At ZendCon this year, Juliette Reinders-Folmer of phpwomen.org ran a session in the unconference entitled “Women in IT”. In this session she invited the attendees (a fairly even mix of the genders) to discuss various aspects of women working in the male-dominated IT industry, and specifically in PHP. We were lucky enough (thanks Paul Reinheimer of php|architect!) to get the session recorded – the audio can be found at:
Juliette shared some interesting links with us, pages and conversations that had given her the motivation to run a session like this and examine the issues – in particular http://meyerweb.com/eric/thoughts/2007/02/23/diverse-it-gets/
We’ve also set up a forum thread for us to discuss this further – so feel free to drop in there and add your thoughts. Finally, here’s an overview of the main points of the session, in case your headphones aren’t handy:
We kicked off the session with agreement that women in IT is a good thing. Then we looked in more detail at the pros and cons
Women in IT is not a good thing because:
- sexism wouldn’t be an issue if the women weren’t there
- men become more competitive with the women around, not in a good way
- women make it harder for a team to communicate, because some men don’t know how to talk to them
- women with kids can have “emergencies” – so more work for everyone else
- women sometimes get jobs on “affirmative action”/”positive discrimintation” grounds
Women in IT/PHP is good because:
- women make the men more civilised and better behaved
- women have an alternative perspective
- women have more empathy with the user experience
- better for business
- women are good team players
- women are more conscienscious and pay attention to detail
- women smell better
There was agreement that most guys are fine and there is just the occassional bad apple – but that this can put women off for life. We discussed how hard it is for outsiders to intervene in a situation where a woman is getting a hard time from someone else. The women are usually strong personalities, and can be slightly uptight about guys coming in and “rescuing” them. The guys who are seeing it happening will have difficulty identifying when to step in or even that there is an issue at all.
We identified issues with women not putting themselves forward unless they feel they are *better* than others, where men do it when they feel they are *as good*. The men are more comfortable with “blowing their own trumpet” about what they have been doing, whereas women may consider it to be all in a day’s work. When conferences are selecting speakers, they need to see the speaking/writing this particular person has been doing, so it must be easy to find. We also discussed how women are often raised to be modest and supportive – and often they don’t realise how much self-promotion is done by men that they need to compete with.
Elizabeth mentioned that one of the purposes of phpwomen is to mentor more women – and show them the steps to promote themselves. The organisation publishes when calls for papers are happening, and helps show newcomers how to prepare their abstract, bio, and so on. Some colleges teach public speaking, but not everyone has that experience or takes these opportunities when they are optional. Men need this just as much as women do to become speakers too, this is not a gender-specific issue.
Women tend not to study computer science, its not really culturally acceptable and the profession isn’t appealing – so they don’t ever try it, they’re never exposed to code. Its completely normal for women to never write a line of code, not all teachers/parents are able to let youngsters try these things out.
We all took turns to say the ways we will help support women in IT/PHP:
- Go to phpwomen, answer forum questions, helps men and women (public forum).
- Mentorship program – we have big sisses and little sisses, people will grow to nuture new joiners
- Go into schools and show the girls that software is *creative*
- Answer questions and support people on the IRC channel
- Women could be submitting talks and/or having presence at geek events
- Conference/User group organisers: invite and encourage female speakers
- Accept candidates for work experience, including women/girls
- Encourage women to write for forum or c7y
- Support women in the workplace
We also noted that almost all the bad experiences have almost all been in workplaces – not in the development community.
Thanks to Juliette for running the session!