The dearth of women in math and science has been discussed frequently. Computer science and programming is part of that same picture. It is obvious to everyone that the ratio is seriously lop-sided. But determining exactly why and what, if anything, we can do about it is not as obvious.
A few months ago, I followed with interest a thread started by Jason Kottke about the poor ratio of female to male speakers at web conferences. Later posts on this thread are here, here, here, here and here. (There were many others…)
I have helped to plan many conferences over the last ten years, and the editorial teams I’ve been on have always taken into account gender when considering the session line-up. And we have always asked “Where are all the women? How can we get more women speakers?” Jeffrey Zeldman sums up my conclusion well when he writes “The problem is visible at the top because it exists at the bottom.”
One of my other conclusions is that women have to be very involved in any discussion of the problems and solutions. No, scratch that—women need to lead the discussion about this topic. They know better than any man what the barriers are for women. If we want answers and solutions, I think we have to start there. (Plus men don’t always do a good job of it on their own.) Exactly this kind of discussion took place between a group of women developers at RailsConf 2007 and it’s now a podcast so we can all listen in.
Ruby on Rails Podcast — Roundtable: Women in Development
The podcast is a round-table discussion on the state of women in open source programming. It features Jen May Wu, Dr. Ana Nelson, Liz Summerfield, Sandy Metz, Carmelyne Thompson, Cynthia Kaiser, and Desi McAdam, and it is moderated by Geoffrey Grosenbach. To share just one insightful tidbit from their discussion: they mention how many technology companies only give out men’s t-shirts and how much they appreciate companies that bother to stock both men and women’s t-shirts. A great point.
And if you are planning a conference, event or featuring people who work in technology, be sure to check out the “List of Women Speakers for Your Conference” compiled by Jen Bekman.