Trolling the #24HoP

Dec 10, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Database, Speaking, WIT  //  8 Comments

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Hear from grumpy people that women aren’t smart enough to work in IT.
  3. 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
  4. Think that Computer Science programs are the only career path into IT
  5. Read computer science program “marketing” materials, which most programs fail miserably at creating, and think “wow, what a boring technical wasteland”.
  6. 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:

  1. Much more often than men, they don’t think that they are enough of an expert to give a presentation.
  2. Much more often than men, they think there are so many "celebrities" in the field that the shouldn’t even bother submitting.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. More often than men, they believe that they should be specifically invited to speak rather than just nominate themselves.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

8 Comments

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Karen Lopez, Wendy Pastrick, John Sterrett, Jes B, Ryan Malcom and others. Ryan Malcom said: Agreed! RT @wendy_dance: Now THAT's a good blog post! RT @datachick: Trolling the #24HoP http://goo.gl/fb/DDsAQ #passwit #sqlpass […]

  • Don’t forget the other cheap comment “Last time I checked {fill in well known female SQL guru} seems to be doing quite well. If there is such a big problem, why is she {writing so many books, speaking at so many conferences, etc}?”. Uh huh, and some of your best friends are female DBAs right?

    I think themes are going to be something really cool that can be done with #24HoP and hope to see many more in the future. Female speakers actually isn’t the first theme if you count the Latin #24HoP.

  • Hi Karen

    Thanks for starting this discussion. I have used my name here so not to be thought of as a troll, but I do not like this idea of exclusion at all. Your points about why many women need encouragement are all well made, but the solution is not to think of women just as a “theme”. I do not want to part of some themed event, unless it is a Star Trek theme, that everyone would be free to participate in if they chose.

    Would there be a men-theme then at some point?

    The purpose of the Latin #24HoP was as much to provide a service to the community as to help the speakers, with presentations in a language they are more comfortable with. I think it’s a different situation here as the possible benefit is only to the potential speakers, who are now being shunted aside into a special themed category. They’re not just SQL Server Professionals, they’re FEMALE SQL Server professionals.

    I believe there is much that can be done to encourage more girls to pursue technology careers, and there is more that can be done to encourage women who are SQL Server specialists to speak at community events. But I do not think an exclusionary event is the solution.

    Best regards,
    Kalen

    • Hi Kalen. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      I did have a longer section in this post about my misgivings of a female presenter-only event, but did leave in the thought about it being perceived as a “waiver of qualifications” or something like that. My basic thoughts that didn’t make it into the post:

      I’ve been working on WIT-like programs for decades and the one thing that frustrates me the most programs is that they are mostly talk and very little action. Panels about why we need women in IT, one day events where we let girls make drawings on a computer, or roundtables on why women don’t make as much money as men in the same job. These are important components for WIT, but they aren’t in themselves solutions. They aren’t actions.

      So I am happy to see someone actually doing something. I know that some potential presenters are excluded. But I see this as a half-full/half-empty perspective. I was glad to see that the 24HoP event was to “feature” female speakers during Women’s History Month. I could see the half-fullness of that position. Where I’d see it tip to half-empty would be if only female could attend as well. Think that is outrageous? I get invites to those types of events all the time. Recently at a conference some WIT tables were set up during lunch. Staff were there to run off men who tried to sit at them. I think if we are going to do something about diversity, it has to have everyone working together on the issue. It shouldn’t be a bunch of women getting together to talk about how miserable work is.

      There is a lot of research going on in STEM education and gender. I hate some of the results: that girls do better in math when they are in an all female class, that teachers do better jobs when they teach an all female class, that girls are more likely to drop out of STEM classes when there are few females in the class. All those findings make me want to do the Cher thing on all of them. It just should not be that way. But it is.

      Someone at a recent event let me know that my abstract was selected because they wanted more female speakers. The fact that program committee secretly chooses based on gender seems creepier to me than if it is done as a “feature”. And less fair to the guys who took the time to submit and wait for the results.

      I would see the female “theme” a problem if the logo/website/whatever were to be themed pink with lots of feminine touches (whatever those are). I spoke about this recently as the “shrink it and pink it” approach to WIT.

      I have come to realize that most women working in IT are not like me. Most are not assertively submitting abstracts, preparing presentations, publishing whitepapers, running a company and blogging on a regular basis. I know many who are, but I think I’m in the minority. I suspect you are as well, although we haven’t met in real life. I don’t know how to give people those figurative whacks on the head.

      I see this 24 Hours of PASS event as a one time experiment to see if we can actually impact abstract submission rates by females for all the reasons I mentioned in my post. I’m hoping my non-female colleagues can help by supporting it and not positioning it as an exclusion. If it turns into a pink fest of tampons, flowers and butterflies, I’m not going to think it a success, but a theme park / females on parade. I’m hoping the organizers can avoid this at all costs.

      What ideas do you have that would encourage more females to submit abstracts and present?

  • The problem with the analogy of there not being any old, ugly men in the super model role is that old, ugly men lack the ability to have the basic skills needed to be a super model. Women on the other hand do not lack the ability to be technical professionals. They may lack the opportunity or motivation to be technical professionals, and that is something we can do something about.

    The all-WIT 24 HoP event helps to address the lack of opportunity and/or motivation. It’s a good thing. If all that was holding old, ugly men from being super models was opportunity or motivation, I would support a fashion event that uses only old, ugly male models.
    Robert L Davis recently posted..Introduction to Integrity: Data Purity ErrorsMy Profile

  • […] teacher, Barbie and friends fix the problem, Skipper and Barbie give great presentations.  We need more great females to speak, right? Well, just like in database design, the Devil is in the […]

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