The SQLPass Nordic team organisers have decided to hold a 'Women In Technology' lunch at the SQLPass event in Stockholm next month. It is being held on the first day of the conference on 8th November. As a female speaker at the event, I was asked if I would like to participate. I was pleased to receive the invitation but this left me in a quandary. This blog is aimed at describing my quandary, what I decided to do and why, and to receive your feedback on my decision.
I have previously blogged before about my reluctance to be involved with 'Women in Technology' events. Specifically, I believe that the way forward for women in technology is integration into the wider technological community, not separation. My roadmap for integration would involve an emphasis on skills and achievements, rather than an emphasis on biological characteristics or a perceived socialisation based on gender construction. My emphasis on skills and achievements would include these benefits by males and by females, and those who are trans-sexual or even androgynous. My quandary is that I would like to help people in my beloved SQL community, but without an emphasis on helping a particular subset of the community i.e. women.
With WIT events, I am concerned that they nurture an implicit assumption that 'we women are over here, you men are over there'. By marking women out as different, is this really progress? Where does it leave individual choices or inclinations within a wider context? Ideally, it shouldn't make any difference whether someone is male, female, both or neither. By marking a group as distinctive, it's not clear that the goal of integration will ever be attained. This is the main reason that WIT events do not sit comfortably with me.
Ultimately, I have decided to help at the Nordic WIT event - my first one - since it gives me a platform to support a growing SQL community in Europe, whilst ensuring that men will also be invited to participate equally with women. Fundamentally, I believe in MIT as well as WIT. I see this event as a way in which I can serve the community. I believe that positive discrimination is still discrimination against somebody, and I do not like the idea of MIT being excluded.
I am also hoping that this activity will somehow support the growing Nordic community - friendships made, support given, and technical knowledge shared. I think that the SQLPass team have got it right by ensuring that MIT are also welcomed to the event. It is excellent that there is an event which is focused on the social aspects of the conference, rather than technical only. Therefore I am happy to be involved since it should be about equality of opportunity and knowledge sharing, regardless of whether the event is male or female participants.
By helping women - and men - who approach me as part of the community, I hope to be able to do my bit to reach community members at an individual level. However, I would like to be able to help people in the community without the WIT badge. I don't want to be perceived to be a feminist. Instead, I want to be able to support male and female community members who reach out for help and support, whether it is technical or otherwise.
I recognise that, as a woman, I probably have experiences that I can use in order to help other women at an individual level. For example, issues surrounding pregnancy in the workplace, or how to handle customers or clients who ask you out. The WIT badge will allow me to be approachable by individuals who just need to bounce ideas around, or pointed in the right direction, or just to chat about their experiences. I hope I can achieve the balance of offering support in these areas whilst also trying to ensure that I don't alienate the MIT. I also need to try and balance my activities so that I don't alienate the WIT who believe passionately that women play a distinctive role, that is a good thing, and that it should be promoted and celebrated. I appreciate and respect their right to have differing perspectives from me, particularly over the WIT issue since it can be emotive.
To summarise, it's all about balance and people, and I am not sure that I've cracked the way forward yet. My main concern is that SQLPass Nordic is a great success,particularly given the huge effort that's gone into organising it. There are a lot of stellar speakers and I think it will be a memorable event which I'm hugely privileged to participate in. I'm hoping that the WIT lunch will cement friendships and provide an open forum for an exchange of ideas within a welcoming framework, regardless of whether the attendees are male or female.
I look forward to your comments!