Women, Girls, Babes, chix? Where are the women?

May 21 , 2008

Once upon a time

I was at the Refresh DC meeting last month and they had a panel about entrepreneurs in DC. The entire panel was men. I asked Jackson, “why there wasn’t a single woman on that panel?” I’ve been out of the DC area so I had no answer for him off the top of my head either when he asked me. He tried to find one but couldn’t. This started my train of thought that the pool for women entrepreneurs is small or is it that the men are only hanging around men so the men don’t go outside of their group? Is that why? I started asking friends in the DC area for answers.

I know that Circle Solutions was started by a woman and its still going.  But that’s only one I know of in the web arena. Then I started speaking to the female designers I knew in the DC area. I suggested that they put together a Girl Geek Dinner, to encourage each other. I know there already exists a group of DC Web Women. I’ve signed up to the list serve for years and the list serve is too diverse for what the women I’ve spoken to would want. Most people want different things out of their social networks so how do you appeal to them?

So this sparked another conversation on what terminology to call ourselves.

Identity crisis

What do you call women who are geeky, and something with marketing pizzaz but not derogatory toward women? The trouble with the English language is that there isn’t anything appropriate to call women with out it being generic. So I’ve been looking into labels for what we could call ourselves. If anyone can suggest one let me know.

 

  • Girl: too young/immature
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  • Babe:from the 70’s and came out of “baby”
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  • Diva:too much attitude
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  • Goddess:too new age
  •  
  • Chick:usually ending with things on twitter she’s one hot chick
  •  
  • Broad:just too off the cuff
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  • Princess:Too Disney :P (even if we want to be treated like one), 
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If anyone has a solution let me know :) I think Blogher does a great job of branding because no one takes offense to “her.”

What’s the solution

To get the women involved when you are doing an event. Organizers being all men aren’t going to be able to cover the possible thoughts of what women want. I hear the jokes coming in. :P One example, one woman wanted to ask about breast pumping options at a conference. This particular woman didn’t want to speak to the single, male organizers. It was awkward and it was personal to her. Not all women may agree and some may shout it from the roof top when they need to breast feed but the key is not everyone is the same. As liberated as we may think things are I still see people cringe at tampon/feminine hygiene ads in mixed company.

I had the honor of speaking with the guys at Nclud at a high school in Damascus, MD. The teacher Mr. Jeff Brown has taken a lot of effort in reaching out to the community to encourage his students that what he’s teaching is relevant. At the end of the talk I spoke to a female student, she was in 11th grade, one more year of high school to go. Now she could have spoken to the three guys that went with me but she didn’t. Which worked out great because she was where I was at during her age. She was trying to decide if she wanted to go into coding or draw. I think we tend to seek out people we can relate to. Maybe I’m friendlier than the guys :P but that’s the beauty of diversity as long as it happens it works out better for our ecosystem.

Having women or even other minorities helping to organize the event would help attract the attendees. We all have different ways to communicating and learning from others. The reason why we flock to certain groups is because we feel we fit in. We’re all different so keep that in mind. It’s just something that’s been on my mind.

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Wed May 21, 2008 at 06.47 pm

Martin Ringlein

I am obviously not a member, but I hear good things about the Web Women email list serve in D.C.—I get some FWD sometimes and seems like some interesting conversation happens there.

This is one of those subjects that is dangerous to comment on because the chance of being misunderstood and coming off as sexiest or stereotypical is large.

The truth is there are a lot of great women out there working on the web, but honestly that number is smaller than the men; so I guess your question is valid, why?

Again, not trying to stereotype women or generalize; but I always just *assumed* that is was because women are more social in nature. Less likely to take a major in college that requires sitting in front of a screen all night writing code. Or a profession that is traditionally more solitude than most. Or taking their creative artistic talent and using that on a medium powered by the types mentioned above.

I honestly think the best way to solve the problem is change the work ethic and culture of these professions. Beat this basement/dungeon theme with little light mentality most of of this industry.  Or least bring to light the places that promote this and have successful women doing amazing things.

On the topic of terminology; the older I get and the more professional I get, I tend to like “Women” best as opposed to “girls” or “chics”. But, I know 5 years ago, I would have totally disagreed with myself. I agree, Blogher did a great job with its branding!

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Wed May 21, 2008 at 06.50 pm

M. Jackson Wilkinson

Hey Cindy,

I go back and forth on issues like this.  I feel like my highest priority as an organizer is to seek great content and perspective in whatever form that comes, and I often feel like seeking out specific individuals because they are women, minorities, or what-have-you is either pandering or insulting to that demographic.

I’ve been thinking now and then recently that this issue is in line with the difference between second-wave and third-wave feminists.  Second-wave feminists would, in this case, insist that I seek out a woman to make sure women are represented.  A third-wave feminist would be insulted by the fact that I was seeking out a woman, since that would be like accepting charity, and if women are equal to men, they don’t need charity.

Since I grew up with and went to college with third-wave feminists, that’s where I naturally find myself leaning.  In either event, one camp will invariably disagree with actions done in agreement with the other camp, so someone like me is up a creek either way :)

Of course, had I been familiar with (and in contact with) a woman who fit well on the panel, this whole thing would have been moot, so it could still just be my fault.

-Jackson

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Wed May 21, 2008 at 07.02 pm

Abi

I’ve definitely wondered the same since coming out to California. In DC I was a member of DCWW, attended events and met other women who worked in a variety of positions in the tech industry.

Out here there are a couple of groups, but they don’t have the same focus - or much focus at all. It makes me realize that a lot of work went into and still goes into making DCWW happen.

And in a recent contract with an organization documenting Silicon Valley history I was putting together a slide series and realized that in 150 interviews there wasn’t a single women. Not one. The client stated that there just hadn’t been women of merit who also wanted to be interviewed. I wonder if they looked hard enough and I wondered if we (as women) just need to start promoting ourselves more.

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Wed May 21, 2008 at 10.03 pm

Cindy

Jackson, I wasn’t looking for anyone to blame. I didn’t have an answer either for you. It’s been a question that’s been on my mind a lot. At the Refresh orlando conference I asked the women attending what brought them there and what stopped them from attending in the past. Their answer was that 1. Their kids were old enough and 2. Budget to get it. I spoke to one woman returning from Blogher and she said it was hard to explain to her family why she was attending something for herself that wasn’t directly paid for from work, and taking time away from her family. For the most part women are still the majority care takers of the family no matter how liberated we think we are.

Abi: that makes me really sad.I wonder that if we(women) are bad at promoting ourselves also.It’s seen as aggressive, and possibly bitchy to promote ourselves. It is much easier to have others promote us but that isn’t always going to be the case either.

I’ve been taking a look at examples of women in the industry such as Andrea Jung (Avon CEO/Apple board advisor), and Marissa Mayer (Vice President, Search Products & User Experience at Google)to figure out what things they have done to promote themselves. Are they good examples for us or not?

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Wed May 21, 2008 at 10.19 pm

Lea

I have mixed feelings about this.

In many ways, yes, it empowers us women to congregate together and meet other like minded women and help each other out… and yes, I agree with that. HOWEVER, in another way, it just looks like another way to isolate ourselves from the majority of the game-players (i.e. the men). And when you take a look at some successful women, they tend to be the LONE successful woman in the sea of men. Andrea Jung and Marissa Mayer are probably the only women in the top echelons of each other’s company departments,  but I don’t know if they necessarily had a problem getting there because there were less women in their field.

Perhaps what we need to REALLY figure out is why some women find it “easier” to play with men and promoting themselves strongly, while other women do not.

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Wed May 21, 2008 at 11.03 pm

Cheryl

It’s a hard one. I think it’s a combination of being a very male dominated industry as well as living in a patriarchal society.

I just went to thesaurus.com to find more synonyms for woman - check this out.

No wonder we can’t find women speakers when the freaking dictionary doesn’t even have any synonyms except for “moan”!

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Wed May 21, 2008 at 11.47 pm

Cindy

Jackson, what would make the woman less ideal of a candidate? The ruler is broken then. There’s Amy Hoy who from what I hear is an excellent ruby developer. I’m not saying find someone who is a woman to fill a slot but go outside of your comfort zone and find some.

It’s about social circles. If you look at a lot of the events its mostly the same speakers over and over. Why?
Is it because they are friends with one another? Is it time for us to go outside of the friends we have and reach out to others? Just asking questions that have come up in conversations and trying to figure a solution.

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Thu May 22, 2008 at 01.52 am

M. Jackson Wilkinson

This might be a long comment ;)

Cindy, I don’t think there’s anything less ideal about a woman.  Sorry if I suggested otherwise.

The reasons why it’s always the same speakers is because it’s safe to put together a conference with people who have spoken at big conferences before.  You know it’ll sell tickets, and you won’t have to sweat the results.  Taking a chance on a new speaker can be a significant risk.

My process when looking for someone to speak is to ask around.  It’s not important to me that someone has spoken before, but instead that they’ve made an impact in some sense on the people around them, and that that impact has something to do with socializing in person. In other words, if they’re talented and have had great discussions with others, they’ll likely do fine speaking. 

If one of those people happens to be a woman or minority, I may have a vague preference for that, for the reasons you’re stating, but I don’t think I would ever actively seek them out.  I wouldn’t want anyone to feel like the token woman, or like they’re “the diversity in the room,” as I’ve heard people refer to it.  I want you (as the speaker/panelist) that you’re there because you’re the best person I could get for that spot.

Anyway, I ran the idea by a good friend of mine who is outside our end of the industry (more in the web marketing angle), and got this quote from her: “if you asked a woman to speak to satisfy a quota or to feel like you had diversity, we wouldn’t be friends anymore.”  I like my friends, and want to keep them! :P

All that said, Amy Hoy is definitely the type of person I’d want involved in DC Developer Talks, for instance.  I just hope that now, when I ask her, she doesn’t think that it’s because she’s a woman.

I think the issue has to do with the code and markup elements of the web standards scene being perceived as technical minutiae.  Communication Arts Magazine has a subscriber base consisting of nearly 70% women (according to their advertising department), and RISD’s incoming class is 67% female, but yet A List Apart’s readership is overwhelmingly (82%) male.  That last number is closer to the percentage of male computer science majors (72%).

It’s clear, based on the above numbers, that there are more than enough women who could become successful web designers if they so chose.  However, women are often in a rather dramatic minority when it comes to fields that are characterized by technical minutiae.  Women make up 18% of college physics majors, 19% of college engineering majors, and 27% of math majors.  We could loosely conclude that women as a whole view web design as more of a technical field than an artistic one.

So what solves this?  Not much, it seems.  In doing some research in educational journals, one study concludes that gender-oriented role models have little to do with it, as college academic departments in “technical” fields that had more women than men as professors were no more likely to have female students (Solnick 1995).  Also, women at all-female colleges and universities were not more likely to major in a “technical” field than those at coed institutions. 

So in our field, promoting women as speakers or holding events where women are the dominant gender is unlikely to encourage more women to consider the web as a career path.

On the other hand, trying to change the perception that work on the web is technical, and trying to show it to be more of an art than a science probably would be effective.  However, this would be pretty darn hard to do, since there are in fact a lot of technical aspects, and it’s probably in the industry’s best interests to market web work as a technical profession.

Just to end with a question, why do you want to see more women in the web field?  It may sound like a dumb question, but I really think it’s a question worth considering seriously.

I mainly ask because, when I was a music student, I was almost always one of the only men passionate about choral music.  At conferences and in classes, I was in a significant minority, especially when you looked at my age bracket.  I don’t think I ever had a major urge to want more men involved, though, which is why I’m curious.

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Thu May 22, 2008 at 03.11 am

Nick Whitmoyer

I definitely side with Lea’s point from earlier. A professional group that is devoted to a less dominant gender would only continue to isolate the members of that particular group.

It’s important to remember that we’re all human. I hope the groups that we attend encourage participation from anyone and everyone.

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Thu May 22, 2008 at 07.51 pm

Cindy

Jackson, I am looking for people I identify with, I think we all do. I did it in college when I joined the Asian groups but its more of a diversity issue that’s always just made me pause. I didn’t stay with the crowd of only Asians because for me I wanted to see more points of views. The simple answer would be to give my cousin’s three little girls examples of successful people come in all sorts of shapes/genders/races,  but its always more complex than that isn’t it?

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Thu May 22, 2008 at 07.55 pm

Cindy

Nick, I tried countless times to encourage women I knew to attend the Refresh DC events. They didn’t want to go because it was all men and they felt awkward about attending. How do you solve that when its a chicken/egg situation? I was trying to get the women in DC to get more active in organizing or just reaching out to one another and they are. :)

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Thu May 22, 2008 at 08.42 pm

Nguyet

I don’t think women are being antisocial, or aren’t stepping up, they’re just not doing it at Refresh.

Refresh DC is more tech oriented than design. From personal experiences, most female designers I know don’t attend often because most of the topics are too technical, and they get discouraged. I learned probably 20% of what was presented last year.  But I go mostly for the socialization and networking. For a lot of designers (male and female) that I know, it’s not enough of a good trade-off for them. When you’re spending 2 hours (not including commute and social time) being at an event that is “boring” to you, it’s not worth it.

If you’re looking at other events in the area like AIGA, it’s almost always 50/50 female/male because it covers the design industry as a whole, from design to marketing to web to business etc. - the circle is wider and the probability of getting women in are higher. AIGA also do seek out their presenters; it’s not a volunteer position like Refresh. Because Refresh DC is also a “members-run” organization - presentations are based on the majority of the members’ interests. So that if the majority of Refresh members are developers, most of the topics will be about web development.

If the goal is to get more women involved in Refresh DC, maybe Refresh should do some outreach.

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Thu May 22, 2008 at 08.46 pm

Nguyet

Ooh I forgot about the identity thing.

How about just “DCdesigners”?

or “GeekLadies” “ShowYourGeek Dinner”

I don’t know.

brain fried

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Thu May 22, 2008 at 08.56 pm

M. Jackson Wilkinson

We’ve actually been getting a pretty solid number out lately.  I measure success there by hoping that about one in five Refresh DC attendees are women.  If so, then we’ve got it proportionally correct.

If we had far more than 20% women attending, then that would mean we were doing something to dissuade men from coming, and I’d see it as a problem.  If we had far less than 20%, then I’d see that as a problem too.

I haven’t been keeping a very close eye on it, but I’d wager that our last event had somewhere in the ballpark of 15-25% consisting of women.  It might even have been higher.

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Thu May 22, 2008 at 10.25 pm

Paula

Men and women are different—-not better or worse, just different.

I happen to work in an environment with a preponderance of men. At a recent teleconference meeting, I counted 39 men and 4 women. Attendees were mostly director level or above. Anecdotal, perhaps, but it made me think. Is this an environment in which women are permitted to succeed?

I have a point of view and I want to be heard. Don’t make me shout. It is not my character to behave in this way. Given the choice of shouting to get my point across, or remaining silent, I choose silence.

Bottom line, there are plenty of articulate women out there with very fine minds and interesting perspectives. M. Jackson, I entreat you to find and engage them. Take the risk.    :)

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Thu May 22, 2008 at 10.55 pm

Jonatha

I respectfully object to the “women aren’t interested becasue it’s too technical” characterization: I know a number of very technical women from automotive research to web backbone engineers. They exist, they can be found, they can express themselves. The challenge is definitely thinking about HOW to engage people who expand boundaries you wish to push.

In our society, it has become politically incorrect in some circles to “notice” gender, race, ethnicity, and orientation—look at Stephen Colbert’s jokes about “not seeing color” for a spoof on the silliness of trying to be “blind.” I know I’m white and Cindy’s not, just as I can tell I’m 47 and she’s not, and we ARE both women, and both interested in design and technology issues. I’m more interested in hearing her perspective than in counting where we match and where we don’t. I’m more interested in being introduced to a broad spectrum of perspectives, and I cheerfully admit I make snap judgements that people who look diverse are more likely to be diverse.

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Fri May 23, 2008 at 07.00 pm

Lea

Like Jonatha I really really don’t buy the “women aren’t interested because it’s too technical.” I, too, am friends with highly intelligent, driven, and outspoken women who have diverse interests and are not afraid of crowds or speaking (some actively competed in debate and speech competitions) AND are constantly used to being the “only girl” in a group of men—and they all but ended up abandoning their technical careers!

And growing up, they participated in all the kumbaya-lets-get-together women science groups formed by universities. However, TWO of my good friends (one with a comp sci degree, another with an economics degree) decided to become lawyers, another friend abandoned being an engineer to practice medicine, and the one who even went as far to get a masters in HCI from Berkeley (who has a bachelors in Electrical Engineering), never really wanted to work on the web and is looking more about involving technology with the non-profit sector (she did a stint in Africa)

I think some of the problem here is we’re trying to treat the symptoms when we need to find out and address the real problem. Sometimes, I feel like it’s a thinly veiled accusation that a MALE organizer is “too lazy” to find female voices for conferences and I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I’m not blind to gender biases and prejudices out there, but I wouldn’t say the organizer had any malicious intent or even a positive bias towards men. Some organizers SIMPLY didn’t know about certain individuals, male or female, no matter how remarkable they are.

Instead of asking “where are the women” and “why don’t organizers book female speakers”...

The real questions are these:

* WHY do SOME women—like us—find it easier and necessary to get out there and be active in the community?
* Why are SOME women more comfortable or even blasee around men? (a REALITY in the tech industry)
* How can we encourage women to STAY in technology?

I don’t know the answer, I just feel like we are probably asking the wrong questions, which is possibly WHY we haven’t gotten any further in solving this dilemma.

I feel that in these types of discussions, no matter how nice we try to steer it, it becomes a tired boys vs. girls discussion and instead of trying to DEFEND each other’s gender constantly and trying to find fault in each other’s behaviour, perhaps we should really figure out why WE, as women, overcame what other women stilil struggle with, and how men can help encourage that.

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Sat Jun 14, 2008 at 01.04 am

valli

Hey Cindy

Like you know we have started the DCDesignBabes like 3 months back, even though in the beginning we got a bit of disagreement with the word “babes”, I think now it has passed beyond the name and the real essence of what it was started for has come to the forefront..

I found it esp. amusing when I was called a DC Design Babe at the AIGA event yesterday by a totally random person and I was definitely thrilled to be one.

We have got good responses so far and keeping all my fingers crossed for our first event on 26th.. I can report more back right after that.

Represent <a href =“http://dcdesignbabes.com/”>DcDb!</a>

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Sat Jun 14, 2008 at 02.49 pm

valli

Hey Cindy

Like you know we have started the DCDesignBabes like 3 months back, even though in the beginning we got a bit of disagreement with the word “babes”, I think now it has passed beyond the name and the real essence of what it was started for has come to the forefront..

I found it esp. amusing when I was called a DC Design Babe at the AIGA event yesterday by a totally random person and I was definitely thrilled to be one.

We have got good responses so far and keeping all my fingers crossed for our first event on 26th.. I can report more back right after that.

Represent DCDB

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