Ladies: Please, Would You Submit a Proposal?

| by Deborah Hartmann Preuss Follow 0 Followers on Oct 15, 2009. Estimated reading time: 1 minute |

Thought leaders on teamwork assert that diverse teams perform better; findings in the area of complex adaptive systems suggest the same. Recent Twitter discussions and various blogs have raised concern, yet again, over a lack of diversity in IT. For example, the topic of "too few women in software development" always comes up, perhaps because it is painfully obvious at tech conferences, and perhaps less politically sensitive to discuss than some other marginalized groups.

In North America, historically, women have made up 10 to 20 percent of the IT community, and yet some conferences still feature less than 10% women among their presenters. (Female speakers are still entirely absent at some conferences). It's true that there are fewer women than men to choose from in IT, but if this were the only reason we'd expect to see, on average, 10% to 20% of senior speakers being female. It just isn't the case in too many places.

There are certainly many factors at play, including the fact that women are more likely to turn down invitations due to the requirements of family life; and some choose to become less visible in response to harassment. But top notch speakers of any gender are reportedly difficult to find - and those who are most sought after have probably honed their skills by speaking at smaller, proposal-driven conferences before they were ever invited to speak. Reasons cited that women submit fewer conference proposals and speak less frequently include: lack of confidence (see Imposter Syndrome, which is not limited to women) and lack of practice or information on how to write a good proposal.

In response to this issue, Lisa Crispin has suggested that, for example, women speakers help less experienced women to write strong conference proposals, to put a larger number of deserving women in the public eye (a strategy that could also be used to encourage participation by other underrepresented groups). Jim Holmes offers help for those new to writing conference proposals. This is also valuable for those who encouraging them to submit by assisting with the process. Search engines reveal a number of other resources available to help newbies understand how to get involved in conferences, including Kathy Sierra's How to speak at a tech conference.

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Ladies, please reply by Mary Beijleveld

Hi Deborah,

There are a few topics you address in your post I would like to react to.

First: I do agree with the opinion that diversity in teams give better team results because of the different views, expertise and competences work and decisions are based upon. Diversity to me means: divers in profession, skills, gender, ethnics and age (although not necessarily in that order) If we emphasize on gender, that will be and stay 'the issue' where it's not.
Still, I appreciate the opinion of both wise men and wise women, that the lack of women's participation in conferences obviously make these conferences less valuable.
I could suggest that especially the young, fit & white male persons in IT strongly invite 'all others' to present, talk & share their views, experiences and expertise with them. I'm sure this will help.

Second: I agree that people (M/F) can use some help in writing a good proposal but that's imho not the main issue either. Because, when this good proposal is written and subsequently accepted; the consequences are that they have to present themselves to the public (their peers)and indeed talk and share their insights. This is a much bigger hurdle to take than writing a proposal. To me 'speakers in the making' can use some help in that area.
When a person is modest (which is - arbitrary - declared to be a feminine property)or the only one different that all the others, they need to have great confidence or courage to speak / lecture.
May I suggest that they do one or more try-outs at a neighborly Agile Open Space and can I refer to what Roseanne Barr once said?: "The thing women have yet to learn is, nobody gives you power. You just take it" Replace the word women for ....(fill in)

Third: People tend to choose people (as mates, colleagues, the ones they admire)they can relate to and whom look like them. To say it bluntly: When IT consists of 80 - 90 % (young, white) males and none of them is aware they act like this, it will take forever and a lot of struggle for 'all others' to join the IT community. Which brings me back to my first suggestion: You could kick you own asses and make 'them' feel welcome!

Re: Ladies, please reply by Deborah Hartmann

Hi Mary.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply, with which I heartily agree. It was hard to write this post, because the topic runs quickly in so many directions: diversity outside of gender, age-ism, family responsibilities, culture...

I picked one aspect but it's not the most important one, for diversity. Just the simplest for me to frame (personal experience, and all that :-)

I like your suggestion:
I could suggest that especially the young, fit & white male persons in IT strongly invite 'all others' to present, talk & share their views, experiences and expertise with them. I'm sure this will help.
And yes, encourage any person with valuable information to share, especially if you suspect may be timid or marginalized.

We need this diversity to make a strong, smart, innovative community.

Re: Ladies, please reply by Christopher Brind

My problem with these kinds of posts / comments is that they encourage positive discrimination and this kind of comment "young, fit & white male persons in IT" is frankly insulting and verging on misandristic.

"When IT consists of 80 - 90 % (young, white) males" - I presume then you are American or are referring to the American IT industry?

Re: Ladies, please reply by Deborah Hartmann

Hi Christopher.

Thanks for your comment. To answer your question: my own experience is in mainly in Canada and the US. I've observed that the IT community in Canada tends for some reason to be "younger" than what I've seen in the US. I'm now in Europe and am disappointed to see significantly fewer women in my communities here. I have also worked in the southern US: in a city with a large african American population I was astounded to have seen only two or three african American IT personnel on site among thousands of causasian Americans. I'm not aware of the source of these imbalances, my point is that as a broad generalisation, "young, fit & white male persons in IT" reflects well my experience in IT.

I am sorry that you feel insulted, that wasn't the intent here. As for misandric, where do you see us disparaging the male members of our IT communities, here? Speaking as a women always outnumbered by men at work: I have probably been as blind to this issue as my male counterparts, until recent events brought the issue home on a personal level. I think this might be a cultural blindness across our community, not something restricted to and propagated by men only.

This thread is full of generalisations - in my experience, discrimination is always tricky to discuss. And yet, it is also important to raise awareness, so men and women can choose new actions more in line with their own values.

I'd personally rather not spend too much more time here with the generalisations, and get on with dealing well with specific cases of marginalisation that come into my own world of work. Perhaps now I'll be able to spot them better, and help more.

A question for you: Do you think it is important that a community's leadership offer a diversity of role models with whom community members of many kinds can identify? I'm talking about diversity in aspects like job role, age, education and ethnicity in addition to gender. (And, if so: what do you think would help us influence this?)

Re: Ladies, please reply by Christopher Brind

I've not been to a vast number of conferences or whatever, but the ones I have been too have been attended by speakers of what I would say is reasonable diversity (apart from being female perhaps). Specifically talking about women, when I was at university only about 10% of the students were women, that figure has remained constant over the last 13 or 14 years of my experience. So perhaps you should start further down the stack - in the education system.

The people I see as community leaders and role models I have chosen because of their technical merit, not for any other reason. I don't see why a women needs another women to be their role model. Likewise I don't see why men wouldn't have female role models, in IT anyway. Gender, race, age, it's a non-issue to me ... until people make it an issue.

Basically i find it hard to believe that women (or anyone else) are being deliberately marginalised in this day and age. I just don't see it, but that seems to be what you're implying. Do you feel as though that is what is happening? And what is the difference between Europe and America? I would hope the situation is better (more liberal) in Europe.

Re: Ladies, please reply by Bruce Rennie

My problem with these kinds of posts / comments is that they encourage positive discrimination and this kind of comment "young, fit & white male persons in IT" is frankly insulting and verging on misandristic.

Topics like these usually deal in generalities, which virtually always results in someone saying "my anecdotal evidence doesn't match up with your generalization so you must be wrong". The end result is often that we end up not talking about the issue at all. That would be a shame.

I don't know about racial diversity, but is there anyone who is going to argue that women are NOT grossly under-represented in our industry? I suspect that the problem with finding female presenters stems from the same root cause as the problem of female involvement in IT in general. We're supposed to be big on retrospection and self-improvement. When are we really going to get serious and ask ourselves what drives women away from this industry? The answers may be key to some of our other challenges. I mean, this lack of involvement HAS to be costing us something.

As for my own anecdotal evidence: In 20+ years, I've worked with some flaming misogynists. In some cases some have outright said to me "I'll never work for a female boss" or "I hate working with women". This bewilders me. I've had two women managers in my career and I would rank them #1 and #2 without hesitation.

Thank you! by Abby Fichtner

Thanks for posting this! I just wanted to say that Lisa Crispin has been so amazingly supportive of me as I presented at my first conference and now as I look to do more and that really does make such a huge difference. And so I think we all really can help with this by offering our support to others who are passionate about improving software development.

And yes, I too would like to see more diversity - we can only improve by bringing new skills and perspectives into the mix. Thanks, Deborah and Lisa!

An offer by Amr Elssamadisy

InfoQ is willing to shepherd any articles that are submitted. That is, we will work with all authors over multiple iterations to get their drafts ready for publishing. This is not a guarantee for publishing, but definitely brings down the wall a bit. Publishing articles is often a stepping stone to many other things.


Re: Ladies, please reply by Annyce Davis

The few conferences that I have researched for next year have all male speakers. The sad part is that initially it did not even bother me until I thought about it for a while and realized how strange it was that there was not one female speaker. This article was very insightful and I hope that more women will feel confident enough to participate in conferences in the future. (Mostly applying the previous thought to myself)

Which conferences need women? by Johanna Rothman

I speak a lot. I now get invited to speak, most of the time. I'm still looking for conferences that want the kinds of things I talk about.

If you want women to speak, please tell us where to send proposals.

Women just don't particularly like IT by Steve Macdonald

There isn't any mystery here, and there isn't any major discrimination either. Medical and law school classes are now more than 50% female, as is college enrollment generally (by a long shot). It is puerile to believe that the men and women must do everything in precisely 50/50 ratios. Women obviously are not attracted to IT as men are, quite possibly because their aptitude is not as strong in this area. Conversely it doesn't surprise me that we may soon end up with 75% or more female medical professionals as it is likely female aptitude is stronger in that field. That said, I'm always glad when there's a woman on my team, or leading it. All men all the time gets boring fast.

Re: Women just don't particularly like IT by Deborah Hartmann


Thanks, everyone for your comments. I don't have time to write another piece, I'm preparing to lead activities at the ScrumGathering. But I'd like to respond to a couple of points, so I'll just jot some notes and quotes here and let you put the pieces together, if you have a moment. I hope you don't mind. Here goes.

"Women just don't particularly like IT"?
I disagree! Evidence suggests that there are at about 20% of women in the world of Agile IT. Many of us are thrilled to be in this business, myself included. My experience suggests: "Women are not attracted to IT as it is currently represented in our educational institutions," for starters. Then there are the women who were attracted to IT, toughed it out, and later leave IT for other kinds of work - what's up there?
70% of leading-edge companies will seek and develop “versatilists” while de-emphasizing specialists.
The Changing World of IT Work
I think IT has changed over the past 10 years in that jobs have become less technical and it is more about the business interface, and as the nature of the roles have shifted so has the opportunity for women.'
Jane Binner, associate director at recruitment agency Computer People
A recent Gartner report on the gender gap in IT states that although many feel that women are "innately better suited than men" to navigate the new global economy, they are not choosing to enter IT - and some are leaving.
Gartner: Gender Gap Continues to Increase in IT
10% to 15% of IT professionals will drop out. Staying employed in turbulent waters can wear down even the most resilient soul. Some give up and change careers - and a larger proportion of these will be women, a trend already in evidence.
The Changing World of IT Work
"I don't see why a women needs another women to be their role model." Is it enough if I simply tell you that it's very important to me? That I find myself unconsciously gravitating toward the few women at conferences, and that I find great professional and personal value in those relationships? That I have a kind of deep support from women in Agile that is different from the kind of support I get from some men in the business? (note: different, not better). And I'm not the only one, see Abby's comment, above.
If we can start to influence the 14- and 15-year-olds now we can start to improve the flow even if there is no quick fix, and we are years away from seeing an equal gender split in IT. We need to give girls role models and examples of high-profile career IT women, but the problem is that it is a niche market and even if there are roles models they do not have that much visibility outside the sector.
Jane Binner, associate director at recruitment agency Computer People
Why do we need role models at all? The mind creates and uses models, stereotypes, it's a kind of shorthand in the brain. We form ideas based on past information and experiences, and use them in making split-second decisions all the time. Models? Prejudices? I am reminded that Prejudices Can Alter Team Work
...suppose someone hires me and they believe that I have certain qualifications, but that I have certain deficiencies. Now, when they look at my performance, what do they see? They see what they want to see, based on that stereotype. In fact there have been experiments that show the same behavior can be evidenced by someone who's considered competent and someone who's considered incompetent, but what a manager - remember, we all do this - does is say, if this is a good behavior "Well, of course this is a smart person. Yes, that's what I expect." If it's an atypical thing, if it's a stupid behavior, the manager will explain it away "Linda must be having a bad day". So it doesn't matter - you know we talked about reality - what really is out there; we'll distort it to fit our stereotype.
Linda Rising: Prejudices Can Alter Team Work
The percentage of women in high-tech occupations has dropped from between 19 to 21 per cent in 2000 to just 16 per cent – women make up 46 per cent of the UK’s workforce. ...companies are struggling to keep their female IT staff. Women are not just leaving when they have children – they are leaving even earlier in their twenties.’ Perhaps even more concerning, is highly skilled women are leaving IT in their late 40s and early 50s, so we are losing highly skilled staff and senior female role models and mentors.
What women want (numbers in IT on a downward trend)
3 of the top 100 UK firms still have no women on the board and less than two per cent of senior executives are women. With an additional 18 per cent pay gap between women in the IT industry and their male counterparts, there is a significant disparity between the sexes.
Jane Binner, associate director at recruitment agency Computer People
While we are discussing this, I offer this reminder: While this is an important issue regarding the quality of our work and our work lives , it's not the only one. Yes, we need to keep perspective - and a sense of humour helps a lot!
Someone asked me: "Linda you're incredibly old, and we are having trouble keeping women in computer science. What is it that has made you stay in the field?" And my response - Mary Poppendieck agreed with me on this- was that we are surrounded by increasingly younger males. The secret is out now.
Interview: Linda Rising on Collaboration, Bonobos and The Brain"
Ok, now I really need to go and "be visible" at a male dominated event. "What?? Did you just say that in your out-loud voice?" Yes, I did. Because it's part the values that inform how I choose to spend my energy. I want to a) help people produce more value at work, and to be more joyful while doing it, b)  be visible as an independent professional in the marketplace, and c) I want to encourage the women in my sphere of influence to step out and be fully themselves.

It's great work. It's a lot to do! And I'm up to it!

PS: This would be a good moment for me to acknowledge the women and men who helped me write the original news item. You know who you are. Your support and encouragement have made a difference, this week and in years past. I am honored to collaborate with you.

Re: Women just don't particularly like IT by Ellen Grove

What I’ve seen is that there are proportionally more women involved in the less-focused-on-code-writing facets of IT, in particular in testing, project management, technical writing, usability, business analysis, coaching. I suspect that this is because these are IT roles which don’t require a computer science degree to get into (actually very few of the good testers I’ve worked with, regardless of gender, come from a university computer science background, but that’s a whole different conversation). A very quick internet survey suggests that there is still a significant gender imbalance in computer science and electrical engineering enrolment at the post-secondary level, and getting an entry-level position in IT is often dependent (or perceived to be dependent) on having these credentials.

Why women might not stay in the field? In the places that I’ve worked the roles in which more women are found tend to be lower-paid than coding jobs with the same amount of unpaid overtime, organizational turmoil, job insecurity etc. I think you’ll find that women (especially those with families) are more inclined to walk away from the insanity, especially if they have skills they can sell in another industry because they didn’t train specifically to work in this field in the first place.

Re: Women just don't particularly like IT by Yves Hanoulle

Great post.
Yes we should talk more about diversity

>that figure has remained constant over the last 13 or 14 years of my >experience. So perhaps you should start further down the stack - in the >education system.
That is true. But that is also chicken-egg problem. With less role models, we attract less women in our industry.
I want to focus on where I have influence. We have most influence in our own industry. It's easy to blame the educational system. yes they are part of the problem. I don't care. Let's see what we can do in our industry itself.

Everytime I had a women in a team I was working with or in a team, my team was working with communication went up.

I'm not saying we need to have 90% women. The last 2 years I have been in a training with mainly women, and that gave it's own problems.

I'm very much in favor of PairCoaching, presentations delivered with 2 people. Recently I came to realize that of it is done by a man and a women quality is even higher. So from now on I will look for women to partner with.

Fostering diversity by Ilja Preuß

Not too long ago, I would have thought "well, isn't treating women in a special way what is discriminating? Shouldn't we just give everyone the same chances by treating them the same?"

Since then, I've learned a bit about how our brain works (many thanks to Linda Rising!). Apparently, there was an evolutionary advantage to surrounding ourselves with people who are like us, to be suspicious of those who are different, and to pigeonhole.

Of course, "woman -> doesn't like IT" today is a much less helpful categorization than "sabertooth -> dangerous" was when our brain learned this strategy. Unfortunately, evolution didn't yet have time to catch up, so that's still how our subconscious works. So, we still tend to create environments that welcome those who are like us, and are much less attractive to those who are different, often without us being aware of it.

Fortunately, evolution *also* equipped us with the ability to recognize how our subconscious works, and to devise tools that help us work against these tendencies. So, if we seriously value diversity, if it's more than just lip-service, there really is no excuse for not actively creating environments that foster diversity.

Re: Women just don't particularly like IT by Bruce Rennie

Women don't like IT? Maybe.

But maybe it's not IT they dislike, just the men it it.

Re: Women just don't particularly like IT by Steve Macdonald

If you said that about any other group you'd be labeled a racist and/or sexist. Double-standards do nothing to help foster understanding in these matters, any more than does dishonest political correctness. Women have the option of entering IT just as they have entered numerous other once male-dominated fields. As I said above, there is no rule that every discipline must be represented 50/50. There are many inherent differences between male and female brains which mean that each sex is better at some things on balance. Overall things will even out if we just stop fretting about every perceived injustice. For that matter, what about the "injustice" that women now outnumber men across the board in college enrollment? Time for more "affirmative action" to keep their numbers down to 50%?

Re: Women just don't particularly like IT by Andrea roundcrisis

Some women just don't particularly like IT, others love it. Same for men you know?

Re: Women just don't particularly like IT by Bruce Rennie

Sorry, Steve, but I'm calling shenanigans.

It's neither racist or sexist to suggest that the men in our industry might be the reason there are few women. In fact, it's intellectually dishonest not to consider the possibility. If anything, I would point to the phrase "Women just don't particularly like IT" as something more closely resembling the definition of those words.

All things being equal, I would expect roughly equal representation of both sexes in any industry. Now, things aren't always equal, and that's fine. Things like the physical demands of the job, historical factors, education, etc can skew those numbers. I'm also fine with the idea that an industry doesn't have to have a 50-50 representation but our industry has few barriers to entry. Heck, you don't even need a university degree, if you're good enough. Given that, the ratio of men to women in our industry seems SO skewed that it's almost an outlier. I would consider it strange if it did not provoke some questions. We might even consider the fact that the predominance of men in our industry lends itself to developing locker room environments in some shops, not the most welcoming for women. Recent silliness seen at a major Ruby conference might tend to support that view.

Re: Women just don't particularly like IT by Ilja Preuß

Steve, I think you are missing the point. This is not about political correctness or justice.

I agree that, in general, women are different - be it "by nature" or by education. And that's exactly why bringing women into our work is so valuable, because diversity makes us stronger.

For the record, I'm part of a development team of two men and two women, and I think it's great!

Re: Women just don't particularly like IT by Simon Horne

To be bluntly honest your attitude here (and those of Christopher above) is a good example of precisely what is wrong with this industry. The term "political correctness" is abused so much right now - anything that does not fit with the majority (white male dominated) viewpoint is immediately shot down as "sexist". Baically you are saying that the only people who bring sexism up are the ones who themselves are sexist.
The "I'm not racist but..." comes to mind.
Nobody here is saying everything should be exactly 50/50 - that is not what affirmative action is about (and you know that). But we can do a lot better to bring some kind of equality into the equation.
"I'm white and male and a victim of political correctness" does nothing to further this discussion and everything to hinder diversity.
And just to preempt any accusations of "playing the race card" - you introduced the word racism in your comment, I am simply repeating it.

Leverage Differences by Shane Hastie

Deborah thanks for raising such an important issue.

I was fortunate to attend a session at Agile 2009 by Diana Larson and Sharon Buckmaster dealing with brain science, gender differences and working together effectively in teams.

Diana and Sharon also dared to address "theelephant in the room" as they called it looking at gender differences and the way men & women think and behave differently.

I blogged about the session at:

While the topic is not quite the same as this one, the background and discussion may be of interest to others who read this article.

Re: Leverage Differences by Deborah Hartmann

Thanks Shane. As it happens, we spotted that talk too, and it's now an InfoQ article:

The Elephant in the Room: Using Brain Science to Enhance Working Relationships
The new brain science give us tools for understanding and enhancing the ability of men and women to work together.

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