Lean in and say something.March 22, 2013
In the last months, I’ve started seeing a lot of traffic to blog posts about how hard it was being a woman in tech, how horrid conference organisers were, how sexist technologists were and how Sheryl Sanderberg had joined the rest of us in her recognition of the basic principles of feminism (this coming from a woman who used to hide her good grades to get dates is no small feat). I looked around in dismay, wondering if I’d ended up in one of the American rom coms I love so. Geeks as jocks? Really?
Considering I’ve been working professionally in and around technology since 2006 I thought the days of Kathy Sierra’s terrible ordeal were behind us. I thought “phsssh, I’ll keep calm and carry on”.
Then, last month I went to do a keynote presentation at a workshop week for students in a product design course in Antwerp. One of my co-speakers is one of the founders of a local trends company who found it essential to show a picture of a scantily-clad young woman not once but twice, saying that his job didn’t involve looking at women like that but talking to men in suits and she didn’t have any money anyway. My heart stopped. Really? This was an acceptable image to share to young designers in the making? This was an acceptable metaphor to young men and (some) women who were making decisions about where they wanted to throw their weight in the brave world of design? I ignored the rest of his talk and busied myself thinking really hard about how I would react. I could slander him on the internet which i sortof did. But I felt that wasn’t enough. After all the talks were done, I went up to him and told him in no uncertain way that that slide had made me stop listening to him, that it might be more advisable to try to make the point in another way, with a different image. I told him that he was telling a story to these young people that didn’t need to be told in that way, stories about the world out there that were damaging. I tried to be constructive in speaking to him. He had come in late so didn’t know who I was and was obviously troubled. He said he didn’t intend for the message to be perceived in that way and thanked me politely for my feedback.
That was the first time in my career I’ve had to apply the thinking of the “If you see something, say something” ads in the New York metro but I felt good about it. Maybe I’m of a generation of women who’ve had it easy or refused to see what was under their nose all along, but I felt I did the right thing for my industry and realised that perhaps I ought to get involved further in creating a pro-active, positive environment for women like me who are getting on with work, doing interesting things. And also for younger women who are wondering what to make of their careers. We owe it to them at the very least.
Keen not to wallow in the Antwerp experience, I shouted out on Twitter about organising some kind of show and tell for International Women’s Day in Shoreditch on March 8th. The lovely Natasha Carolan, Ana Bradley and Becky Stewart raised their hands in wanting to help and in less than a month we managed to put together what I’d like to think was an absolutely awesome evening. We showcased the work of more than 20 women-led organisations or projects in London and Brighton, hosted by the lovely Poke who served drinks & sushi and Redmonk who gave us craft beer. We need to see these kinds of events more often and not only lean in, but say something clearly, concisely: we are here.