Tag Archives: diversity

Finding more women to speak at Ohio LinuxFest: success!

This post is being cross-posted on Mackenzie’s blog.

Given Terri’s recent post about the same few women always being speakers, I thought this would be a good place to write about how one conference I help out with, Ohio LinuxFest, has tried to expand their array of women speakers. For those interested in pretty graphs, I’ve been graphing women speaker proportions at various LinuxFests on the GeekFeminism Wiki. This post was co-authored with Moose J. Finklestein, the Content Chair.

Some conference organisers will say “we didn’t get any submissions from women” to explain the lack of women on their stages. As of two years ago, the Ohio LinuxFest was in that category. With a little outreach effort, and embracing diversity as a core value, the Ohio LinuxFest has successfully recruited more women to share their experience at OLF.

How’d we do? While last year only five of the speakers at Ohio LinuxFest were women, out of a total of 31, this year 14 of the 38 speakers are women. That’s a third of the conference speaking slots! One of the two keynoters is a woman. There were 107 talk proposals for the 27 general speaking slots. Before anyone tries to suggest that we simply took them all, it should be noted that a full 48% of the proposals for talks categorised as not assuming high levels of prior knowledge (making them suitable for the most attendees) were from women.

We believe that much of this success is attributed to community outreach. This year, we contacted Ubuntu Women, Debian Women, LinuxChix, DevChix, and the FSF’s Women’s Caucus mailing list about the call for presentations, and did it have an effect!

Recognising the various concerns women speakers can face, we tried to specifically address potential issues in the email sent to women-focused mailing lists. Some of these known issues include lack of confidence in new speakers, not being clear what the intended audience is, or the “imposter syndrome,” where someone doesn’t recognize that they are qualified to speak on a topic. The woman to woman dialog made the difference.

We wanted to make sure people weren’t refraining from submitting because they lack confidence in their technical abilities (an excuse we’d heard before), so we explained the attendees’ demographics, hoping to get more proposals that would fill the gap we had for user-aimed talks. Ohio LinuxFest has everything from home desktop users who started using Ubuntu a week ago (or even that day!) to seasoned system administrators who love Slackware, Gentoo, or NetBSD. Nevertheless, beginner proposals have tended toward introduction to development topics, not leaving enough for people who want to be users, not developers. We also made sure to mention that it’s a great crowd who is very welcoming of first-time speakers.

Women are involved with more than just speaking at the Ohio LinuxFest. Beth Lynn Eicher has been actively involved as a director for 6 years now, and the current staff, all volunteers, is about 35% female.

The Ohio LinuxFest takes pains to create a weekend conference friendly to all people, not just women. The diversity statement includes gender, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and even operating system — folks who don’t use Linux are just as welcome as those who love it. There are regularly talks about or including BSDs, interoperability in heterogeneous environments, and cross platform free software.

Additionally, all speakers are instructed to keep the content of their presentations clean. The Ohio LinuxFest bills itself as a family friendly conference and aims to keep it that way. As an effort to make a positive effect with the community at large, the Ohio LinuxFest will host the second annual Diveristy in Open Source Workshop on September 12, 2010.

Looking at the growing trend of more female influence on the OhioLinuxFest we’d like to see it be the leader for more women to attend and become more involved with other free software interests.

Linkspam: Sexism Exists Between Keyboard And Chair

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Too Few Women in Tech? There’s more than you think.

This was originally posted to my personal blog

This post entitled Too Few Women In Tech? Stop Blaming The Men was making the rounds when I got back from camping yesterday. It’s a “just do it” rallying cry, which is not unreasonable (more women trying will likely result in more succeeding) but one that’s made a bit blindly, unaware of some of the barriers that those who try are facing.

There’s already an excellent response out there which says most of what I wanted to say: Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Playing the Blame Game. Basically, quit trying to blame it all on men or women or society or math test scores and try working together to create solutions. All of these things (and more) are to blame, but pointing it out isn’t nearly as helpful as finding work-arounds.

But there’s still one thing I’d like to pull out of the original article:

We beg women to come and speak. (…) And you know what? A lot of the time they say no. Because they are literally hounded to speak at every single tech event in the world because they are all trying so hard to find qualified women to speak at their conference.

Let me tell you a story. One year, it was announced that one student in my department was going to get a special job. Over the months afterwards, I heard a lot of grumbling. The problem was not that said student couldn’t do the job: the person was an excellent candidate. The problem was that the student had been the only candidate. The university had quite a number of other talented students, and they had not been made aware of the upcoming position or given a chance to apply. The person who got the job was the same person regularly nominated for special scholarships, invited to special events, seemingly given first right of refusal in many other projects. The upper academia equivalent of a teacher’s pet.

The problem was that the university saw themselves as having a single exceptional candidate, when in fact they had probably 10, 30, or more.

I think this is what’s starting to happen when it comes to women in tech. Sure, there might not be enough of us. Sure, it’s no where near the 50% of the population. But that doesn’t mean you get to ask the 5 women you know or have seen speak before and then sigh and say “it’s too bad no women want to participate.” Like the university, you’re probably missing at least 10 times as many who are qualified, but haven’t been quite so heaped with honours so they’re harder to find.

If all the women you’re asking are all busy, it’s not necessarily a sign that all possible excellent candidates are busy; it could just be a sign that you’re looking in the same place as everyone else.

Because I interact with a lot of other techcnical women, I know there are many good people who just don’t hear about speaking opportunities. And others have so many requests they can’t handle them all.

So in the spirit of being useful, here’s some wider places you should look if you’re trying to find some great women speakers. Maybe not all of them have given keynotes and been interviewed a dozen times, but they’re still interesting people who could enhance your event:

  • The Grace Hopper 2010 schedule includes a many women speakers on a number of topics. (I’m on the open source track!) I found the calibre of speakers at GHC 09 to be especially high, so it’s a great place to start when looking for a great speaker. Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of candidates? Talk to @ghc and ask for help making the right connections.
  • Geekspeakr.com is intended to help events find technical women speakers and vice versa. You can search by keywords or just browse around. These folk have all signed up saying they’re willing to speak!
  • My university Women in Science and Engineering group ran the Carleton Celebration of Women in Science and Engineering last spring, and I was especially impressed with the the technical speakers during the day (i.e. before 5pm) because they were presenting graduate level research and ideas in ways that were accessible and fascinating. These women are definitely a cut above when it comes to science communicators!
  • There are many women’s groups around you can ask. I’m a member of Systers (originally for women in SYStems, now a more general women in technology group) and Linuxchix (a group for women and allies interested in Linux or other open source). But there’s lots more such groups.

And that’s only scratching the surface of places I’d look if I wanted to find good female speakers. Need some more help? Just ask!

Survival of the spammiest (5th August, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Hairy-legged bra-burning linkspam (17th June, 2010)

  • Open World Forum 2010 (Sep 30 to Oct 1, Paris) is having a Diversity Summit: Why women matter? relating to women in Free/Open Source Software. There’s an associated poll to gather data about women in FLOSS that anyone involved in FLOSS might be interested in taking.
  • Andrea Phillips is super-excited about Caitlin Burns and Jurassic Park Slope events.
  • Making games is hard: On the barriers that women face: … as someone whose life has been consumed by learning the ins and outs of game development for the past three years, I have to say that making a game is pretty damn hard. And I think that the complicated process of game development itself can be a barrier to women entering the field
  • Discussing sexism in geek communities is more important than discussing gender imbalance: Restructure! writes Ironically, when some female geeks use the capitalist discourse of increasing female representation in STEM fields as a structural strategy for reducing sexism and improving our personal autonomy / right to pursue our career of choice, many male geeks misunderstand these efforts as being anti-choice.
  • In light of Restructure!’s post, see Eric Ries, Why diversity matters (the meritocracy business): That’s why I care a lot about diversity: not for its own sake, but because it is a source of strength for teams that have it, and a symptom of dysfunction for those that don’t.
  • Women and Technology and Myth: Adriana Gardella interviews Cindy Padnos, a venture capitalist. The article is a little bit on the "suck it up, buttercup" end of the spectrum, but has good points about critical mass and homophily.
  • Jessa Crispin has given up reading bad books about women: I had to give up on a pretty good book because halfway through I did a little equation: what was the probability that the two women in the book would turn out to be anything other than gold diggers and sluts. Not great! So: gone.
  • Isis the Scientist has more on John Tierney, bonus humorous pictures!
  • What I got wrong about women in science: Maggie Koerth-Baker writes Several hours after I hit “publish”, I realized that I’d managed to put together a panel on diversity made up of nothing but white people.
  • Her blogging about social justice doesn’t make Renee your on-tap free expert on womanism, anti-racism or social justice.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

The linkspam your mothers marched in the street for (10th June, 2010)

  • Get ready to PITCH: Women 2.0 Startup Competition: it’s open to entrants around the world, and entries close October 1.
  • Lisa Crispin writes What Gender Diversity Means to Me: Jon Bach asked me a good question… The group was nicely balanced with as many women as men. Jon asked me what advantages I felt this gave the conference. He found my reply helpful and encouraged me to share it here.
  • Penny Arcade Expo fans come out against booth babes: … 60 percent of respondents either lik[ed] or lov[ed] the ban on booth babes. Only 12 percent of respondents hated the ban, putting public opinion firmly in the anti-babe area. The major addition to the policy stipulates that the models need to be educated about the product, and partial nudity has been banned. Models can dress up like characters from games and wear revealing clothing, as long as it’s true to the original character.
  • cme writes In which everything takes rather longer than I thought: When I get to this point, people often say that the Open Source movement has a history of being hostile to all new people (true), so it’s not a big deal and certainly doesn’t mean they are anti-woman (false)… it *does* mean that their attitude has the effect of being anti-woman (really, it has the effect of being anti-everyone-who’s-not-a-white-straight-cis-ablebodied-man). Because any barrier will affect people more who have more barriers to hurdle. The less privilege you have, the more any particular barrier will set you back.
  • Alana Kumbier analyses Jessica Floeh’s line of insulin pump accessories: Insulin-Pump Accessories And Cyborg Embodiment
  • Kamvar, Schiavoni: Techies with a Cause: [Sep] Kamvar and his wife, Angie Schiavoni, recently launched CodeEd, a pilot program to introduce fifth-grade girls to computer science. Funded with $20,000 donated by the couple, it’s the only such program in the U.S. geared to underprivileged preteen girls.
  • In Mary Anne Mohanraj’s WisCon 34 Guest of Honor Speech she issues a call: I’m asking you to take up that flaming sword, because it is here; I am standing on your doorstep, and I am calling you. You can be brave enough, you can be a hero.
  • Jill Psmith is a radical feminist who doesn’t think science is bad: The argument has been made that intuition is superior to science because it is somehow free of the oppressive misogynist entanglements that encumber its dude-dominated counterpart. A spin-off of this argument says that, because academia has traditionally given (and continues to give) women the stink-eyed bum’s rush, science is antifeminist and, presumably, must be shunned in favor of this women-centric intuition dealio… Unfortunately, it is not possible for any concept, process, person, or cognitive function to exist outside of patriarchy. (See also PZ Myers, Stereotyping women right out of science)
  • Standard Operating Procedure: tech vendor VersionOne is using gender stereotypes in their promotions. But it’s a joke! Nothing to see here!

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Macho, macho ‘spam, I want to be a macho ‘spam (8th April, 2010)

  • jesstess at Stemming wants to motivate programming for a twelve year old girl. Head on over and give her ideas.
  • There’s discussion following on from Cath Elliott’s admiration of The Lord of the Rings in The Guardian (linkspammed here):
    • Tolkien’s Ladies: Is Geek Culture Female-Friendly? Anna N doesn’t think feminists need an “excuse” to like things, but also doesn’t think Eowyn alone makes LOTR especially feminist.
    • Feminism vs geek culture?: liliacsigil notes that Anna N is talking about commercially produced geek media, and that geek culture is not monolithic and has many women and feminists, and returns to the issue of “strong women characters” in geek media.
  • Study: Pay, Promotion Limits Lead Women to Exit Engineering: ‘What’s for sure is that “it’s not about math or getting your hands dirty,” says Hunt. “It’s not because these women mistakenly wandered into engineering.’”. (Also, WTF at ad inserted into the article: “See iPhone apps for new moms.”)
  • Girls abandon dolls for Web-based toys: an anecdote-driven story about possible new play styles among girls.
  • Being Inclusive vs Not Being Exclusive: ‘A group of people put on some creative project, and someone notices that there’s a lack of representation of X Minority for whatever reason, sometimes noting that they themselves are in the minority. The people organising the project get defensive and say “But we’re not excluding anyone! We are open to everybody! They just need to sign on!†There is a huge difference between not being exclusive and being inclusive.’ (Via FWD.)
  • Five+ Ways Being Transgender in Fandom Really Sucks, and Why I Stick With It Anyway: iambic writes about his experiences as a trans fan.
  • Research Conversations: Munmun De Choudhury writes about her computer science research on homophily in social networks, that is, similar people forming connections.
  • In Australia the Victorian Department of Transport is offering $10 000 Women in Transport Scholarships to female, full-time or part-time students starting or completing postgraduate studies in transport-related fields.
  • Carnivals: Feminist Blog Carnival No. 16 and 23rd Down Under Feminist Carnival

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Addressing tokenism

This question came from the Ask a Geek Feminist post, which is still taking your questions.

How do you determine if a person has been invited to participate (conference speaker, lead a workshop, blog, etc.) as a token of diversity rather than on their merits?

And, if it is tokenism, what would you do?

I’m going to talk about being a token woman in this post, because that’s what I feel familiar with, hopefully commenters can share their thoughts on being a token representative of other (or multiple) groups.

First, a wee bit of 101. The response to this kind of discussion is sometimes: “Wait, you want more women. But we shouldn’t be selecting women just because they’re women. Feminism is hard, eleventy one 1!11!!1 I quit!”

Yeah, feminism is hard. That’s why we’re still here and frankly expect to be for a long time. Yes, we’d advocate that you have women taking prominent roles in your geekdom in similar proportions to their participation. And this may be a hard thing to do: much harder than having a criteria for a single event that says “at least three women speakers, please, this year for sure.” Likewise for diversity in general. You do this the hard way: organically. You should be striving for diversity everywhere, not just in venues where people are likely to notice and criticise your lack of diversity. You shouldn’t be having to select a woman speaker just because she’s a woman: if there are women in your geekdom at all, there should be women in your candidate pool and then you select some of them as part of your usual process.

Of course, that means keeping in mind that it’s harder to select women even when you have access to women candidates, because essentially everyone (so, me, you) has a set of biases about women that influence how we see individual women. Try and consciously correct for these biases. As an example: she seems inexperienced as an speaker. But on the other hand, we regularly select men on no more evidence than the fact that they asked, don’t we? Are we applying the same standards to women?

As regards bias, once you have your selection pool, at the time of selection, there are various approaches. Blinding the selection process is very effective: if you can hide names, appearances, and everything else that you can aside from the person’s proposal or skill, this is something of the gold standard approach. This is famously true for orchestral auditions. Otherwise, all you can do is try and be very conscious about your choices and remember that you have inherited biases towards privileged groups, and towards people like yourself, from your surroundings.

On to the question itself: someone appears to be a token women. What to do about it?

This is complicated precisely because tokenism isn’t a binary thing, token or not-a-token. When in a sufficient numerical minority particularly, as women are in a lot of geekdoms, I think it’s unlikely that no attention at all was paid to a woman’s gender and its effect on gender balance and diversity when she was selected for a role. It might have come up explicitly in the selection, it might have occurred to individuals privately, it might have influenced them subconsciously, but to some extent she was likely chosen as partly “the person who can best do this task” and partly as “a woman”.

I think there are some indicative but not definitive signs of problematic tokenisation. They include:

  • being the only woman selected among many men;
  • being part of a repeating pattern in which a single woman or the same number of women are selected time after time (eg, a few too many tech conferences currently seem to have a pattern of having exactly one woman selected to give one of the keynotes year after year); and
  • being selected to represent the female side of however the local gender binary fractal divides the space, especially where this is a repeated pattern.

The question doesn’t specify about what to do if you think you yourself are a token, or if you think someone else is. I’ll answer the easier part first: if you think someone else is.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to point this out with respect to an individual woman. Tokenism is a double-bind: tokenism should be challenged, but ‘token’ is a very damaging and hurtful label to apply to someone and this is regularly used as a weapon against women. Calling someone a token woman is a good way of dismissing her and giving other people ammunition to dismiss both her and other women who are in a numerical minority. (Much love to my first year computer science tutor who greeted my appearance in his tutorial with: “ah, of course, our token woman!”)

It’s pretty rare for a woman to be explicitly identified as a token by the people who selected her as one, in these situations where diversity is being genuinely sought. (In the case where people feel diversity is being forced upon them, they often take it out on the tokenised person.) Generally they realise that “we selected Mary to be our woman speaker this year, that’s an infinite improvement on last year” is an admission that their approach to diversity is fairly shallow.

So you don’t often know for sure, and speculating on an individual woman’s selection as a token is a problem in and of itself. Instead, the system needs to be redesigned at a lower level. This is very much a place in which allies in positions of power need to do work. Work hard on having access to diversity through your networks. The idea is that when someone is seeking a speaker, writer, teacher, leader or so on, it shouldn’t be only men’s names that spring to mind. This is the long hard way. Essentially what you need to do is make your diversity efforts an ongoing, continual process. Claire Light wrote about doing this as a fulltime job in Editorial Work Is HARD, Asshole!. Allowing for the number of hours you have available, this is how you should be approaching your geek network when you have power over other people’s prominence. You should be seeking to tunnel for hidden gold all the time, not just keeping to the same old (male, etc) names. It shouldn’t just be your events that are diverse, it should be your personal network. Also have a look at Skud’s ten tips for getting more women speakers and think about analogies in all situations where you are choosing to make someone prominent.

If you do the above, you won’t be stuck at the last minute trying to make sure you have one single woman to desperately avoid looking undiverse.

What if you think you yourself are a token? I don’t think that you have an obligation to challenge what’s going on: requiring that women who’ve been put in a difficult spot do all the work of changing assumptions and practices is a bad approach. We all should, and the more powerful should be addressing their own privileges in proportion to their power. You might decide that the best thing to do is keep your head down this time.

But let’s say that in this instance, you want to challenge the tokenism of your selection. There are a bunch of options:

  • refuse with a reason. Say that you believe you’re only being included in order to have a woman speaker or prize recipient or whatever. Probably this is only going to happen when you have been somehow informed that you’ve been selected explicitly and only as a token, not in the far more common case where you aren’t sure or you’re partly a token.
  • if you’re been included in a way that is below your capabilities: you could either point this out and refuse, or demand a role commensurate with your status and abilities. For example, if you believe your expertise and speaking skills merit keynote slots, ask for them when being offered normal speaking slots.
  • if you feel your offer has been too feminised, ask to change it. For example: “I haven’t done game artwork for the last few years, I’m much more familiar with game design state-of-the-art. I would rather run a workshop on that and I notice that there isn’t one in the program.”
  • use your prominence to promote other women, or other people who you believe aren’t getting enough exposure. Invite them to your workshop, suggest them as alternative speakers, suggest that a journalist speak to them instead, and so on.
  • try and leverage your token slot into a role with power. Ask to be on the organising or selection committee next year. Then you can try and make a more organic approach to diversity right from the start.

If you’re worried you’re a token, it’s also worth keeping in mind that women are trained to underestimate their own worth and significance. Don’t neglect to consider the possibility that your work is just as good as or quite likely better than the required level for the role you’ve been offered. You also do not need to be The Universe’s Single Leading Expert on anything in order to publicly opine, teach or lead it. The fact that you can think of someone who would be better does not mean that you are not suitable. Tokenism exists, but it does not mean that everything you are offered is unearned or depriving someone more worthy.

For commenters: have you been tokenised? Were you able to tell for sure? Did you decide to do anything about it, and if so, what? Have you any experience of the explicit and deliberate tokenisation of someone else?

And again, this post focused on women being tokenised, but have you been included as a token member of another group, or at the intersection of more than one? Do you have any thoughts specific to that?

A crisis of linkspam proportions (5th March, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Organic freerange sustainably harvested linkspam, 28 February 2010

  • In multiple posts, Lucy Connor continues thinking about possible costs of diversity
  • N.K. Jemisin considers how she accidentally wrote a postfeminist protagonist in her new fantasy series
  • Maura McHugh, aka Splinster laments the SF industry’s failure to ask women’s opinions:

    In the article the magazine asked 34 directors, screenwriters and authors to name an obscure or under-rated cult horror that deserved better recognition. Yup, you guessed it, not a single woman was asked for her opinion.” What’s more, in a plot twist worthy of any novel of the genre, the SFX publication comes smack dab in the middle of Women in Horror Month, set up to raise awareness of and give recognition to the genre’s many female creators.

  • More event backchannel inappropriateness, this time in the PHP community.
  • There’s been some discussion about Silicon Valley diversity of late. See what Techcrunch and Mercury News had to say.
  • Maybe this article about meritocratic hiring could be insightful to startups wanting to avoid non-diverse hiring pools:

    Now, whenever I screen resumes, I ask the recruiter to black out any demographic information from the resume itself: name, age, gender, country of origin. The first time I did this experiment, I felt a strange feeling of vertigo while reading the resume. [...] And, much to my surprise (and embarrassment), the kinds of people I started phone-screening changed immediately.

  • From the compare-and-contrast department: How the gamer stereotype stacks up against reality.
  • An unscientific survey of MIT students indicates that geeky students are a typical subset of society with typical sex lives as opposed to the stereotyped socially awkward folk. But we all knew that already, right?
  • Not all countries have the same gender disparity in Tech. Stanford Uni’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research examines gender roles regarding Technology based careers in Malaysia, where women reign supreme.
  • The Free Software Foundation is seeking donations to help sponsor more attendees for their Women’s Caucus at LibrePlanet 2010 next month.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.