May. 26th, 2012

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Last year, at WisCon 35, I was at a panel where an audience member asked a question about picking your battles when it comes to discussions about feminism. The answers from the panel were well-meaning, but I couldn’t help but feel they did not understand the questioner’s reality. I reflected on each panelist’s bio, and realized they all worked in female-dominated careers. It is a very different experience being the only woman in the room or perhaps the only woman in your company.

That moment got me thinking, and I realized that in all the wonderful WisCon panels I have gone to over the years, I could not recall any that were focused on women in technology, or women in male-dominated careers in general. It can be difficult and frightening to start connecting with the feminist community. Many of us get through our early career by being “one of the guys”: laughing at the jokes, not making a fuss. There is a real (and I think, reasonable) fear of retaliation or blackballing if one addresses the frequent sexism in technical workplaces.

As a woman in a heavily male-dominated career, you can end up feeling very isolated and alone. When you do encounter other women in the field, they may not be the allies you expected. You may suspect you are being marginalized in your career, but have trouble putting your finger on exactly how. Even worse, it may be extremely clear that some of your coworkers and bosses are not treating you fairly.

The good news is that you are not alone. There are many feminists working in technology, and some who have moved beyond their jobs as engineers to devote themselves to encouraging women in technology. At WisCon 36, I am moderating a panel for women in male-dominated careers. It will be a space for networking, sharing tips, strategies and resources, and talking about challenges.

The panelists have put together the following list of resources, which I will updating with suggestions we receive during the panel.

Unlocking the Clubhouse, by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher
I am not exaggerating when I say this book kept me in university. I was experiencing everything they talk about: the sense of inferiority, the loss of interest, the withdrawal. Reading this book renewed my commitment to my chosen career path. - Jessamyn

Women Don’t Ask and Ask For It, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
(suggested by Jessamyn and Carolyn) If I could give every young woman a single book to help her start a career, it would be one of these. Asking for what you want isn’t easy and will not always work, but it is one of the most worthwhile job (and life!) skills you can have.

How to Suppress Women's Writing, By Joanna Russ
While not about technology at all, I was amazed at how parallel the experiences of women writers are to women engineers. Highly recommended. - Jessamyn

Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond
, by Jane Maas
I just finished this book, on a recommendation from a friend. Mostly amusing, but it does have some interesting subtext about competitiveness, sponsorship, and how these come into play for successful working women 50 years ago. - Carolyn

Love is the Killer App
, by Tim Sanders
Suggested by an audience member as a resource for those not wanting to conform to the traditionally cold and distant workplace.

A resource to learn about companies and compare your salary and benefits. Asking for what you want at work is hard, doubly hard for women, and knowing the facts is a big help.

Imposter Syndrome
If you frequently doubt your competence, despite significant achievements and positive feedback, you are not alone! Many geek women experience Imposter Syndrome, consistently feeling they are not as good as others believe them to be, and it is only a matter of time until they are found out. Once you understand what is going on, you can take measures to create a more realistic sense of your competence.

LISA '11 Boston: Women in Tech Panel

The Large Installation System Administration conference in 2011 had a panel on women in technology, which sparked this excellent blog post about challenges and how to make a space friendly.

GeekFeminism Wiki
This is a wonderful resource, with a wide variety of guest blog posts, 101 pages, and tips for women in tech and people who want to encourage diversity in their workplaces. It also has event listings and timeline of incidents at tech events.

The Ada Initiative

TAI is dedicated to supporting women in technology. They help organizations and events become more welcoming to women, provide resources for technical people, and also run AdaCamp, a conference on women in open technology and culture.

Anita Borg Institute

ABI is devoted to increasing women’s impact on the world of technology and increasing the positive impact of technology on women’s lives around the world. A list of their many programs can be found on their website. One initiative, the Grace Hopper conference, is a showcase for women’s research and career interests in technology. Carolyn noticed this excellent ABI blog post on why there are so few women in CS.

There are a number of resources specifically for those interested in learning to code and/or become involved in open source work.

Open Hatch - Helps people find and get involved with open source projects

wiscondb - Our very own WisCon scheduling software!

PyLadies - International network of women Python programmers

DjangoGirls tutorial - Highly recommend resource for learning Django

Ladies Learning Code - Toronto-based group helping women learn to code

CodingBat - Online beginning coding exercises with visual feedback (very cool!)

Dr. Chuck - Python courses and resources, including the very popular Programming for Everybody

Codecademy - Great online resource for learning to code

PythonTutor - New resource for learning Python!

Expect more awesome resources to be added to this list post-panel. :-)

I am very excited about tonight’s panel, and I hope to see you there!  I love that WisCon has so much information about people who are imagining a more diverse future, and I look forward to more inclusion of those dedicated to building the technology that will help take us there.


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Jessamyn Smith

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