Women Meetings

A few minutes ago I stumbled on yet another women only tech meeting. Last week I dropped by BarCampMontreal and there was nary a woman in sight. I know a large majority of the men there and for the life of me I can’t see how they could be seen as threatening or patronizing or whatever. And yet, still not that many women and still women only meetings. Why? And, side questions that will get me nasty comments / emails; isn’t that a regression for women’s equality and rights? To me it looks like “Lets not take our own place, we’ll just stick together apart from the men”.


zura November 9, 2007

Well, yes and no. On one hand it can be empowering to see how other women succeed in tech and in the industry and how they deal with things and come up with ideas. This, however, should not deter from attending all the other co-ed activities that go on. I think a mix of both is good.

Patrick November 9, 2007

True. If it was a question of “in addition” but it seems to be “instead”.

Also, why can’t you see each other’s success within the general events?

heri November 9, 2007

i was thinking it’s the same reasons you have an overwhelming majority of girls when you go to dance schools.

i also had that thought a while ago; for the lat barcamp, simon, evan and sylvain wanted to invite artists and this could have brought more women involved

Daniel Haran November 9, 2007

It might take a while before we have a significant percentage of women at tech events. Women-only activities seem like progress to me, since it’s better than (almost) no visibility. Hopefully that will lead to more of them attending mixed events.

hugh November 9, 2007

(i have come to the conclusion that) mostly women just don”t seem to like coming to open barcampy conferences, open meetings, open invite events. the reason, i believe, has nothing to do with how welcoming etc “we” are, but instead more to do with the slapdash way men tend to throw together barcamps (which is the whole point), versus more structured meetings and conferences that women tend to (organize.

i think women don”t like the uncertainty of a barcamp.

anyway that”s my theory for the day, and i would invite anyone who wants to get mad at me for being sexist to instead provide an alternate theory.

again: i think the reason more women don”t come to barcamps is because they just don”t want to.

half of the people i work with on tech projects are women & they are kick ass designers & coders, and it”s too bad more of them don”t come to these things, but there you go.

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino November 11, 2007

hiya hugh,

Not sure I agree with you there. I love attending conferences even if i’m often in minority.

I’m also hanging out with a lot of established men geeks with very little patience to meet new people so their events tend to be promoted to the same ol same ol… something to work on perhaps…

Additionally, I’m putting together hardware hacking workshops and the latest one most of the attendees are women, so my theory is its only a question of time till the women get involved. Give us some time :)

hugh November 11, 2007

hi alexandra, woman attendance at barcampy things in montreal is declining, not increasing… one time i made a big effort to specifically invite a bunch of women i hoped would present something..many came, most of them have not been back. so extrapolating, time isn’t going to “solve the problem,” if indeed there is a problem … there’s something else at work. but certainly there is no lack of mtl femtechs doing great stuff.

but, re: your hacking workshop: maybe it’s as simple as making sure there is a woman on the barcamp organizing crew? for whatever reason, tho, montreal women techies have preferred to host their own all-xx tech things, rather than, say, getting behind barcamp and pushing for more participation of their peers. which is the subject of this post.

on established men geeks being closed, i have no doubt that’s a phenomenon in the world, but i’d be surprised if anyone would say that of evan, simon and sylvain who organized this last barcamp in mtl. and you can’t say that of patrick here, and I would hope no one would say that of me (i’m not an organizer, but i’m loosely in the crowd) … so in my opinion, the “problem” isn’t how welcoming the crew is, but something else in format/subject/organizaton ? of barcamps in general. maybe.

but a question to all you women who didn’t come to barcampmtl3: why didn’t you come? pls tell us!

Martine November 11, 2007

I couldn’t make it to BarCamp this time around because I had to work all weekend, but a few days before the event, I checked out the list of people who had “registered” and saw that there were very few women, which disappointed me and made me ask myself questions not unlike the ones Patrick is asking.

I don’t think that it has anything to do with the fact that the regular crowd at BarCamp is threatening or unwelcoming. Not at all. As other people have mentioned in the comments above, it could simply be a question of networking. Could be that women are slightly out of the communication loop with the current techie crowd, or that they have their own subnetworks of women that they navigate through with more ease, simply because they know and read each other more.

I think there is also something related to the subject matters of the meetings. I can only speak for myself and I’m not a great example because my “day job” is not tech related, but I can say that I was only interested in about 20% of the presentations at the first BarCamp I went to. Too many product demos and back end talk for my set of skills and interests. The idea of spending a whole Saturday there didn’t excite me much, especially after working 4 weekends in a row.

But that’s just me. I don’t understand why there aren’t more female programmers or tech entrepreneurs who want to attend. I suspect it doesn’t have much to do with feeling welcome or not. I think – and I hate to say it – that it could be for lack of interest, or as Hugh said, just because they don’t want to.

And yet, the other day I got an invitation on Facebook for a new series of Geek Girl Dinners in Montreal, and I was quite excited to join the group. Why? I’m not sure exactly, to be perfectly honest, since I love being around men! I do like the idea of finding out more about what women are doing in Montreal, because my circle of friends and contacts in the tech world consist mostly of men. My spontaneous reaction was that what they had to say or show might interest me more, or hit closer to home. Am I right to think that way? Probably not, but whether I was right or wrong, my first reaction counted for a lot in my desire to attend the event.

hugh November 11, 2007

“but I can say that I was only interested in about 20% of the presentations at the first BarCamp I went to. Too many product demos and back end talk for my set of skills and interests.”

so this is the strange thing: barcamps are open and you are supposed to sign up to talk about stuff that interests you. so why aren’t more women signing up to present stuff that’s more interesting?

i don’t think there is right or wrong here, i’m just curious about why it’s happening? i think there is a serious sociological difference between how men and women approach an (open) event like this, and I’m curious to understand what those differences are.

maybe it’s just that women don’t want to tell men about the interesting things they are doing?

Martine November 11, 2007

” barcamps are open and you are supposed to sign up to talk about stuff that interests you.”

That’s true Hugh, but when one is new to the whole thing, one looks first at the list of talks from past gatherings and one can quickly come to conclusions about what’s of interest to the local attendees.

I’m sure if I went up to the women who attended Creacamp, for example, and told them that they could have made the same presentation at BarCamp, they would be totally surprised. They would probably say: “Do the attendees really want to hear about my making jewelry and selling it on the Web?” “Do they care about my online traveling video project?”

I wouldn’t really know what to answer. Do they?

I had to ask about 3 people before I attended my first BarCamp to figure out what it was about exactly, and the answers were never clear, apart from the fact that it was “techie” oriented. (I’m not even sure that’s right.) Now you’ll probably say that the fact that it’s not clear is the point of the whole thing, and I’d have to agree. But I think it might explain why some women stayed away from it. If you know that a lot of people in your close network are going to be there, then maybe you are willing to take the chance of spending a full day in a dark room without a precise agenda. But if you don’t really know anybody there (or if you know very few people) AND you’re not sure what it’s about, then maybe you don’t feel like taking the chance and you prefer to do something else with your day.

I’m not saying BarCamp should change its formula. But once again, I think the absence of women could have to do with their network informing them or not about what’s really going on.

Also, you might be on to something when you talk about differences between how men and women approach these things (though I’m not sure it’s on a sociological level). I personally don’t have a problem with the open, informal approach. In fact, I quite like it. But I wouldn’t be willing to get on the stage if I didn’t feel like my presentation was solid or very prepared. Feminine perfectionism? Could be. I know I would hate to look like the flaky girl taking about something that the techie crowd doesn’t give a damn about (even if they would indulge me anyway because they’re nice). As one of the rare women up there, I would want to be smart, pertinent, and really solid in my presentation.

Am I wrong to think that way? Probably. Can I help it? Not much. ;-)

What I am saying here applies mostly to women that are not very techie. Why do female programmers and entrepreneurs don’t take BarCamp by storm? I’m not sure. I’d love to hear from them in more details.

Tanya November 11, 2007

Hi there.

As a professed girl geek, I wanted to set up the Montreal girl geek dinners as a way for everyone to get together and chat over supper and get to know one another a bit better.

The YULblog events I attended were always welcoming and I managed to meet some awesome people but when it came to going to some of the “more tech-oriented events”, there was usually a dearth of ladies in the room.

I don’t have the answer on what to attribute this to, but by starting a group which is women-centric and men-friendly, I’m hoping that it will inspire more women to mentor and be mentored in the tech community. ***

(Not to say that there aren’t some notable and fab men in MTL who are geeks who inspire me greatly)

hugh November 11, 2007

@martine, now we’ve got some substance to discuss! as i said above, i think it’s the slapdash nature of barcamp: “anyone can present anything! just sign up! be sorta related to techie stuff! but it’s ok if it’s not related at all!” … that very idea turns women off for the reasons you elaborate.

also, a very interesting point about wondering whether anyone will be interested in your project. again, i think this is a difference between men and women (a generalization, of course). i don’t think most men think like that. they say: “i have project. i have stage. i have open conference. hence i will present.” and so they sign-up and present.

but in answer to one of your questions: *some* people would be interested in online jewelery sales and travel videos. i would be, much more than some of the techie presenations which are meaningless to me.

I haven’t coded anything since the early nineties, when I had to do something in fortan (i think) for university. but for me it’s not about techie stuff, but about what people are doing with “the web” … which is why i find it annoying that more women aren’t coming, because lots of them are doing all sorts of interesting things.

@tanya: maybe you can urge your girlgeek dinner group to come to the next barcamp en masse and give us the shot of estrogen and cool non-guy projects we need to hear about?

Patrick November 11, 2007

Thx for the great comments everyone!

@hugh maybe what we need is another camp then. WebCamp? OpenCamp? YulCamp? (maybe not) that is specifically about _everything_ that _everyone_ is doing online around here.

Although there were various tries at making our local BarCamps wider in scope it does, simply by the other events it followed, come with a pretty techy background and we (techies) are the people and subjects that came to it first, re-enforcing that feel.

I wouldn’t normally push for another camp but BarCamp is pretty strong so I don’t think it would be hurt by a new one. Especially if properly scheduled. Then again, maybe it’s just a question of having another track aimed at “everything else online”. Tech track, EEO track.

karl November 12, 2007

martine: not techie, hacking hacking hacking

Making jewelry by your own is highly hacking.
You have an excellent hacker at home with Ed, the cook.
Hacking can be anything and hacking is NOT men. Hacking are all the things we do. I know some people who are hacking with words and grammar, we call them poets. ;)

hugh November 12, 2007

@ karl: yea!

Martine November 12, 2007

@Karl: I agree! Now help me convince all the women who didn’t show up. ;-)

Martine November 12, 2007

Oh, and when I asked Ed why he didn’t go to BarCamp himself, he said that there was too much talking about back end stuff the last time he was there. Now if you do a cooking camp, he’ll be there…

Tanya November 12, 2007

Now we’re onto something.. The men can cook for the Girl Geek Dinners! (Just teasing!!!)

What I liked about the Facebook Camp event (which I helped to organize – so maybe there is some horn tooting here) is that there was both a Marketing and a Dev track which people could circulate amongst. Perhaps the _camp events should have varying tracks due to interest or ‘skill’ level?

I really do appreciate all of these comments and am glad to see healthy and constructive discussion going on around this topic.

hugh November 12, 2007

i am in for cooking.

Angie November 13, 2007

So for my part…

I’m a girl, and was signed up for BarCamp, but declined to go at the last minute. This was mostly due to a work thing, but if I’m honest, it’s probably about a bit more than that, since this has happened for all three BarCamps so far, plus every PHP/MySQL/2600/etc. meetup I mean to go to, plus… ;)

a) I’m shy by nature and so the thought of being thrown into a major socializing thing with 50+ people who I don’t know and who all know each other fills me with a certain kind of chilling dread.
b) The whole lack of French speaking skills thing is a huge barrier for me, (and I don’t see it changing anytime soon since my work has me at a computer for 18 hours a day with English-speaking people, and traveling out of the country for at least a week out of every month). So I start to get paranoid that if I go to these things, I’ll look like an idiot, or people will make fun of me, or I won’t have any clue what people are talking about, etc.
c) Um. It was cold that day. Uh, yeah. That’s it. ;)

So in the end, a lot of times it’s just easier to stay home. :\ None of this has anything to do with males vs. females, however.

That said, I did sign up for the Montreal Girl Geek Dinner group, and even offered to speak. Why? I’m not sure, exactly. I think because I had such a great experience meeting some of the other girls involved in Drupal (my day job) at our last conference. Since there tend to be so few of us out there, it’s intriguing to learn some about where we come from, what we’re doing, etc. Conversely, I get to meet and talk to guy geeks all the time. ;)

Patrick November 13, 2007

a) I think the women events can be good for that, a kind of before the fact networking and preparing event for the shyest. You get to meet a few people agree with each other to have a go at BarCamp (or other) later on.

b) The language problem that exists is that 90% of french speakers speak english so don’t worry about that. It’s a whole other issue that I want to tackle in another post but for the moment, you’d almost think this is a Toronto event, and it’s not the english speakers’ fault.

Jill Muuray November 13, 2007

It’s already so easy to meet techie men! I take my own place among the men 37.5 hours a week. Many weeks, I see them more than I do my own family. If I were to attend a woman-centric tech meet up, it would be to actually meet the other girl geeks of the city. Since we are still a minority around the office, we don’t often run into each other casually. I want to know what experiences we share and what kind of cool stuff other women are up to.

Tanya November 13, 2007

@Patrick- The Girl Geek Dinner meetup before some of the events is a great idea.

Comments closed