Women in Tech Session
August 27, 2019 4:33 PM   Subscribe

My company is holding its annual user conference and our marketing group is beta testing a women in tech session this year. What should it look like?

We pitched the idea very late in the conference process, which is why it is not part of the full agenda this year. Our marketing group is in love with this idea and fully supports it. They want to do a small optional session this year as a lunch meeting to figure out the best methodology/approach/questions/ engagement.

I’m helping run the session as a woman in tech in a male dominated field. What have you seen in similar sessions in other conferences that you liked? What did you hate? What formats worked for you?
posted by Suffocating Kitty to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What I've liked: A panel of women in tech of various pay grades talking about what their path to their current position, what they like about their job, and other related topics like mentoring.

What I haven't liked: questions/discussions about why it's hard to be a woman in tech.
posted by beyond_pink at 5:03 PM on August 27, 2019 [14 favorites]

Please no dudes on the panel. Even if they have done good things. No dudes on the women in tech panel.
posted by rockindata at 5:31 PM on August 27, 2019 [40 favorites]

Successful women telling their stories, hopefully in a relatable way that give others the confidence that yes, this is possible. Being candid about the challenges they’ve encountered across the way - whether related to gender or not. If they’re comfortable - taking questions. (Maybe submitted beforehand by attendees if possible, just to avoid awkwardness or an otherwise less than ideal experience).

What I personally don’t like? Discussing strategies on increasing diversity. That should be a discussion had by everyone as a part of the main conference, not just discussed by women and other under-represented groups in their own space. (Personal pet peeve — just because I’m a woman in tech doesn’t mean the diversity problem is something I should automatically be tasked with to help solve, my only qualifications here being a different chromosome set than the majority and lasting this long without rage quitting).

And seconding the “no dudes on the panel”.
posted by cgg at 7:00 PM on August 27, 2019 [10 favorites]

If you're going with no men on the panel, consider also a female moderator / facilitator / whatever.

Also, consider other forms of diversity, i.e., not only straight white cis women who wear size 0, even if that happens to be the most successful type in your organization for whatever reason.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 7:24 PM on August 27, 2019 [12 favorites]

Yeah, no "all white women," either. WOC will have had different experiences as women that are just as important to hear about.
posted by praemunire at 7:46 PM on August 27, 2019 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Avoid making it just about being a parent, too. I understand that having kids complicates women's lives, but those of us in fields dominated by men who do not have kids still deal with all kinds of crap.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:45 AM on August 28, 2019 [15 favorites]

Best answer: If you want to hold a luncheon to gather the thoughts of women in your company on making your corporate conference more diverse and representative, cool. But be very, very conscious of the problems inherent in the "Women in Tech" paradigm. I mean, there are tons but the most basic is that when you set up a "Women in Tech" panel as part of a larger conference event, it delivers the message that by default your conference/product/company/whatever is for men.

You should be prepared to potentially take A LOT of shit for this if you have any social media profile at all.

A better goal is to do an outreach luncheon and ask the people attending to help you recruit speakers, presenters and moderators who are more diverse in terms of gender and color than your event has been historically. If this is internal, consider a mentorship programme for speakers.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:58 AM on August 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

I want to favourite DarlingBri's answer a hundred times. Your entire conference should be diverse and representative - it's 2019, after all - rather than just shoehorning one token panel about teh wimminz in there.

I know you said it's very late in the conference process, but have you made sure that:

a) there is diversity in all of your panels not just the ones about diversity (seriously, as a queer WOC I am so fucking sick of white people patting themselves on the back for doing one 'Diversity in X!' panel while having the rest of the thing being painfully white and male.) This is the most important thing and much more useful/relevant than one panel, even if it is not as shiny.

b) What are you doing to make sure that your conference is accessible? Is the venue ADA compliant (really compliant, not, there is one lift that requires staff to unlock it or, God forbid, random stairs and 'don't worry we'll carry you'), is there a room to pump in that's not a closet/bathroom stall, possibility of ASL interpretation or captioning, some kind of a designated quiet space for people with sensory processing issues?

c) Relatedly, what is your Code of Conduct re: harassment, and do you have a policy/plan in place to kick violators out? Having rules - and enforcing them - will do a lot to show women in the industry that you mean business.

d) Have you looked how to improve diversity among your conference attendees? You need to not assume everyone will know about your conference just because it's posted in the usual place. Actively solicit participation from minorities, and make sure your main programming is relevant to everyone, not just cis straight white dudes.
posted by Tamanna at 6:10 AM on August 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

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