1 Apr

People in Tech

There are many differing opinions on how to be a successful woman in a predominantly male industry.
Recently I heard the dreaded phrase "use your feminine wiles". Shocked wouldn't describe it. I think that in following this advice you would not only do yourself a disservice, but also the men that you are working with. Treating them as people to be manipulated rather than equals.

I have been fortunate enough to work with predominately fair, modern and incredibly smart men who would most likely recommend an eye bath if I tried to flutter my eyelashes in their direction. It also in my opinion plays directly to the notion that for a woman to succeed she should be attractive and alluring. This is nonsense.

Use your intelligence and experience. Back up your ideas and proposals with research and POC's. Negotiate rather than manipulate. Preserver and stand your ground when you're right. Recognise and concede when you're not. Accept that you will most often fall somewhere in the vast grey area in between.

In the words immortalised by Vanilla Ice "Stop, Collaborate, and Listen".

Belinda Parmar, chief executive of Lady Geek, an agency that campaigns to make technology more accessible to women, stated last year that she would no longer speak at women only events. It's something that I had thought about while pondering the "why aren't there more women in tech" conundrum myself. Surely by segregating ourselves we only make the problem worse? We create a "them vs us" situation where all the women band together and just end up creating another exclusive club, becoming the very thing we got together to eradicate.

Yet despite this view I didn't attend a single tech event outside of work until Women Who Code was established in Belfast.

Why? I was intimidated. Not because I think that men are scary, but because I had this idea that it would be all men. They would be super smart, with a natural aptitude for coding. They'd have been whipping up websites ever since they emerged from the womb. I would of course stick out like a sore thumb and my ineptitude would totally obvious to anyone that so much as looked in my direction.

Where did I get this impression? Well. I don't really know. I just know that I have felt that way my entire career. The feeling has been compounded by a number of things. Sitting in presentations that included pictures of women in bikinis for no good reason, attending a conference where a magazine advertised itself with the slogan "Enhance Your PHPness", seeing women in tech represented as WAGS, eye candy or as illustrated in the pic above, disreagrded altogether (source). All of this really sends the message "you don't quite fit in here".

I'm very put off by tech talks that rank drinking up there with talks being delivered - it's reminiscent of crashing a boy's night out. While having now attended some talks I know that is not the case, it did for a long time stop me from just taking that first step.

Women Who Code for me has been a non-intimidating introduction to tech events in Belfast, their structure, the pace, the realisation that if everyone already knew everything they wouldn't be there. I knew that I was walking into a situation and environment that I was comfortable in, somewhere that I did "fit in". It has served as a confidence builder and a stepping-stone into attending more talks outside of WWC and mentoring at the CoderDojo in Befast Met.

That's the important bit. The idea isn't to get together a group of Women Who Code, wrap them up in a little bubble and keep them there. It's not to exclude the men of the industry, WWC Belfast officially launches on the 2nd of April with a line up of speakers female and male. I believe that this group was sorely needed in Belfast and that it increases the awareness that there are in fact, many women who code. And many women that are part of the industry as a whole. I hope that part of the agenda is to encourage the women who come along to also attend events outside the group, to be an active member of the tech community and to become speakers themselves in events targeted at any demographic.

So why aren't there more women in tech? A question I was asked as recently as this weekend. Honestly I don't believe that there is one all encompassing answer. I think it stems from a number of factors from how children's toys are marketed, traditional male/female career paths and how these are encouraged in school and at home, through to horrible occurrences of women being listed in IT job advertisements as if they are perks.

What I do believe is that the solution lies in promoting tech early on, to everyone. Women must be an instrumental part of this. Young people coming into the industry should see that there is room here for all of us, and that we all have something to contribute.

I look forward to seeing the industry change, the gender imbalance disappear, and the day when we can all just be "People in Tech"."

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