Ladies who tech at SXSW and beyond

It’s that time of year where I run off to nerdy spring break in Austin, TX to hang out with geeks and eat breakfast tacos. This year the feminist offerings of SXSW are extensive–the conference just gets more and more progressive every year.

If you are going to be at SXSW try some of these panels:

Sex Nets: Pickup Artists vs. Feminists

Curing a Rage Headache: Internet Drama & Activism

How Not to Die: Using Tech in a Dictatorship

It’s Not News, It’s Business

Race: Know When to Hold It and When to Fold It

Sex, Dating and Privacy Online Post-Weinergate (My panel!)

These panels are full of feminist superstars–check them all out if you can.

I will also be doing a book-signing and will be taping my podcast live from SXSW!

There will also be a WAM gathering here.

But let’s be honest–a lot of people of the lady persuasion will not be at SXSW and they should be. For a tech conference, SXSW is wildly progressive (and tons of fun) but when I say “for a tech conference”, I’m saying the standards are pretty low. SXSW might be one of the only tech conferences that gets developers together with critical race scholars and feminist thinkers. They are unique, but also very expensive and as a result exclusive.

There is still a major lack of diversity in the tech field, something that is still apparent at a conference like SXSW Interactive. The lack of women in technology is a phenomena that relies on the myth that women are inherently not as good at the maths and sciences. Ironically, science has shown us otherwise–women actually are good at math when given the opportunity to do it. And often–the bias runs deeper than what you are learning at school.

Aminatou Sow had the right idea to solve the women in tech problem–start a group to support women in tech. Techladymafia is a google list that supports women that are in or pursuing careers in technology. She tells Tim Fernholz for GOOD magazine,

We started the Tech LadyMafia because we were tired of hearing about “the woman problem” in tech instead of hearing about solutions. TLM is a place to support tech women, promote each other’s work, provide resources, and get paid to do what we love. When I moved to D.C., my friend Reihan Salam, a smart, generous human, gave me this great piece of advice: “Meet awesome people and build an awesome team.”

What are some other ways we can increase the lady numbers in tech? Do you feel you have been somehow excluded from a possible interest or career in technology?


Join the Conversation

  • Michael

    Well here’s my question; do women want to be in tech in the first place? I’m all for equal opportunity but I think we should first ask if women actually want to be in technology in the first place. If it’s not their passion or interest, we shouldn’t aim to “balance out” the genders if women aren’t interested in it in the first place. But if they actually want to, then all the more power to them.

  • Janan

    I agree with what Michael has mentioned… conversations about balancing out genders can be pointless without larger conversations about why they might be occurring in the first place. I’ve written a bit more about this on my own blog.

  • Betty

    People who comment that we should find out if women want to be in tech reminds of those who argue that there is a “natural” woman and the other kind. You know, like when they said women couldn’t be doctors or lawyers. It’s not surprising that these are licensed fields with predictable entry.

    The number of women have dropped in software since the 1980’s with the most remarkable drop in the frat boy years of the tech startups of the 90’s. Sure, a woman could be the one tech mascot entry level token. Or work in marketing. Perhaps be a project manager. Or work in HR…,.but like financial companies on wall street, if there is power and new money involved, girlz are not allowed. The cutesy stories the dudes would tell about their befuddled girlfriends and mothers in the face of tech are so key to their self-concept. Women reinforced dudes who used tech ability and knowledge as a sign of their manhood. You know like the groupies in The Social Network.

    Maybe if I did social media instead of creating the platforms for social media. A mommy blogger perhaps. That is what they call diversity, but they don’t actually have women at these companies, many times in their architecture groups, in their new technology groups, in positions of creative power.

    It’s all cute until dollars and cents and opportunity come into play. As a woman in tech, not at entry level, I can tell you there are strong negative bias to women working in the sexy areas of tech. I work in mobile and cloud and want to work in that area in powerful jobs. 80% of the time or more, I get rejected for a less qualified man or one I trained. It is very difficult to get rewarded and when other women see this, why would they choose that future for themselves?

    99% of the time when I interview at a company, there are no women in the group I’m interviewing for. There are women. I think, if not me, then why not anyone else? Ever?

    I could tell you tales you would find hard to believe and would probably deny. And you’d probably ask me why I don’t sue if they were true. You know why.

    The way they get around being accused of bias, but yet still enforce it, is the “peer interview.” They can say anything about what happens in the peer interview. And you know, it’s cute when a snarky comment prevents you from being considered for any other job at a place in the future. It’s like a drive-by, anon shooter. And if I’m being interviewed by 5 “peers” all men, you can bet there is one that doesn’t like the idea of a woman who looks like a soccer mom being their technical peer or leading them. They can say anything, again. Like “she’s not a good fit.” Meaning, “It’s harshs my ego that my job could be held by someone who looks like that.”

    Women who have been in technology over the years, who should be rising: they all experience this. Women watching from the sides think, “why should I put up with this, what’s the point?” Increasing education to young girls in tech really is kind of a joke when no one addresses what happens to women in their thirties and forties and even fifties in high tech.

    My female peers in tech around my age found it easier over the years to drop out or become project managers (that is who the men thought they were anyway) or get in another field. Because there is no other field, I’d wager, more sexist than the newest tech areas. Some men, due to their culture, consider it a slap in the face to report to a woman or work with her as a true peer. And moreover, you’d self-congratulate yourself for being one of the chosen few.

    Men can’t imagine working side by side with a woman who could look like a soccer mom in the sexy tech areas. First there is thing about being a female. Second is the thing about not looking like a 18 year old model that may be sometimes featured in ads for their company. Perhaps if I were a hot Manga chick I could be entry level mascot-assistant. When I see younger women get in the field working in the areas I do, it’s sad how they are pressured to disappear after they get so old or perhaps don’t look like a model. Until tech panels have a lot of different looking women at different ages, this won’t be addressed.

    Women can do breath-takingly exacting work. After all, they do all the accounting MBA stuff at many companies… They can do high tech stuff, passing physics and math to get into med school in higher numbers than men now. They start small businesses in higher numbers than men. In other countries there is not the gender gap in math degrees, so the smarts is not a sex linked trait. They can master languages better than men. Ability is not in question. By the way, I’ve seen all sorts of men: dumpy men, mousey men, men who had a strong technical background, men who did not, men who were never judged as harshly as a woman rise in organizations and be featured on panels.