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Wade Davis Encourages Solidarity with Women at QConSF

The Women in Tech & Allies breakfast at QCon San Francisco featured Wade Davis, the vice president of inclusion strategy and product at Netflix. Davis encouraged allies to "act in solidarity" with women, favoring this more collaborative, interactive phrase than the passive description of "ally." He noted that the activity is not done after one event, but is rather daily action and interaction — he encouraged all to "show up every day" in the journey of understanding and supporting women in technology.

Davis started his talk with a quote by abolitionist and feminist Sarah Moore Grimké, "I ask no favors for my sex... All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks." He discussed how women are frequently asked to justify their presence, through business cases showing that gender diversity is not harmful to the bottom line, or that diversity improves creativity, rather than what Grimké was asking — that the boot simply be removed.

When asked what can be done to make change, Davis recommended a handful of items: read books by women; amplify what they recommend by frequently attaching their name to their ideas in conversations; and dig into behavior with more specific questions ("What would cause you to get involved?" rather than "Why aren't you involved?"). He encouraged "giving up" something to be an ally, such as the sexist friend, or the "zero sum calculus" (that allowing women equality takes something away from men — it doesn't). "The pie will expand," Davis explained. "Imagine that!"

Davis noted that being an ally is a daily job, not something that can be completed after one activity. He shared a story of one of his managers encouraging him to read — and re-read — Bell Hook's book, Feminist Theory From Margin to Center, until he understood the issue of women's rights on a more personal level. Davis explained that, until men see the issue as personal, there's a level of "benevolent sexism" that can't be overcome. Davis said "women can't wait for [these men] to have daughters to care."

Pointing out the pervasiveness of gender inequality, Davis touched on several specific examples. Because women generally are paid lower salaries for the same jobs, they are then less likely to have enough collateral for loans, to fund startups, even if they have great ideas. Men are the "default" in a number of situations; the very definition of "executive presence" often assumes a gender (male of course). The number of female statues (less than 400) in the US is much smaller than the number of male statues (over 5000); therefore, girls and women don't see examples of their gender being honored as frequently — and many of the female statues are of fictional characters, not historic. He even noted that his former role in the National Football League gave him perceived credentials for his current role — something very few women would be able to enjoy.

When asked what women can do, Davis recommended not letting others off the hook, and not doing the work for them. He noted that when power goes unchecked, it becomes tyranny. Women and allies must keep that from happening.

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