I knew it would happen. As I blogged previously, SQLPASS is hosting a 24 Hours of PASS event in March and is using this event to honour Women in IT (WIT) by having 24 sessions given solely by female data professionals.
Having worked on WIT committees, programs and events for more than two decades (I was a national spokesperson for WIT here in Canada for two years), I knew that someone (and there will be more) would eventually anonymously complain that this one event should not be run with only female speakers. Trolls must post anonymously because they don’t want to contribute to the discussion; they just want to make a good thing look bad. This is my letter to Anonymous (an infrastructure DBA).
Hi Anonymous –
You forgot to mention the creepier one that most anonymous trolls give:
"What about the lack of overweight, old, ugly, grumpy white guys in the Supermodel profession?"
It’s a classic. It is the most common response I get in letters to the editor, live events and articles from anonymous posters. If you are going to go for it, please go all the way.
This witty questions does not contribute to the discussion of diversity in any profession because it makes a huge leap of logic: that there is some physical trait in females that should keep them out of the IT profession. That is flat out wrong.
By the way, there are people who are concerned about the lack of diversity in the nursing profession. I support all kinds of programs that want to address real issues of diversity in all professions.
The reason society should be concerned about diversity isn’t about making the numbers somehow magically match demographics of the full population, it is that we should investigate the reasons why certain professions aren’t diverse as the full populations and make corrective action to ensure that silly obstacles aren’t there. The most successful WIT programs focus on ensuring that young women understand the opportunities available to them and remove roadblocks they might have to considering a career in IT.
Much research has shown that young women don’t consider IT (and other STEM) careers because they:
- Don’t even know what the career is about and therefore think it is all about grumpy evil-doing nerds working alone in a dark basement drinking Jolt Cola and typing all day. Think of the Wayne Knight character in Jurassic Park.
- Hear from grumpy people that women aren’t smart enough to work in IT.
- Don’t realize soon enough that they should have taken more math and science during their schooling and therefore can’t get in to certain programs of study, even though they have the aptitude to work in IT
- Think that Computer Science programs are the only career path into IT
- Read computer science program “marketing” materials, which most programs fail miserably at creating, and think “wow, what a boring technical wasteland”.
- Think that IT is only about programming…alone, in a dark basement, typing all day. GOTO point 1.
But let’s focus on one of the main reasons (I presume) why SQLPASS wants to hold an event featuring WIT. The reasons that most women give for not submitting abstracts for speaking:
- Much more often than men, they don’t think that they are enough of an expert to give a presentation.
- Much more often than men, they think there are so many "celebrities" in the field that the shouldn’t even bother submitting.
- Much more likely than men they are more likely to feel that they are an "imposter" in the field and therefore shouldn’t even try to speak at an event.
- They have so many more outside-of-work responsibilities that traveling a ways to speak and attend a conference is a significant roadblock to participating.
- More often than men, they believe that they should be specifically invited to speak rather than just nominate themselves.
- They are more likely to worry about the catch-22 of doing anything new: you shouldn’t do it until you have more experience doing it.
- They think that no one will attend a session they give because they haven’t written a book (see point 4), they don’t travel the world giving presentations, or that someone else has already given a presentation on that topic.
I talk to many women who have wonderful thoughts, observations, scripts, data models, ideas, opinions, and other knowledge to share but won’t even consider submitting an abstract. Most of the time they give one or all of the reasons above. Please ensure that you understand all those “more often” words in the above list.
The idea of featuring only females during 24 Hours of PASS isn’t going to solve all these problems, but it can go a long way to getting more women to present because it takes away some of the obstacles that many female IT professionals give as reasons to not even try. With more women presenting at this one event, we will most likely have more women presenting at other events during the year. You may not want that, but I want that if the reason women aren’t submitting is because they’ve never been encouraged enough to submit an abstract or to gain speaking experience.
Should SQLPASS bend to address those issues? I think they should not have to do so, but often all it takes is a slight change in how women are recruited to make a real difference. Personally, I’d like to figuratively whack all these women on the side of the head like Cher did on Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck: “Snap out of it”. Sometimes, though, helping people realize their potential is one of the most wonderful thing we can do for them.
Yes, I realize for the one event, some presenters will be excluded. For this one event. I would love to have a professional, insightful conversation about whether or not the one shift in a variable is acceptable, desirable, laughable, or even hurtful. But we can’t have those conversations when one posts anonymously in short bursts of accusations. It really doesn’t help the conversation at all.
I’d love to hear opinions on this, but in a way that advances the conversation.
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