What can I do when stereotype threat is playing games with my head?
To give an example, I once had to take an IQ test at school in seventh grade. One section of the test included rotating three-dimensional objects in your head. The test was designed so that each section starts easy and then gets progressively harder. It is supposed to get so hard that there comes a point where you can’t continue any longer and then the tester stops that section of the test. On that section of the test, I managed to hit a window on the score because I got to the very end, having correctly answered all the questions in the object rotation section. The tester, who did these tests for a living, was astonished and he said he had never seen anyone come close to getting all of them.
As an adult, I heard the stereotype that women cannot rotate three-dimensional objects in their head. I heard it many times. Since I started hearing that, I have lost my ability to do so. I’ve tried some rather basic tests on this skill and I can hardly do any of them.
What can one do about this sort of thing?
At technical and other geek conferences and events it’s becoming increasingly common to either video talks by default, or in some cases to refuse to allow any speaker to opt out of being recorded while still being allowed to give their talk. I have been told a couple of stories of harassment related to conference videos, as follows (all individuals are women, some have been anonymised, none are me):
S gave a talk at a professional conference and related the following experience in chat:
S: linkedin pm I just got: “wow- you’re alot more younger and attractive than I imagined!.Thanks for showing your picture!”
S: I don’t like photographs and don’t let my likeness out much online. But a professional talk I gave a couple weeks ago was videoed (with my knowledge and consent). This was the result.
C gave a talk at a technical conference and a recorded version was also published with her consent. She subsequently received an anonymous email with a list of time offsets for the video and sexual commentary on her appearance at those time offsets.
Geekfeminism contributors also shared stories:
- Leigh, in reply to S’s story:
I got one of those on Facebook a few weeks back, from someone I know in the local Linux community, saying I was “so hot” and asking if I was giving any more talks this summer. This is someone I know only professionally, and not even well at that.
I replied with a link to Juliet’s â€˜and sheâ€™s cute too!â€™ blog post…
- Skud has received several messages with offensive commentary on her appearance based on videos and photographs of her talks. A couple of events have recorded her without first obtaining her consent; in one case, she spoke to the photographer afterwards and asked for the video not to be published.
See also the Wiscon troll incident.
What to do about it
Based on these stories, there are several concerns about recording conference talks that conference organisers should be thinking about when planning to record talks:
- Consent to recordings must be obtained from all speakers, in advance.
- Have an optional, opt-in, recording scheme for talks. As these stories demonstrate, people have had harassment experiences, some very creepy and cruel, related to being recorded, or have reason to fear them. People may well decide that they’d prefer not to be recorded for this, or other, reasons. If your conference has a “if you don’t want to be recorded, withdraw your talk” policy, you will exclude those people from speaking.
- It’s not feasible to get attendee consent, but in your conference handouts, warn attendees that their questions and possibly other conversation may be recorded during talks.
Possible alternatives to making recordings of speakers include publishing slides only, or making a slidecast of their slides and the audio of the talk. (Note that the latter can also be considerably more useful than visuals of the speaker.)
Separately, some women (in particular) intensely dislike the paparazzi atmosphere that some geek events have, in which everyone can be photographed at any time. In your event’s code of conduct, consider addressing the question of whether photographers should seek consent from individual subjects to either photography or to publication of photographs.
What’s your experience with event recording, especially video and photography? Can you think of any other ways in which recording is problematic, or other guidelines for event organisers to help with these problems?
Note to commenters: the “you should be flattered” discussion will not take place in this post. Thank you.
This week I started an award at my former high school for a senior female student that has demonstrated creative use of technology. She doesn’t need to have the best marks, she doesn’t need to have sustained performance. She just needs to have shown a sliver of inspiration and interest in technology to be rewarded and encouraged. In the game of Alice’s Restaurant and World Domination, you have to start by doing one thing different. Here’s the FAQ on why I did it and how you can start your own award too.
Why a high school award?
Every November at West Hill Secodary School there’s an award ceremony. Kids who win awards get to stand up in front of their entire school and be recognized for something they’ve accomplished. The whole school claps. The award winner then gets a line on their resume that says they’ve won an award. It doesn’t matter how much money the award is, you still get to say that you’re an award winning student and that can be the difference between getting accepted into the program you want, and just being another faceless application.
Creative use of tech? Huh? What’s up with that?
This isn’t an award for being a nerd or being a jock. It’s an award for two words that hardly ever go together in high school: creativity and technology. That means an entire school full of students are going to be exposed to the idea of creative and technology going together. It comes with a small sum of money, which means some of the students will work towards achieving this award.
Why a senior student?
This is an award that students can work towards over the course of their four years in high school. Student projects in the junior grades (ought to be about) mastering specific techniques and tools, by their senior years students should have the skills they need to start expressing themselves with the tools they’ve learned. Of course there are some truly exceptional young technologists (Drupal has a 13 year old core developer who’s already been around for two or three years), but these geniuses are probably winning other awards too.
Why a female student?
Because I want to encourage girls to use technology in ways that interest them.
I am still working with West Hill to roll out the award, but it was remarkably easy to get the process started. Here’s how you too can start an award to encourage girls to stay engaged with technology.
- Phone up your alma mater (your old high school).
- Ask to speak with the guidance department. These folks know everything. Tell them you’re an alumni and that you want to sponsor an award. You will be redirected to the right department from here.
- When you redirected to the right department, start over. Explain that you want to sponsor an award.
- Choose your own criteria, but don’t be too specific. If you are too specific will be too difficult to match your award to a student (and they may not be able to actually give the award out). The school should work with you to come up with the exact language for the award criteria and the name of the award. Have some ideas before you phone.
- Make the amount of the award up to the value of one billable hour of your time. The award is not about the amount of money, it’s about (1) promoting technology (2) giving a student a line on their resume. It’s also about being sustainable. You want to make sure you can afford to give this award every year. In some cases you may be asked to set up a fund for an ongoing award. If you have the funds, go ahead and do that. If not, ask if you can sponsor a one-time award. In my case they didn’t ask for anything more than this year’s award. They will send me a form letter next year to remind me to send another cheque.
- Write a cheque to the appropriate school division. (Mine is made out to the school board.) You should be issued a tax receipt for your donation. Ask them about this if they don’t mention it.
And that’s it! One billable hour of your money (and a stamp and envelope for the cheque). 20 minutes of your time. And you have made a female student an award winning technologist. Now get out there and do it!
Allyson Kapin has a post over on Fast Company, entitled Where are the women in tech and social media? in which she talks about the dearth of women speakers at tech conferences. She offers a list of things conference organisers can do to get more women speakers:
- Reach out to groups such as the Anita Borg Institute, She’s Geeky, Women Who Tech, National Women of Color Technology Conference, Women In Technology International, Women 2.0, and Girls In Tech and ask for suggestions of women speakers based on conference objectives and target audiences. Build a relationship with these organizations so that the communications pipeline is always open.
- Look at your programming committee. Is it diverse enough? Two women out of 10 are not diverse. Also, consider having 1-2 panelists solely focus on recruiting diverse speakers.
- Take on a 50/50 keynote challenge.
- Edit panel acceptance notices to include a section on the importance of having panels filled with diverse panelists.
- Follow more women in tech and social media on Twitter. For example, Women Who Tech recently compiled a list of 75+ women in tech’s twitter feeds. Be sure and also look at the Speakers Wiki and GeekSpeakPR.
Here are ten more tips:
- Have a diversity statement and code of conduct for your event that shows that you’re serious about welcoming women and other minorities. Make sure it is included (at least by reference) in your Call For Papers and other speaker communications.
- Track the diversity of your speakers. You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Count the number of women speakers from year to year, and if you’re proud of your improvement, tell people! If other aspects of diversity are important to you — first time speakers, speakers from other countries, cross-disciplinary speakers, speakers of colour — then count that too.
- Add a “Suggest a speaker” form to your website at the time of your CFP, and link it to your diversity statement. Ask people to suggest speakers you might not have thought of before. Follow up these suggestions with a personal email saying that the speaker had been personally recommended. You’re combatting Imposter syndrome here: knowing that at least one person out there believes in their knowledge and speaking ability will help potential speakers get over the hump.
- Avoid form letters. At least write a line or two of personalised, human communication at the top of emails you send to potential speakers, making them feel wanted. I’ve seen too many impersonal CFPs blasted to women’s mailing lists and ignored.
- If you’re a conference organiser or on a papers committee, go out of your way to attend sessions by minority speakers. If you’re in a rush, you can even just pop in for a few minutes. I saw one of the OSCON folks doing this to great effect the other week: he asked me, “Is $woman a good speaker?” She’d spoken at many previous conferences, but he had no idea, so I suggested he go see her in action. He went off and was back in 5 minutes. “She’s great,” he said. Her confidence and speaking ability had impressed him in no time flat. And yet he’d never known about it before.
- Let people know about any travel funding or scholarships which may be available for speakers at your conference. Women are less likely to be sent to conferences by their employers, more likely to be freelancing or working part time, or to have additional costs (eg. childcare) related to travel. Anything you can do to offset this will help improve diversity.
- When I’ve spoken to conference organisers and proposal committee members, what I hear time and time again is that technical interest is good, but having a great story to tell is better. Make sure your speakers know this! Emma Jane Hogbin, organiser of the HICKTech conference, had 50% women speakers and attendees, largely by doing this. This is a great tip for getting first-time speakers.
- In some fields and at some conferences, you’ll notice that women tend to speak about community management, documentation, and social tech rather than programming, hardware, sysadmin, and other more technical subjects. If those women submitted two proposals, one “hard” and one “soft”, the soft one may have been chosen to provide balance and texture to the conference procedings. However, the effect is to type-cast women speakers, and a vicious cycle may begin to occur. See if you can break the cycle by accepting more hard talks from women, or soft talks from men.
- Make sure that your conference’s extra-curricular activities are welcoming and safe for women. Here’s a tip: conference dinners with 90% or more men and free alcohol are not welcoming or safe. You don’t want to end up on a list of conference horror stories because of sexual harrassment, assault, or just plain sleaziness. If you can, offer taxi vouchers to help people get home from late night events.
- Pretend for a moment that your conference already has 50% women speakers and attendees. What would be different? Now do those things. Example: at one point OSCON had no women’s toilets on the conference floor, because of the vast gender gap in attendees. What message do you think that would send to potential women speakers? If you catch yourself doing anything like that, stop and reverse it immediately.