Ada Lovelace: Blasting myths about Women in Technology

For Ada Lovelace day this year, I am choosing to break the rules slightly by not focusing on a particular person who has inspired me as a woman in technology, but rather to focus on all women working in the sector.  There has been a great deal of criticism of women in the blogosphere recently.  From Clay Shirky’s ‘Rant about Women‘ post, to Chris Hambly’s recent concerns about women and speaking at public events, there is the sense that women are not performing effectively for their own benefit.

Shirky recommends that women need to be more aggressive in their approach to career development, and argues that women risk their futures by failing to overstate their abilities.  Frankly I find this argument seriously flawed.  The women I know in the technology sector today are high achievers and logical and honest about their abilities.  This makes them credible and reliable sources, and budgeting for major projects becomes easier as a result of their involvement.  Contrary to popular stereotypes, I have found women in technology to be time-efficient, intolerant of wasteful activity, conscientious and committed to delivering on details.  The very notion of women choosing to lie as a means of improving their career is both insulting of the quality of work women produce, and counterproductive to the value they can bring to an organisation or project.

Women in technology today are driven by a thirst for knowledge, a desire for productive collaboration, and participation in a playful, generous society.  I can’t imagine anything more hideous than the introduction of obfuscation, artifice and deceit into that mix.  Women in technology should be proud of the quality of work they produce.  Men should be be more aware of that fact, and less vulnerable to mere display with no substance.

Hambly’s comment on women and speaking at events in the UK is perhaps more legitimate.  It can indeed be difficult to secure the services of women speakers in the technology sector.  But I’d argue that this has as much to do with the events themselves as with the speaking role.

Women do tend to be cautious about public speaking, as they are more likely to be criticised than men for their presentation styles, and they are conscious of the effect this will have on their reputation generally.  Women also base their time investment in public speaking on the return likely to be derived from their involvement.  Unless the event is going to generate value for them as a speaker they are less driven by the need to show off than their male counterparts.  This is why many women choose to participate in networking events as the ROI for attending is much higher as an attendee than as a speaker who is limited in in her capacity to engage in productive conversations.

There’s also the event management issue.  I’m afraid event management is a skill that few people have.  And for events where an event manager fails to give full details of what they would like the (woman) speaker to do and to speak about, as well as details of location, fees for speaking/moderating and so on, in advance, and in as few words as possible, women are likely to be turned off from the whole idea of public speaking.

ASIDE: While I’m a regular event speaker and probably more likely than most women to get up and engage the audience in presentations, there’s nothing that irritates me more than an event manager who blabbers on for ages telling me which sponsors they have, and who else is going to be at an event, rather than focusing on what the event is about, and what they want from me.   This is partly why I was so impressed with Like Minds as an event because I was approached in the right way, it was fabulously well organised, and I felt cared for througout the event.

In terms of women in technology, there really is no reason to struggle to find women who want to speak at events, and can speak engagingly about what they do.  Again, it’s men that need to be more efficient, more respectful and more appreciative of women’s priorities, in their event management.

So for Ada Lovelace day this year, I’d like to pay tribute to all the women I work with, and to remind everyone that efficiency, reliability and authenticity among women in technology is something to be respected, not decried.

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