Women Rarely Attend Alone: Notes on Diversity & Women in Tech


This is like some logic interview test: a woman signs up for a technical conference. You can assume that two women will show up. But no more women will sign up if only one is on the list. Will women ever increase in attendance? (Answer: no).
The Sarahs of RailsBridge were joking once that it’s not 1 woman that increases diversity, but 2-3. Not to diminish the courageous souls- those who don’t mind being the token oddity, the “only woman in the room,” the famous superstar. Sadly, as we’ve learned from history, one woman can cross the gender divide and remain there for a while. What you need are two women. I’d love to do a study on this. I’ve seen it, and as I said, my friends noted it first (to me). See any given attendance list. If there’s one woman, you probably won’t get a lot more sign-ups by women. Add one or two more, and they will trickle in.

At iPadDevCamp, at one point myself, Stacie my programming partner, and a friend Rae (female) were standing, chatting in a circle. Later, Rae told me: “that was the most concentration of estrogen that conference had ever seen.” Ha ha. I just love how there’s never ever a wait for the bathroom at tech scenes like this. There were other women there- I found them during the demonstration! Largely my experience there was 100% men except for Stacie. That’s not a problem, and it wasn’t an issue or even something I thought about. I had expected it to be this way. I’ve been to shdh (superhappydevhouse programmer parties), countless tech conferences, computer labs on campus late at night. I know what it looks like (how it smells too, sadly). It did become an issue with the awkwardness of some men to “the only women in the room.” You get a lot of attention- let’s leave it at that. You also get, 10X more, a lot of helpfulness. I wonder if I was a young man, if I’d get the same outreach of friendliness (or probably I’d just get competitiveness and aggression? Not sure.)

So I go to this thing, have a blast, get a prize (!) and do a write-up here, and cross-post everywhere. I’m a media-loving whore, it’s true. So then, talking with some friends about it, they were kind of surprised it was 99% guys. Literally. About 500 folks, and 5 women. The media coverage likes the female face- or perhaps it’s just more newsworthy that we were there? The uptake for me, is – sure! There were tons of women there! Because *I know* that’s what it takes to bring more women to these things. Nobody likes to go to the bathroom alone. (if youre a lady)

2 Comments »

  1. Comment by Laura F.

    Posted on June 19, 2010 at 12:22 am

    Anna I agree. I've been to a lot of these things in the last 2 years and part of me actually enjoys being one of few women in the room. You're right, you do get lots of attention, and that makes it super easy to approach new people and strike up random conversations. There's a weird sense of power that comes with 1. being rare 2. being valued (if only for the novelty alone). Plus face it, geek guys are intimidated by women so end up being super nice. Ha!

  2. Comment by banane

    Posted on June 19, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Hey Laura- do you have any friends that were interested in coming, and did you end up inviting anyone? I'm interested in the ripple effect- which seems to be not happening, in a way.

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