenting. DemoCamp is a sort of microcosm of what a tech startup is like: lots of bravado and showing off, which are traits that are socialized out of most girls at a very early stage of their development. As a woman, I can either choose to act like one of the boys in order to gain acceptance, which is not comfortable for most women, or just choose not to play.

I feel that the key to attracting technical women to your organization is to get some senior technical women in place. Most technology firms have “token” female VPs in finance and HR in order to appear to be non-discriminatory, but never leading technical parts of the organization. Put in a woman as VP of engineering/development, get her involved in recruitment, and you’ll see things change. I owned and ran a 40-person systems integration firm up until 2000, where I was both CEO and chief architect. My entire technical management team, and many of my developers, were women, although I didn’t select them by gender; it was an issue of technical women being comfortable working in the environment that I helped to create. I’m not saying that you should discriminate in favour of women — I am strictly opposed to reverse discrimination because it only fosters resentment — but widen your search net when you are recruiting high-level people to be sure that you’re including enough women in the selection pool.

Alec thinks that the problem is that they’re a startup; having grown a startup to 40 people and recruited a great selection of women engineers, I don’t think that’s really the problem.

I’d love to hear other opinions on this.

17 years ago today, 14 women (12 of them engineering students) were killed at Montreal’s École Polytechnique by a misogynist whack-job who blamed women for his failure to gain attendance to the engineering school. Although this event catalyzed the Canadian movement to eradicate violence against women, and led to December 6th being marked as the National Day of Commemoration and Action on Violence Against Women, I can’t help but think that those women could have been changing the world in much more profound ways if they had been allowed to wear the Iron Ring and pursue their own goals.

Rest in peace.

  • Geneviève Bergeron, 21 
  • Hélène Colgan, 23 
  • Nathalie Croteau, 23 
  • Barbara Daigneault, 22 
  • Anne-Marie Edward, 21 
  • Maud Haviernick, 29 
  • Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31 
  • Maryse Laganière, 25 
  • Maryse Leclair, 23 
  • Anne-Marie Lemay, 27 
  • Sonia Pelletier, 23 
  • Michèle Richard, 21 
  • Annie St-Arneault, 23 
  • Annie Turcotte, 21

I used to work for a software company in southern California, and eventually left because of the toxic corporate culture and politics, especially the old boys network that prohibited women from having any real impact in the company. Recently, they were acquired by a very large technology company that has their own particular unwanted level of corporate politics, but which has a very different attitude towards women. On Friday, I received an email from one of my former (female) colleagues at the acquired company, which said:

The real reason for my email is that I am overwhelmed by the female presence at meetings [since being acquired by Large Co.] … so you can come back now 😉