Why We Need More Women as Tech Event Organizers
Written by Mala Gupta
I’ve been speaking at industry conferences for a while now. Unless a women-led organization hosts the conference, like Women Who Code, the number of speakers represented by women is usually around 10%. I find this extremely frustrating, and I imagine you do too.
We are aware of the gender disparity in the tech industry and the various reasons behind it. In this article, I want to address this issue from another perspective: a woman in tech responsible for making decisions. Before I go into this, though, let me first step back and discuss the dangerous stereotyping that women of all ages face regularly and the effects these stereotypes have.
The Social Programming of Your Subconscious Mind
What comes to mind when you think about an advertisement for any laundry detergent? A washing machine, kids, women? The message is that the detergent will make it easier for a woman to fulfill her task of cleaning her children’s clothes. With this message, the advertisement implies that washing clothes, managing the home, and raising children are all fundamentally the responsibilities of a woman.
This unfair stereotyping results in biases against women. When we are subject to advertisements like this repeatedly, people of all ages come to define gender roles subconsciously — both for ourselves and for others.
Unfortunately, this subtle stereotyping is prevalent everywhere. You can find it in movies, classic stories, plays, song lyrics, paintings, sculptures, etc. The list is endless.
The way society continuously portrays women affects how everyone perceives genders and their roles.
Combating Subconscious Bias With TechnologyGrit
Two years ago, I launched the publication of “TechnologyGrit” — WWCode Delhi’s monthly newsletter — which highlights the achievements and success stories of leading women in technology based in India.
TechnologyGrit’s primary goal is to combat subconscious prejudice in society. By showcasing more women leaders, I want to change the way women are perceived. If people see more leading women in technology, it becomes more natural for them to assent to women working in these leadership positions. By featuring leading women with decades of experience, we could encourage young girls and women not to give up on their careers, regardless of how challenging remaining committed can be at times. The women featured in TechnologyGrit were able to overcome their challenges, and we can learn from them and keep moving forward.
“The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create It.” — Abraham Lincoln
Showcasing leading women helps in the struggle to change society, but only to a certain extent. The most reliable way to have a more significant impact is to initiate the change you want to see.
As a speaker, the ridiculously low number of non-male speakers at conferences was always one of the aspects I never liked about them. I never realized, however, that I had internalized this frustration.
I recently had the opportunity to take the lead in the organization of JetBrains Technology Day for Java, a free virtual event scheduled for July 10, 2020. My co-organizers and I invited the best speakers we knew for this event. A lot of credit for our fantastic lineup of speakers also goes to my colleague, the wonder woman, Trisha Gee.
And this is where things got interesting.
When we finalized the list of speakers, I realized that the majority of speakers for this event are women — 6 out of 11. This ratio is terrific, but it was also unplanned. This realization made me wonder how we managed to arrive at that number, even though we never consciously planned it. We only focused on reaching out to the best speakers we knew of while considering the diverse range of topics they could speak about.
And this is when we had a moment of insight.
As an active leader and contributor to Women Who Code, I’ve championed women’s participation in technology over the years. I have often discussed why we have lower levels of involvement from women in tech and how to change this.
As a speaker, I have been fortunate to meet and connect with many other speakers from diverse backgrounds and appreciate what they do. The developer advocacy team I work with at JetBrains is itself an incredibly diverse group of passionate people. We are from different countries and regions, have different cultures and traditions, speak different languages, and eat different food. This diversity is one of our greatest strengths.
I realized that, as we went through the process of extending invitations and approving topics, we intuitively reached out to speakers from diverse backgrounds and organically included many non-male speakers. These were subconscious decisions, which I believe are grounded in who I am, the biases I fight against, the stereotyping I hate, the work I do, the people I interact with, and the team I work alongside at JetBrains. I made the choices I made because of who I am as a person and the experiences that have shaped me.
Those experiences include the frustrations I’ve felt being underrepresented at conferences and the work I’ve conducted advocating for women in the tech sector. However, I could not curate a diverse event simply because of my experiences: it was also vital that I occupied a position that enabled me to make critical decisions based on them.
Women, We Need More of You in Decision-Making Positions
At Women Who Code, one of our mottos has always been, “Women, we need you.” I’d now like to modify that a bit: “Women, we need you in leadership positions.”
The JetBrains Technology Day for Java conference has more female speakers than male speakers because women are in decision-making positions and organizing the conference.
The world will become better as we get more women in decision-making roles. They will have the power to implement the changes they want to see and create the future they envision, rather than having to wait for others to make it happen for them.