A great talk on women in tech at Webvisions. Very fast-paced panel conversation. Some gaps in notes. Please feel free to put corrections in comments.
Women in Tech
Sce Pike* (Citizen), Emily Long (The LAMP), Janice Levenhagen-Seely (Chicktech), Carrie Bisazza (Ebay Mobile)
- Do you feel at all conflicted about the conversation about women in tech?
- Emily: I feel conflicted that we have to have the conversation. I also feel conflicted about celebrating tiny wins. I feel conflicted about having to drum up support.
- Carrie: I feel a little conflicted. I’m only recently aware of this issue. It’s hard to have conversations when I look at everyone as individuals. It’s hard to make sweeping generalizations, but the statistics do back it up. The problem may be somewhat less in design.
- Janice: Not conflicted about conversation. I’m angry that it still has to happen. But it’s absolutely necessary. I have to hear stories every single day from women about shitty experiences they have in the industry. There are small gains in some small places. Then you hear “We don’t have to worry anymore. The problem is fixed.” But those small wins are not a win. You still have local colleges that are only 8% woman in tech degrees. That’s 92% men.
- What do you think about the current state of ownership? (Data, wealth, power.)
- Emily: Ownership reminds me of the state of New York, it’s a tale of two cities: the income inequality. We’ve got the south Bronx, which is the poorest Congressional district in the US, and then we’ve got Fifth Avenue. Media is the filter through which we see and understand the world. The owners of that filter matter so much. On the surface, the ownership of media seems extremely dull, but it’s so important. It’s nobody’s fault if they’re an older white male. They didn’t choose that. But the result is still the same. What we get now is not what we would get with greater diversity of ownership of media.
- Janice: Focus is on women in tech. I get a lot of meetings with men in power in their companies. At the end of the conversation, it almost always ends with “Wow, I have a high school daughter. I would love to get her involved in your program. Or, I have a stay-at-home wife, she should get involved.” It’s almost never “Oh, your program is amazing. I want to get involved. I want my company to be involved. I want to help you push this forward. I want to support this financially.” <— super powerful story.
- Carrie: When I came into Ebay seven years ago, we had Meg Whitman at the CEO, and a woman design leader, and more women in influence and power. But that’s definitely changed. As you start to go up the leadership chain, there’s a point at suddenly there aren’t any or just a few women in the room.
- But we have had (someone – CEO?) who has been very supportive, who has stepped forward and said “What can I do?”
- Intel recently said they wanted to make sure they had 30% of their employees should be women. But is that merit based? Is that enough?
- Janice: Companies say “we want more women in tech”. But they aren’t willing to change anything. And I say “Well, what about doing X?” And they say “we don’t have the money for that.” And I look around their office, and they have free beer, and designer light fixtures, and crazy amounts of money spent on stuff, but they aren’t willing to spend that money on making their culture and offices more appealing to women. I all the time see women who are so frustrated, and want to leave tech. And all the time see companies who say they want women but don’t want to do anything. How are they going to do that?
- Emily: If you are a women, or a minority, or an “other”, then it’s like you’re on the stairs, and everyone else is on the escalator. It’s not that you can’t get to the top, but that you have to work so much harder to do it. i think it’s fine to have some affirmative action to help compensate for that. The system has been supportive of white men for so long. Affirmative action is just trying to bring balance.
- Janice: A big concern that bothers me is companies who aren’t willing to share their diversity data. Because if a company isn’t willing to share their data, it must be worse than the numbers coming from big companies, like 15%. And it says that you are not willing to make a change either. Because a company can have bad numbers, but put a plan in place to change. Not sharing the numbers says they don’t have a plan to change. And employees who are considering the company aren’t making an informed decision about how bad it is.
- What is the right driving strategy that would make change happen? How do you get men involved in this conversation?
- Emily: I don’t know how to get men involved. I don’t know what would motivate them.
- Carrie: The men are hugely important in driving this. The encouragement of husbands, the voices of fathers, the CEOs of companies. It’s got to be a whole effort.
- Janice: A lot of times that men step up, it’s because they have daughters, and they’re worried about their daughters not having the same opportunities as their sons. But it also has to happen in the schools. I didn’t know there was a problem with women’s equality until I got to college. Why? That should be taught younger. This isn’t just a tech issue. It’s an issue everywhere. Women have never been equal: we’ve been slaves, property, a means to have sons. If we don’t educate our kids about this…then the problem keeps going. Women are hearing and internalizing the “I’m not good enough” message by the time they are in high school or college. So it’s too late to intervene then. If we don’t change the messages our women are getting (as kids, high schoolers, college age), they will never gain the confidence.
- Emily: Women’s history is not being taught. Students at Stanford didn’t know the pivotal role that women played in computers. [Will: specifically, computer software. The men did all the hardware work, the women did all the software program. See history of ENIAC.]
- Advice to men and women?
- Janice: Women, you are 50% more awesome than you think. Men: the women around you are 50% more awesome than you realize. Treat them like that.
- Emily: Men, nobody is saying that you are a sexist, or you personally are at fault. Don’t internalize it too much, but do take collective responsibility and have compassion for the other side. Women: Echo the awesome comment by Janice.
* Pike’s first name has a diacritic above the e, and without an internet connection, I don’t know how to generate on my keyboard. Sorry! Will fix up after conference.
1) Note to self: Share story about gender equality at DevOps conference.