I run HUGSS, a SQL Server user group in Hertfordshire. I’ve taken my son on the odd occasion, and he sits really nicely, reads quietly whilst the adults are talking, and eats as much as he gets his hands on. We are a very small group at the moment, and so far, nobody has minded too much.
For those of you who haven’t worked it out already, I’m a single mother and have been for a good while now. I play mum and dad. For me, the hardest bit of being a parent is “teaching your child how to walk, and then teaching them how to walk away”. I didn’t set out to be a single mum and it wasn’t the life that I had planned for myself, but we are where we are. I do the best mum and dad combined roles that I can do. I love my job, I love the sqlfamily that I come across, and most of all, I am blessed, really blessed, to have a smart, wise, loving little boy in my life with a big generous heart and wonderful chuckle who opens my eyes and teaches me something new every day. He loves cuddles and TS Eliot poems about cats. He loves soldiers, Nerf, lego, iCarly, Hallowe’en, ice cream with sprinkles on top and loves being read limerick poems. I count myself lucky each and every day. I want more than anything to make his dreams come true and give him the brightest, best future that is in my power to do so.
So, in my role of mum and dad, I used to worry what people would think of me as a ‘single mum at a tech conference’ as an attendee, presenter or organiser. There tends to be less female attendees, and I wonder what percentage of those are in my demographic. I then wondered if perhaps other women worried as I did, that I would be odd-one-out. Then it struck me that perhaps, by sharing my story, that perhaps other women who share my life experiences might realise that actually, it isn’t an issue. People accept you for who you are. Community is community. I believe one hundred percent that there is no community as welcoming as the ‘sqlfamily’ and I have found my ‘home’ there. You already have a shared passion for tech and everybody is learning, and if I can do this, anybody can.
Otherwise, I’ve never taken him to a larger conference and we are both not ready to do that. I think that it would be too much for him (he is only 8, after all!). I’m a mum before anything else, and I’d be fully involved looking after him than I would in doing community work or helping people with SQL Server or BI questions. When he is older and might benefit from the experience, such as doing computing science at secondary school, then I might be more inclined to take him so that he can be inspired by meeting some of the brightest minds in tech at sql server conferences, for example.
Normally I try to keep my family life separate from my professional and community life, but Tim’s blog celebrated family and technology, and inspired me to write a little so I’ve shared a few thoughts here. My experiences and opinions will be different from other people’s, but I had hoped that these thoughts might help someone somewhere.
What was the Panel discussion topic?
Diversity isn’t just a ‘nice thing to do’ – studies show that it is a way forward for companies to perform better, and even increase the bottom line. Studies by psychologists such as Irving Janis, and social psychology experiements by luminaries such as Solomon Asch, show that diverse teams make better decisions. The complexity scientist Scott Page has looked at mathematical models.
There is the thinking in the Dilbert comic below:
Here, Dilbert is commenting whether these companies are well run because their Boards are diverse, or do well-run Boards decide to appoint diverse boards? It is a horse and cart question.
What does the data science say? Do organisations do this because it is a ‘nice’ thing to do? According to complexity specialist Scott Page, professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan, diversity:
- produces organisational strength
- leads to higher productivity
- strongly linked to innovation
Using mathematical models, he was able to link diversity to productivity and innovation.
Furthermore, research by McKinsey, an international management consultancy firm, has shown that diversity makes for better decision-making at all organisational levels, with companies with women in top management performing better operationally and financially compared to other companies in similar sectors.
- Adria Richards was an attendee at PyCon. Richards overheard a conversation by two men, which included a number of technical terms, which Richards took to infer some innuendo.
- Richards posted their picture on Twitter to her thousands of followers whilst asking Pycon to remedy the situation.
- Richards was then subjected to a lot of twitter support; but also the subject of a great deal of vitriol. Most of it is too disgusting to repeat here, but I got some of it a whilst back when I complained about the experiences of girl gamers over Twitter. Trust me, it isn’t nice.
- Richards, and one of the developers in the photo above, got fired.
So, as a female in tech, here are my thoughts:
- The guys were mildly in the wrong for their initial comments.
- Richards was mildly in the wrong for the over-reaction.
- Absolutely wrong – not mildly – is the sad fact that Richards has received a huge amount of revenge via social media. Vitriolic commentary about rape, being killed, and even tweets showing pictures of decapitation and so on and so on. The kind of vile stuff you see on the Internet. However, if you use social media, you need to recognise that it may not always like you and this is a consequence that nobody could have foreseen.
Why it is difficult for me personally:
- I think that the initial over-reaction has a ‘halo’ effect; I don’t want ‘men in tech’ to think that we are all Richards in disguise. I don’t want to be treated differently because I’m female. I want to be treated the same. I don’t want guys to feel that they are treading on eggshells around me. I can carry out my professional work much more easily when people get past the ‘girl’ thing.
- This whole, sorry, wrong situation is a setback for everyone; men and women in tech. For example, I am worried that it may scare companies from hiring women, thinking that we will go off on some Twitter strop at the slightest provocation. That’s exactly the sort of situation that we do not want. I want to be seen as a professional; someone you’d hire and trust to deliver a good job, not someone you’d be afraid to interact with in case of a Twitter furore.
Be the difference.