One of my bugbears is how we treat women in tech. The issue is especially infuriating given that I work mostly in the Nordics. We lead the world in equality of all kinds. So why do we keep seeing all-male panels at events? It drives me completely nuts.
Speak up, and don’t worry about looking stupid
A couple of months ago I found an appropriate stock photo on the always amazing unsplash.com and posted the following on LinkedIn:
“The next time I’m asked to moderate an all-male panel, I’m going to ask the questions we all really want answered:
– How have your fashion choices affected your career?
– How do you feel your decision to work full-time has affected your ability to be a father to your children?”
As luck would have it, barely a month later, I hosted an event in Sweden and, you guessed it, there was an all-male panel.
Anger has its place
There are plenty of reasons to shout about the unfairness and inappropriateness of this happening in 2018 and they’re all good reasons. To my enormous irriation, I had help arrange this event and so part of the responsibility was mine. I had to react, but shouting is not always the most effective tool.
My panelists all accepted that we had to do something. They were game, so we went with the above. The subject of the conference was low power, a topic that is absolutely, definitely geek central. Lowering power consumption to the absolute minimum is a key factor in making modern tech devices perform better, last longer, and do more – even if it doesn’t make the most exciting conference title.
Recognize and apologize
I opened the panel by apologizing for the all-male line-up. The panelists were mostly Swedes, who, to their credit, are pretty good at laughing at themselves. They tackled the fashion question with a smile and didn’t try to apologize for the fact that we had dropped the ball. We addressed the issue without getting sanctimonious.
The Swedes take paternity leave seriously. It’s an integrated part of the culture. Men about to go on paternity leave get high-fives, not frowns. Jokes about men being bad at changing diapers fall flat. After all, what’s complicated about cleaning an infant’s backside? And what’s hard about asking your LinkedIn network for help finding female panelists? We can fix this.
Don’t pretend there isn’t a problem
Don’t accept all male panels. When they happen, address the fact and apologize. As luck would have it, the final speaker was the CEO of a hardware spin-out. Her presentation was the best of the day. Rock on. Let’s make the change we want happen now.