Archive for November, 2009

BlogMelbourne: Helping local bloggers via Twitter

I noticed that while there are lots of communities and events springing up around Twitter (such as MTUB and Tweetupmellers), that the blogging community in Melbourne could use a Twitter rallying point for sharing blogging tips, promoting events of interest to local bloggers and so forth. So I created @BlogMelbourne.

I hope in time to host some low key events for the Melbourne blogging community, but in the meantime I’ve kicked things off by posting a series of tips for bloggers. I’m assuming that some bloggers aren’t voracious Twitter users (yet!) so some of the tips will already be familiar to you.

I’m keen to hear your ideas about what you’d like @BlogMelbourne to do. Post links to interesting blog posts about Melbourne? Post tips for bloggers on how to use Twitter? Host social events or workshops for Melbourne bloggers? Please share any ideas or suggestions in comments, and feel free of course to follow @BlogMelbourne and pepper me with suggestions there too.

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What is keeping women out of tech? Do you really want to know?

As someone who’s been working in the male-dominated tech industry for nearly a decade, I have experienced my share of frustration at the fact that the gender balance is so poor. I hate the fact that so many Australian girls drop out of maths and sciences at high school, and that enrolments in tech related courses at uni are so low.

I teach web publishing, and I’ve tried hard to instill a ‘startup’ culture in my students. It is an uphill battle – university courses are geared towards getting students to complete coursework, not incubating startups. But I’ve tried, nonetheless. Last semester, I invited Australian web entrepreneurs Duncan Riley and Stephen Mayne to a one night ‘startup camp’ in which students had to pitch their website prototype as though they were pitching to a VC. (No, I couldn’t find a female web entrepreneur in Melbourne to join the panel. That sucked too.)

I’m disappointed that despite so many of my promising students developing awesome web prototypes, so far they don’t seem inclined to take the next step into launching them as commercial ventures. I feel this is a touchy thing to say where my female students will read it, but to be honest,  I’ve come to expect that my best female students, who are often the driving creative forces behind the web projects build in my class, are even less likely than their male counterparts, to take the leap into startup land. But I’m going to keep trying, because that’s why I do what I do. I want to help young people make awesome stuff on the web.

In short, I’m not unaware that there is a gender imbalance in tech, and I’ve put in a fair amount of time to organising events aimed at helping even up the gender balance. I have walked the talk.

So I feel qualified to point out two reasons why The Next Web article asking “What is keeping women out of tech” is just, well, unhelpful. It annoys me that so often discussion of the low representation of women in tech is blamed on women. It kind of makes me think of a guy with terrible body odour and bad breath sitting at a party, wondering why people are avoiding him, and then saying they must all be terrible snobs, it couldn’t be HIS fault. My other pet peeve is when people make huge generalisations about ALL WOMEN.

So I was a bit disheartened when @zee posted a link on Twitter to this article on The Next Web blog, which demonstrates both of those annoying traits.

Don’t get me wrong. I love women and think they are smarter, faster and more organized than men. Unfortunately I don’t see too many women taking advantage of their skills and the opportunities presented to them.

Which might also be written as “Some of my best friends are women, but my goodness you’re all lazy good for nothings aren’t you?” Thanks for making my amazing, accomplished female friends in tech INVISIBLE.

The author also seems to agree with the comedian he quotes who told a bunch of women at a networking event that since they hadn’t brought business cards: ““I guess you all thought that if you show your breasts he will remember you.” How is this appropriate language for a business event? The gender of the speaker is irrelevant. I wouldn’t go to a business event and make a joke to a guy about if he wants me to remember him he should take out his penis. It beggars belief that I should even have to explain this.

I left a comment on the blog, in the hope that the post was a genuine attempt to start a conversation about getting more women in tech.  Here’s the comment I left:

How funny. You criticise women for never DOING anything, except showing up to complain about “getting sexualized in a business context.” But your post basically boils down to complaining that no women come to your conference, without exploring why that might be, and how you might change things to get more women involved. It must be OUR FAULT.

If the purpose of this post was really to try to talk to women about their under representation, and maybe to encourage more women to attend The Next Web, I have to say it’s made me feel discouraged, rather than encouraged. Shame, because I loved @zee’s presentation at Webstock this year, and I had been thinking that the Next Web might be worth making the trip.

[edit: I have a horrible feeling I confused @zee with @zeefrank, who spoke at Webstock this year. Apologies, both.]

Cheers, Sarah

PS – as I said on Twitter, the Geek Feminism blog is full of tech women (many of whom are successful geek women and entrepreneurs, which seems to be what you care about) who take time out of their work and personal lives to try to encourage other women to succeed in tech. That approach is what impresses me, more than hollow complaints.

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