Home Women at OSCON: Did You Notice?

Women at OSCON: Did You Notice?

I spent much of the week at OSCON, which served in part as a very visual reminder for something that is always on the back of my mind: the absence of women in tech. While women make up 25% of those who work in the tech industry, they comprise only 1% of those in open source. And wandering around the halls of the Portland Convention Center with thousands of men and a handful of women, I was both frustrated and depressed by the statistic and its reality.

Doubly frustrating, I think, isn’t just that there weren’t a lot of women there; it’s that I really do wonder if many of the men even notice. Oh sure, when it comes to handing out the party invitations in the exhibit hall. Then they see you. But I am not so sure if lots of men necessarily see or feel women’s absence. I’m not sure everyone recognizes the appalling lack of diversity, or if they do, that they even care.

Well, of course people care. Lots of people care. Lots of people are working hard to address the issue and to better support girls and women in technology (NCWIT, Astia, Women 2.0, for example). The OSCON conference organizers did do an awesome job of recruiting women speakers and panelists. I think that’s a key step in making women feel as though their voices are recognized and contributions valued — making women feel like the (open source) technology community is something they want to be a part of.

And then there are lots of people, who when you question why there aren’t more women in tech, respond by unleashing the “hatorade.”

Point out that the tech industry may be exclusionary, and you will hear an old and stale argument (or, you’ll hear name-calling. Or both): the tech industry is a meritocracy. Anyone can succeed if they have the brains, the skills, and the drive. There are no obstacles to anyone’s participation or success in the field, barring they have the skills, smarts, and drive. No women coders? No women founders? You women must not want it bad enough.

Design programs to help foster girls in computing, help support women entrepreneurs, help retain women in IT and you are called sexist, your programs “affirmative action” (something, I take it, that’s a “bad thing.”) You are accused of re-inscribing the very exclusions and divisions you are trying to combat.

The hostility of some of the responses, I’d argue, belies any argument that the tech industry is truly open and egalitarian.

Someone tweeted and several people retweeted — all with the OSCON hashtag — the following: “At Ruby conferences they put porn in the slides, this is a Scala conference so we have math.” It was a just a passing remark, and yes, I get it. It was just a joke. Ha ha ha. But it’s the sort of joke you don’t make in “mixed company,” I’d wager, and it reveals that plenty of folks still don’t see tech events as such.

Image credit: eljustino

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