Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Stop telling me there's a problem with women in tech

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend time talking with Nadira Hussain. She's passionate about IT and public service, as you'd expect of a President of SocITM. One of the key themes of her year of the presidency is Women in IT.

Women in IT and digital isn't something I've considered much, and I haven't I written on the subject before; this got me thinking. Perhaps this is part of the problem, and in my own small way I'm helping to perpetuating the status quo rather contributing than fixing things.

So I had a think about what's happening and concluded there isn't a problem with women in IT.

OK, here's what I actually mean. There isn't a problem with women in IT, there is a problem however with a sometimes boorish culture in tech which is inflicted on others by a certain section of the sector, the vast majority of whom happen to be men. The problem wasn't created and isn't continued by women.

So how to resolve this, well for one stop talking about a problem with women in IT and start promoting women in IT.

Imagine a publicity campaign for anything else being marketed in the same way. "Come on holiday to Bogchester. It's dull as dishwater but someone like you will liven it up" or "The Nag's Head. You might get punched in the face, but you'll add a touch of class to the place".

If you're a young person looking for a career path and you hear that because of your gender, your views and work are likely to be taken less seriously, that's not going to entice you into the sector, it's going to drive you away. Hearing about positive role models who are doing great things however just might make you want to seek a career in that sector. Let's be positive about things, not promote the negative or confuse the problem.

Secondly, I've seen tech conferences aimed at women and as a man I feel excluded as they're not for me. Perhaps I shouldn't be there I think and I'm betting many fellow men feel the same.

Yes, this is a bit rich, a man compliaing about feeling excluded, but to exclude those who might be unwittingly be causing the problem from an event which is part of the solution, exposure to positive female role models, seems to be counter productive to me.

So how to fix this? If you organise a conference or event, at your next event make the line-up of speakers all female. Hang on though, haven't I just said this doesn't solve the problem? Here's the twist; don't tell anyone you're doing it.

Don't tell the speakers, don't put it in the publicity, don't mention it on the day. When attendees evaluate the event don't ask any gender based questions about the day. If anyone complains or asks, say this was the best panel available. How often have we heard this before when the bias is the other way?

So here's to people like Sarah Lay, Sarah Prag, Linda O'Halloran, Sarah Jennings, Nadira Hussain and countless others who inspire me in what I do, in fact there's a top class panel of speakers right there if you're putting on an event about government and digital.

Don't tell me there's a problem with women in tech, there isn't. There's a problem with the culture in tech. Let's start doing something about it.

This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.