Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why women don't talk enough

So, the call for proposals for PyCon is out and has been out for some time. It's been circulated around. I've personally sent it to a number of women's lists I'm on. So, why don't I see any proposals from women yet? (Besides mine...)

Some reasons I've heard when I've asked women friends over the years about why they haven't proposed a talk:

a. I don't have time
None of us have enough time. I know we women have a lot of "extras" that we do every day and hobbies tend to fall by the wayside. I'm a full-time student at Stanford, with a husband, a house, 2 cats, and a teenager who doesn't want to do his homework. If I can submit a proposal, so can you.

b. I don't know enough
No one knows everything. And if you're closer to the n00b level, you'll understand what a n00b needs to hear better than an expert. Which brings us to:

c. There are experts/package creators there
Even if the creator is there, they may not be speaking, or they may be so deep into the package that they have no idea what real users of the package actually have trouble with and need to know. You do. So tell the rest of us about it. It's okay to have talks about the same package at two different levels!

d. I only use Python for this limited weird niche:
There are a lot of people interested in how to use Python for niches, and the more niches that presenters explore, the more the rest of us learn about the rich breadth of our favorite language.

e. I'm scared to speak in public:
PyCon is one of the friendliest, most tolerant conferences out there. We're all just a bunch of fellow enthusiasts: you're speaking to friends. So get out there and teach us all about something Pythonic that you love. Trust me, before I speak, not only do my knees shake, my *cheeks* shake! (It's hard to speak when your cheeks are shaking - try it sometime. ;-) But people at Pycon are ON YOUR SIDE - they *WANT* you to succeed. So, it's okay if you're a little shaky at the beginning. They'll be polite and listen anyways, because they want to hear about what you're presenting on. And once you've started, you'll be okay. Trust me on this.

So women of Python - please submit your proposals. Don't let the guys have all the fun and glory. I want to see *you* on stage at PyCon!



Дамјан Георгиевски said...

I thought it was because of the evil males :)

Jeff Rush said...

Thanks for posting this and I hope it draws in more women speakers. We are indeed a friendly audience to speakers.

As you are someone who speaks often, I never knew you were very nervous, you conceal it well. ;-)

Doug Napoleone said...

@Дамјан Георгиевски

That does not account for the lack of evil women as well. We are an alignment equal-opportunity (but rather geeky) conference. ;-)

chaotic neutrally yours,

Anna Martelli Ravenscroft said...

Damjah Georgievski:

I know that there are some women who avoid tech conferences because of some males who've been assholes. But, that doesn't account for all of the women, and especially women who attend tech conferences but don't speak.

Jack Diederich said...

I don't mind the targeting at females because it is a worthwhile message to repeat -- but everything you said is universal. PyCon (and your local python user group) are very lenient with regard to speakers. Give us a bit of red meat and we'll forgive any wobbles in the presentation.

Dougal said...

what about f) it would cost me $1000 to even fly there!

Anna Martelli Ravenscroft said...

That would explain why they might not attend at all, but not why they would attend but not speak.

Anna Martelli Ravenscroft said...

That's a great point. These aren't exclusive to women - I've just heard women express them disproportionately, especially the "I don't know enough" part. To be reductionistic - while men might say "I know something about x, I should give a talk", women are more likely to say "I don't know everything about x, I shouldn't give a talk."

Anyways, yes, I love PyCon for how well it treats its speakers. I just want to get that message out to everyone, *especially* to women. (Cuz, I want more women speakers!)

Steve said...

I'd just like to underline the fact that the PSF is really starting to take diversity issues a bit more seriously. Hopefully if we can attract more women to speak this will give us a leadership position in the open source diversity arena, and our voice will become more significant.

Anyway, whether speaking or not, women are very welcome to attend ... and if finance is an issue remember that speakers are more likely to attract the financial support that the conference has traditionally offered.

Jack Diederich said...

I should add my standard way to come up with talk ideas is to ask "What do I know now that I wish I knew a year ago?" It isn't just a good way to come up with a talk proposal; it is a good way to come up with a talk proposal that is helpful to others.

Mackenzie said...

while men might say "I know something about x, I should give a talk", women are more likely to say "I don't know everything about x, I shouldn't give a talk."

My first talk proposal involved conference organizers and friends pushing me daily for 2 months to submit it. A friend suggested a security talk since we'd just been to a security conference and brainstormed how to lock down a laptop for a hacker con. But present it? Eep! I barely know anything about security! I can't! ...Turned out to be one of the highest rated talks at the conference.

f) It is much easier to speak in front of a several hundred strangers than several tens of acquaintances.

No joke. I get nervous and shaky presenting to a dozen people in class. But get on a stage in front of 400 people I don't know, and I'm fine. Even when I'm speaking my 3rd language.

CapeCoder said...

Some of us have been happy to speak in public, but usually get blasted afterwards. Why? Because we're not petite, dark-haired and adorable.

Expectations around looks for women speakers are stratospheric.

Then again, expectations around looks for women generally are stratospheric.

Anna Martelli Ravenscroft said...

CapeCoder: The more of us that are at a convention speaking, the more likely I think we'll be to get past that. Yep - there will always be idjits. But that's not the sole reason women don't even propose talks. Most tech women I know haven't mentioned "I'm afraid of [insert overt discrimination/harrassment here]" but have other reasons instead. IOW, it ain't just about discrimination or harrassment, but about their personal (but common) concerns.

IMHO, a big problem isn't that these women have these concerns but that they don't realize that almost every person who proposes a talk has similar concerns - they don't realize that many of these fears are universal, because men who present don't tend to say it out loud where these women can hear it.

As Jack pointed out, these concerns are universal, but I maintain they affect women in tech more because we already have the numbers against us: when a person already has doubts about "belonging", concerns like these tend to fuel those doubts, or be magnified by those doubts.

The best way to overcome that is by putting the information out there - letting them know that they are not alone in feeling this way, that they don't need to feel this way, and by doing so, hopefully get more women speakers so we can overcome the "numbers" problem.