DECODING GENDER POLITICS

Why I won’t talk about being a woman in tech—and neither should you

I won’t do talks on “being a female in tech” for a number of reasons.

First, because they prevent me from doing talks on tech, which is what I would actually like to do, because that’s what I am best at. If someone approaches me to talk somewhere just because I’m a woman, they haven’t done their job of finding what my expertise is. Therefore, I am going to insta-decline.

It not only is very insulting and distracting, but also pigeonholes you into “talking about being a woman in tech,” instead of being a “woman who knows her tech.” It feels like, once again, we’re delegating “caring for others” tasks to women and other vulnerable collectives, in addition to their normal jobs. That is not OK.

Second, it devalues the job of diversity and gender studies professionals; it is implied that just by virtue of me being a women, I not only can talk for all other women, but also know how to fix things for all other women (note: I don’t).

That in turn makes me the “token woman,” where everyone assumes that I represent all other technical women. This is a handicap on my abilities to actually do my job and be an excellent technical person, as it puts additional pressure on me to be “perfect or go home.”

And it also makes me lose precious opportunities to be a good role model for other women. If they see that women in tech are relegated to “speaking about being a female in tech” instead of building and talking about solid technical stuff, they’re going to be discouraged and uninspired. Why try hard at tech if people are just interested in you because of your physiognomy? It is, once again, focusing on women physically, instead of highlighting their work and personal achievements.

Finally, I really dislike that it so often feels like either…

  • a really lazy attempt to solve the problem of a lack of diversity in conferences by organizers that didn’t do their work, but also do not want an internet storm rightly complaining about their all male line-up.
  • or a feeble attempt at having a “trendy” topic in your conference, because “diversity is the hot new thing everyone is talking about.”

No! The answer to an all male line-up is not a talk on “women in tech” by a woman. The answer is diverse people in the line-up, talking about tech. And if they want someone to cover that “trendy topic,” they should reach out to qualified people. They need to do their homework, instead of reaching out to the first “tech woman speaker” they can think of, and asking her to do a talk on something she’s not qualified for (which again, puts her in a vulnerable position).

This doesn’t mean that I do not care about other women in tech. Of course I care! I dream of the day we stop having these conversations because “being in tech” has become the default. In the meantime, I will contribute to paving the road to equality by talking about tech, inspiring other women, and normalizing the presence of women in these environments—which is tiring enough, with all the sexism already present in our industry/society.

This post originally appeared at Soledad Penadés’ blog.

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