There has been a lot of discussion lately about women in tech groups. To start with, a quick roundup:
- Rebecca Stavick’s Post Ladies only? No thanks and the follow-up OMG. Someone read my blog.
- Coral Sheldon-Hess’s followup In defense of Women in Tech (WiT) groups which was then cross posted on geekfeminism.org. This post links to some older ones on the subject so I won’t relink here.
Reading the above and the comments give a good overview of the thoughts on both sides, but Coral’s post really speaks to the reasons I think Coding Women groups are valuable and needed. (tl:dr: research!)
Since I recently helped start a Women in Tech group, I thought I would jump in and give my own thoughts.
Boring background stuff
I have been in technology for over 15 years in one capacity or another. My interest was greatly informed by my mom, who has programmed and was always at the forefront of wanting the best in tech for our own house. (Which used to mean a computer with TWO DISK DRIVES.) I have never thought that women couldn’t do tech.
Through the years I have joined many groups relating to technology and more often than not, I was the only woman there. For the in person groups, the guys have been perfectly friendly–I have never experienced anything threatening and no one has ever tried to make me uncomfortable. On the other hand, I was often treated like some kind of exotic bird, not unkindly, but it was usually a bit unsettling, especially for an introvert that doesn’t really like attention. I’ve never had a problem being the only woman in the group–many of my hobbies throughout my life have led to similar group dynamics–it’s being the token woman that bugs me.
Online, all bets were off. As we all know, online is where the trolls live, and under veil of anonymity they berated me and other women simply for being women. Most women online can tell a story or two about this kind of behavior, and there have been quite famous examples as well. Women in tech and other male dominated areas seem to especially draw misogynist ire.
The Lincoln Coding Women group grew out of a small group of women affiliated in some way with the University where I work who looked around and didn’t see any coding groups that met our needs. Also, (and I am speaking for myself here but I bet it applies to others in the group as well) being in a women coding group is a bit of a novelty. As mentioned above, many of my hobbies and interests throughout the years (technical theater and photography in high school, table top gaming, to name a few) have put me in groups which are mostly male. I’m not uncomfortable around men, and I have no problem learning with them, but it is new and exciting to do the same with a group of women. They dynamic is different–so far, more supportive and focused on advancing everyone in the group. This is not to say that this couldn’t happen in other groups, it just hasn’t in other tech groups I have been in. I feel like I can relax and not have to aggressively jump in to have my voice heard. Again, just my perspective from our rather limited time together so far.
When we decided to take the group “public” so to speak, we talked a lot about the language of the group. We decided that we don’t want to be a group only for women, but that we also liked the idea of having women in the name. This has led to some disconnect, and it is something we will continue to work through. We have work to do on inclusive language. But if we waited to launch something until we had it completely figured out, we would never launch. Plus, the voices of more people can help inform the direction of the group.
Another reason for women only tech groups in general is, sadly, many women have very legitimate reasons to find situations that place them as the only female in a group of men frightening. This is also why groups that identify themselves with alcohol might not be the most welcoming. That they are fun for the attendees is great, but there are lots of reasons why a women might not want to attend a group where she will be outnumbered by men 10 to 1 and alcohol is a heavy component.
I think, and hope, that Women in Tech groups are an intermediary step. I would love to see more inclusive groups in general, and I would be happy to join any that pop up and that meet my aims. We will continue to work on inclusivity in #LNK Coding Women. At the moment, to be honest, I am not too concerned about the naming of the group. Some women (and men!) might not be comfortable joining such a group, and that is fine. The response we’ve has so far indicates that there are many who really want this kind of thing, so we’ll keep moving forward and see where it leads us.