SQLPass 24 hour Women In Technology hop; Why I’ve submitted a session

I’ve decided to submit to the SQLPass 24 hours of women SQL Pass event in March next year.  This was actually a tougher decision, so I thought it might be worth sharing.

First, a bit about me. I used to study Computing Science at the Université Pierre Marie Curie in Paris, which had a 50% split between men and women across the board, and the UNIX sysadmin was female. At university here in Scotland, however, the situation was completely different.  In the Computing Science department, there were four women in my class, and one dropped out; leaving three girls across the whole undergraduate and postgraduate courses.  Then came work: w

orking firstly with Cisco Contact Centre products and SQL Server, I was the only girl working next to 60 male consultants, and probably the only heavily-pregnant woman waddling her way around at a Cisco engineers event ever.

So now you know how I got here, doing BI with Microsoft SQL Server and, if I’m very lucky, Tableau too.  Now,

I never do any ‘girl’ IT events. I have never done a ‘Women in Technology‘ event, or attended a girl geek dinner

The reasons for this are as follows: 

I don’t want to make a ‘thing’ of being a girl, and want to me known for the skills I bring to the table. Being a girl in IT has upsides and downsides, for sure, like most things.

I don’t expect being a girl to give me any advantages.  I personally dislike being picked for things because of the lack of technical women. I want to get picked because of my skills, simple as that. A few weeks ago, I dropped out of recruitment processes because the recruiting company have started on about ‘positive discrimination’. The reason for this is simple: it means that I doubt myself getting the job in the first place. I often suspect some HR director needed more women to tick a box or meet a KPI. If I doubt myself, then my potential colleagues are definitely going to do the same thing. So it’s like a vicious circle, since it means I don’t engage.

As an aside I really don’t mind men swearing in front of me. Really. If you normally curse, go ahead. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable in my presence. I’m Scottish and probably heard most of it before. So, if you want to surprise me, you’ve got to get really creative. 

I don’t expect being a girl to disadvantage me, either. And occasionally it does. As a consultant, customers occasionally would tell my boss that they didn’t want a female techie onsite because I would ‘disturb the equilibrium of an all-male environment’. This has happened to me a few times, without the customer having met me, and discounted my CV without even looking at it. Fortunately, my boss at the time simply said that he would not engage with any companies who adopted that attitude, putting the project at risk. As far as I’m aware, he always won the argument, but it took a lot of courage for him to do that. If you are reading this – and you know who you are – I am immensely grateful for your faith in me.

I can list other disadvantages. I’ve had men refuse to shake my hand on the grounds that I’m a woman who could be ‘ritually unclean’. Other stuff includes more overtly sexual stuff. For example, been asked to sort computers with spicy images all over it. Sat silently working whilst the guys next door are loudly admiring some fruity images that a red top British tabloid newspaper wouldn’t dare publish. Finding a golf score card rating my various physical attributes, or lack of, probably topped the list.  I’ve learned to live with it and it doesn’t bother me any more, although it used to. Like the swearing, I’ve heard most of it before.

I’ve had my work sabotaged and deleted because the individual involved didn’t like reporting to a senior woman; fortunately my customer caught him doing it and it was resolved. Then, the pressure was on me to prove myself, which I did. If you are reading this – and you know who you are – I forgive you. I have grace enough for us both.

If you think that women shouldn’t be in IT, that’s fine; everyone is entitled to an opinion. I do occasionally get comments like this directed to my blog. It may not necessarily mean that I will publish the comment. I work hard to write my blog, and I was hoping that people would read the content rather than get distracted from it. 

Fortunately, I think that most workplaces have ‘policies’ in place now around images in the workplace and so on, which they didn’t seem to do previously. I have noticed this change in the past few years, and it has made things easier for me.
So why do I keep going in IT?
  • The thing is that I love IT and that’s why I keep going. I love Business Intelligence, and Microsoft SQL Server has been my ‘home’ since 1998. With the advent of the new BI, things are coming closer to a tipping point where business users are really starting to get their hands on their own data. I want to be part of that world. 
  • The vast majority of blokes treat me as part of their team, or have done so in the past, have given me the best possible compliment; just taking me as I am, on the basis of what I can offer and knowing the my own personal limits as an individual (not as a girl). The previous examples of poor behaviour aren’t representative of everyone’s views, just a small minority.  For the majority of men I come across, it doesn’t seem to be an issue. Why should a small number of people divert me away from something I love? 
  • I’ve been able to combine IT with looking after my son. As a freelancer, I can – and do – work late at night or early in the morning at home, when my child is asleep, so that the job gets delivered. It also means I can work from home on occasion rather than having someone else determine my location, which was why I don’t work directly for consultancy firms anymore (recruiters take note). Depending on the contract, I’ve also managed to sort out my hours so I can do pickup; if this isn’t possible, then I have military planning around childcare for after school care. My child is happy, and does very well at school, and is well-behaved. I couldn’t be a prouder Mummy. 
So, back to the topic: why have I submitted to do the 24 hop PASS event? As I said previously, it was a hard decision. I don’t want to make a thing of being a girl, and almost discounted myself on that it was an exclusive event. There’s a bit of me that is uncomfortable because it is women-only event, and there are men out there who could present much better than I can. It’s not a men/woman thing, there are just simply fantastic presenters out there – male and female. As I said previously, I prefer this to be about skills. I really hope that the SQLPass 24 hour hop event will be every bit as high quality as previous events. We can’t afford for this event to be seen to fail, or the small minority could use this to further their argument. Taking the long view, it’s down to us women to make it succeed. 

If I don’t at least try to showcase my skill set, then nobody will see my skills. If people can see what I can do, then perhaps they will see my skills and work for what I do, and the whole ‘girl’ thing will go away. There are plenty of women in SQL Server who are contribute a lot to the field, and who are way beyond being known  as a woman, but instead, are known deservedly as talented contributors to the field. Hopefully you will be able to hear some of them at the SQLPass event.

We shall see what happens. Perhaps I won’t get picked, but at least I can say that I tried. If I don’t try to show people what I can do, then that is almost validation for the people who think I can’t do it, simply because I won’t. 

Finally, I have some people to thank for their encouragement in putting my name forward. If it hadn’t been for their insights, I wouldn’t have done it. So, I’d like to thank Rob Farley for mentioning the idea in the first place. I’d also like to thank Mark Broadbent for sending me long essays explaining why SQLPass was a great event and that I should grab any opportunity possible to do it. 

So watch this space. I await your comments with interest; the good and the bad! If you would prefer to email me privately, that’s fine. It’s jenstirrup [at] gmail.com and I look forward to hearing from you.

8 thoughts on “SQLPass 24 hour Women In Technology hop; Why I’ve submitted a session

  1. Jen, I hope you do get picked, and then can't wait to see your presentation. I'm trying to learn BI, and I want to learn from the best! Thanks for submitting!

  2. Hi Jen, I am glad to report SQL has a proud female tradition. Some of the most sought after technologists in the SQL world are very smart ladies.
    It was somewhat disheartening to hear of the stuff that went wrong so far for no good reason at all.
    I can add two counterweights:
    The DBA who taught me about locking back in SQL 6.5 was a lady and she did a fine job:)
    I went to India last year, on account of an off shore component of a BI project, and the ladies were doing very well indeed. Coming back just made me wish we learned lady engineering from the Indians. It works great over there.
    Keep up raising the flag. You are on the winning side of history!

  3. Hi Jen

    You had some great comments here, but nothing you said wouldn't have applied if you wanted to speak at a non-discriminatory event. I didn't really understand why you felt the women-only event was a good thing. You mentioned that it was up to women to make sure it succeeded, but it is being organized by a man. It would be very different if a group of women got together and decided to put on an event.

    In my mind, this event is still focussed on putting women in a separate category. There are SQL Server Professionals, and then there are lady SQL Server Professionals, as something different. It gives me the same creepy feeling as referring to someone as a lady-doctor or lady-officer, rather than a doctor or officer (who might happen to be a woman).

    Best regards,
    Kalen Delaney

  4. Thanks for writing an interesting blog post. It gave me a lot to think about.

    Personally, I really like the idea of a 24HOP event with all women speakers.

    I'm interested in this 24HOP for the same reason I would be interested in buying a book of contemporary fiction written by women: it's a way of collecting content that isn't specific to a given theme, but still will have an interesting and unique feel as compared to a more general collection.

    So to me, it's not really about privilege or accessibility. It's more about creativity and doing something a slightly different way sometimes.

    For the same reason, I personally would like there to be a twin Male-only 24HOP, and I'd like to see how it came out differently. 🙂

  5. I'm torn about Kalen's comment about a “man” organizing this. I believe the main reason a man is organizing this is because he is the 24HoP organizer.

    In many of the WIT events I'm participated in there have been “no men allowed” rules, even to the point that some male reporters were asked to stand outside the building.

    As I blogged/commented recently, I think the issue with lack of diversity in the IT profession is only going to be improved if everybody is included in solving the problem.

    So part of me thinks that if the 24HoP were a female-only event (organizers, promoters, presenters, introducers, marketers, sponsors, and heck, why not attendees) then it would be a completely “separate but almost-equal” event.

    I can see Kalen's point that this event could come across as a girlie show (my words), as if we needed to make special accommodations for female speakers because they would not be chosen for a standard 24HoP event. But I don't think that is the intent of this.

    So I think we need to tread carefully in this experiment to see what unfolds. But just because it's something new and risky doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.

  6. Hi Jen, I know we've had a good chat about this already and I'll probably write something myself on this subject from my perspective sometime. IT has significantly changed (thankfully) from when I first started in IT and this has to be a good thing.

    Do Women even need events like this anymore? In my opinion probably not and I felt the same about the WIT luncheon at PASS, but perhaps I am wrong. There is something about them that I am not quite comfortable with and I am not totally sure what that “thing” is. In part I think it is because I see IT people as two things :- good or bad. Gender in particular does not play even the smallest part in my decision of whether someone is very good or very bad, and so when some group or event happens to highlight the difference I'm left a little bewildered.

    I feel that Women In Technology have now established and proven themselves so much that I would like to think that gender would not even be an issue to any Professional today (and I use the term Professional for a reason) – perhaps the reality is actually quite different, but I hope not.

    That said I have to say that I'm really looking forward to this event and sincerely hope you get chosen since your work is of an extremely high standard and it would be a great showcase of your talent, and if it can inspire other Women (and Men) to become even half the BI Specialist that you are then the event will be a great success.

    That said, I'm not sure what the future of an event like this is. Personally I would just love to see a pairing off of a man and women for each session in a future event. The dynamic could work well. We have all probably seen Paul and Kimberly verbally sparring which is awesome and funny to listen to, and how about a Kalen vs Buck or Midnight DBAs up against each other. Another idea I would like to promote is how about doing an entirely newcomer only 24HOP. That would not only encourage women but men as well to get involved.

    Best of luck, and look forward to listening to you!

  7. I hope the legacy of this event is that it grows and improves the SQL community and (especially) the existing pool of speakers at this level by encouraging the participation of those, like yourself, you might not have otherwise done so. I hope that future 24Hop events continue that trend with different themes.

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