#MeToo and being a woman in Technology

Where do I start? I never wanted to write this story and I’m going to ask for your patience if this blog isn’t as polished as I would normally do. Instead of a braindump, this is a heartdump and I hope you’ll bear with me.

As always, this does NOT represent any organisation or entity other than myself. Note that THIS IS A TRIGGER WARNING and if you need to talk to someone, there are plenty of organisations that can help.

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You can tell a lot about a girl from her shoes. Some women have too many pairs. I used to wear high heeled shoes that looked like the shoes on the left. Fun, delicate and feminine. I call this phase the ‘Before Girl’.

Then, something happened to me. Something bad. My ordeal lasted for about seven hours. I don’t want to recall the details; I will just leave it there. To this date, I am not really sure how I got out but I got help from a passing cab driver who thought I’d been hit by a car and he took me to safety. The ‘Before Girl’ died and she was left somewhere dazed and in the cold; the ‘After Girl’ was born.

Unlike the young lady who wrote her letter here, I didn’t have a cyclist or two to help me. I’m further on in life than she is, from her story, and I wish her the absolute best and her bravery has inspired me to speak here. She has been a lighthouse for me. I never knew the identity of the taxi driver but I am forever grateful; I do not believe that all men are bad, and I do think of him sometimes because he reminds me that there are good people out there.

So what happened after? It impacted everything. Probably the most visible change you’ll see are shoes. I began to wear shoes that meant I could run far and fast if I ever needed to, to get away. So I started wearing flat shoes or trainers or Doctor Martens. I do wear heels sometimes but I usually have ballerina wraps in my handbag; a silver pair or a black pair.

I decided that I was no longer going to live my life in fear; I’d had enough taken from me already. I don’t want to live my life in fear dressed up as practicalities. So I realised that my strength had to come from me. I did lots of things, namely, try to become the ‘Before Girl’ again and not the ‘After Girl’ that I’d become.

About 8 years ago, I started to speak at technical events because I wanted to tackle my fears head on: standing up in a room full of men, everyone looking at me. So my first session was one hundred people, and since then, I’ve spoken all over the world, and my largest in-person audience was over six thousand people. I did lots of technical community work and I began to find my home there; I found friendship, and men who treated me as a person and an expert as I proved over and over again that I could teach and be relevant. I stopped being this afraid thing. I also learned from other people and I found some healing from my experience, simply from being part of the technical community.

I want to deeply thank the informal tech community of Microsoft and the Tableau community for giving me the opportunities that you have, and for helping me to find some healing there from the mostly great people I met. I have given a lot, but you have given me far more than you will ever know. Thank you.

I didn’t want to write about it at all, but my hand has been somewhat forced. I talked to a few people I trusted, in confidence, because the current thinking is that you should share and talk about your experiences. We live in an Oprah society; we are all supposed to talk about things. That didn’t work for me at all. I soon found that my confidence was broken and that this story was being talked about. I didn’t want my struggles to be my story. I want to talk about my failures, achievements and successes instead.

After I realized that my story was out, I felt more stricken than I’ve done for a long time. I felt I’d travelled to a different country, and came back speaking a language which nobody else knew and it was my only way to communicate. I didn’t know how far my story had feathers which carried themselves on the wind, and I’d never be able to catch all of the feathers. I felt isolated from the community where I had been working to heal myself and try to bring the ‘Before Girl’ back to life again. So I decided, after months of deliberation, just to front it out and here I am. The #MeToo campaign helped me, and I hope that this will help you, too.

When you tell people that you’ve been attacked, they look at you differently. There is a ‘look’ that people seem to give you and you know that’s what they are thinking about. There are two voices inside your head, as a victim; the first voice talks about the facts and what happened, and those facts absolve me. The second voice talks about what society thinks of you; how you were to blame, how you are tainted, and how you will always be guilty and ashamed, and held accountable. It’s at this point that my mind throws up a lot of turbulence. I was worried that people would hold the second voice about me, but not the first; not the facts.

So when you are in a state of fear, and I can only speak for myself here, you end up freezing and your limbs become weak and your hands can’t move and your eyesight dim like you’ve been rubbing your eyes too much, your ears hurt and the world goes silent. Thing is, at first, your mind-numbing, screaming fear is that you are going to lose the war over your body. Then, you do. In horror, you watch yourself lose the battle over your own body. Your fear shifts and moves on. Your new fear is that you are going to die. There is always another rung to fall down. If you have ever wondered what you think about when you are sure that you are going to die, then I can tell you with some certainty that you can only think of your loved ones and the loss that you are leaving behind, and how much grief that they are going to suffer and how changed they are going to be and how much you really really love them. Truthfully, all that’s left of us at the end, is who we hold tight in our hearts.

So, after all that, the ‘After Girl’ was going to have to adapt. I’m still me and I’m still there, underneath it all. I still want to be part of the community and talk tech and share my passions for what I do. It’s a big risk to be seen as the authentic ‘you’ but I am taking this risk; I won’t lose anyone I’ve already lost, and I won’t gain people I don’t have, right now. It’s zero sum. What I will have, however, is that I’ve risked being ‘seen’ in order to try and do something good with this experience. Ultimately, I can’t win but I have to make the choices that are right for me.

I saw the #MeToo campaign appear and I thought it is finally time to knock this on the head. I want people to know I’m okay and that I’m still here and I’m still me. If I was going to have a nervous breakdown, I’d have done it years ago. I didn’t want this part of my life to be used as some confirmatory bias that I’m not okay, and potentially turn out to further isolate and even inadvertently discredit me. I have had my lesson in human cruelty and I got through it, and I’m much stronger than people seem to think.

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So I’m getting out in front of it so that I take back some control and that people will talk to me about it, and not about me. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to the #MeToo campaign. You have helped me feel less alone.

Honestly I don’t want my struggle to be my story, and I’m not sure how else to handle it. I’m fed up hiding and I’m fed up trying to catch feathers and I hope I can move forwards from here. I realized that I could live authentically as an imperfect person who wasn’t broken, but still shine brightly, casting out more light because of it. I’m hoping that other victims will find strength in themselves to keep going. I’m hoping more women will see that they have a home in the tech community too. I’m here, and you can be, too.

I’m also hoping that this will encourage new speakers. People sometimes tell me that they are ‘afraid’ to get up and speak. You’re not afraid; that’s privilege speaking from people who don’t really know what it means to feel fear. You might be nervous but you’re not in fear. If you want to speak, think about me; if I can do it, you definitely can.

I want to move past this, so let’s talk a little about what’s next for me?

Diversity Charter – I’m trying to set up a Diversity Charter so tech community orgs, such as user groups, can show that they are truly welcoming to people of different backgrounds.

Thought Leadership – I’ve also become attracted to thought leadership and I do industry analysis as a freelancer. I’m still interested in this part.

Events – I’ll continue speaking for as long as people want to hear me.

Diversity is important to me because it means I can try to find something good with what’s happened to me. I know what it feels like to be powerless and have your voice taken away from you. I know how it feels to have a second voice talk over the first voice; hold onto that first voice. Ultimately, I want to be able to find some meaning.  I’ll never be able to apologize to the women that were attacked after me since I was not the last in a line, it seems, and their experiences are a burden which I partially bear because I could not find the strength to speak out. If only I’d been more successful in getting my voice heard, their pain might never have happened. I’m doing it now because my voice is all I have. I want to try and make something good out of it. Diversity makes sense to make because it’s all about trying to make sure that everyone is included and they aren’t isolated from doing a job or a community activity that they love. And techies do love technology and everyone’s inner geek should be welcome.

What should you do if this happens to you?

These are just my opinions and they are given out of concern for your welfare:

Get yourself safe. Get away.  I was too injured and distressed to do anything other than let the taxi driver help me into the car. I had no phone and my bag had disappeared so I had no money.  I don’t recommend that you do the same thing; that’s just what happened to me.  Call the police. They will never criticize you for it and neither will anyone else. That’s what they are there for. Use your cell and photograph everything.

Call the Police and get medical help and every bit of evidence you can. You got this. Police Stations are the loneliest places on the planet. So when the police are looking at you across the table, they ask you things like ‘why didn’t you fight back then? If you didn’t fight back then you didn’t really say no, did you?’ remember that they are dialling up the second voice by playing around with the first voice, and that’s why so few cases go to court. This is what happens – people mix the first and second voices. I hope that, if you go to the police, you will keep that in mind and you will will make sure that the first voice ring true and that your ‘Before Girl’ gets to speak. And take someone with you, if you can.

There are plenty of organizations that can help you e.g. In the UK, you can call the national Rape Crisis helpline (run by our member Centre Rape Crisis South London) on 0808 802 9999 between 12 noon – 2.30pm and 7 – 9.30pm every day of the year for confidential support and/or information about your nearest services. Put the number in your cell phone; if not for you, for someone else. Just in case. Oh, and that goes for guys, too; one of your female friends might need help someday.

If it’s a tech community event, tell the organisers but make sure you are safe first. Tell a friend.  I put the police first since they can also help you out.  PASS have the Anti Harrassment Procedure and I think that’s one of PASS’ greatest achievements. I think that other community events could adopt it although I’m not speaking officially for PASS here.

Don’t be hard on yourself. You got this and you’ll find unexpected friends along the way.

As for me? And maybe, one day, I’ll get back into high-heeled shoes for keeps. The ‘Before Girl’ has gone and this is her obituary, but the ‘After Girl’ understands what it means to value life and the importance of leaving something good for other people.

SQLSaturday Portugal: Why I’m going for the third year in a row!

Going to SQL Saturday Portugal? It is an excellent event, run by SQL Server MVP and European Community Tech Leader Niko Neugebauer and his awesome team.
If you haven’t been before, it is a great event for international attendees as well as Portugese sqlfamily with sessions in English as well as Portugese.

A little Twitter birdy tells me that they are getting full on the Saturday so I’d advise you to register quick! Here is a taster of the full day, paid Workshops right before the free SQLSaturday community event:
Tim MitchellTim Mitchell – Real World SSIS: Survival Guide  (10th of AprilThursday)
Milos RadivojevicMilos Radivojevic – SQL Server for Application Developers  (10th of AprilThursday)
Edwin SarmientoEdwin Sarmiento –  High Availability & Disaster Recovery Deep Dive  (10th of AprilThursday)
Paul TurleyPaul Turley – Complete BI Solution with Office & SQL Server  (11th of AprilFriday)
Brent OzarBrent Ozar – Virtualization, Storage, and Hardware for SQL Server (11th of AprilFriday )
Until 12th of March of 2014, the early bird for these workshops is just 100€ so what are you waiting for!
I have the honour of speaking at the event as well as the privilege of helping with a Women in Technology event. The Portugese event is special because it has a diversity of attendees from all over the place (including me, from Scotland!). This will be my third year because I love the event and Lisbon is a great place to visit.
See you there! 

SQLSaturday Budapest #278: Coffee Corner for Women In Technology: Making yourself visible and getting ahead

Social systems don’t trailblaze and they are not necessarily easily visible. However, social methods are quietly voted in by societies and it’s easy not to notice them. How can you try to make sure that you are noticed in your career? Is there a lower number of women in IT, or do they simply not put themselves forward enough? How can you create a sustainable competitiveness as a company, if diversity is not an important part of the organisation?

Come to this session for a lively discussion on how to shine, share your expertise, inspire each other and train yourselves in how to use networking to advance yourselves and each other.

Join myself and Gosia Borzęcka for an informal chat on this topic. You are very welcome to join us! Men and women are both welcome.

Our session is at 2.45 and we hope to see you there! The official site is here and to register, click here.



Women in Technology: Children at Technical Conferences

I read a post with the same title by Tim Radney, which I loved. In his post, which I suggest you read, he talks about taking his son to a technical conference. I thought I’d write a little bit about my experiences taking my son to a couple of User Groups in the UK. A few months ago, Mark Broadbent (SQL DBA guru and a great friend of mine) needed a speaker at the last minute for his Cambridgeshire PASS Chapter user group. I said I would do it, but I’d have to bring my eight year old because it would be too late to get a babysitter. Very fortunately, Mark agreed that I could bring my son.  At this point, I have to thank Mark for his patience with my son, who now calls him ‘his big friend Mark’. Mark introduced him to games on the mobile phone and didn’t mind that my son ate more food than anyone else! To introduce my son to everyone, I asked him to offer everyone a chocolate and then everyone settled to hear my Big Data session. My son and I went home happy.

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.

Best,
Jen

PASSWiT: Women in Technology Panel roundup of commentary

Panel Discussion: “Beyond Stereotypes: Equality, Gender Neutrality, and Valuing Team Diversity”
What was the Panel discussion topic? 

Are there times when you feel the “odd one out” on your team? Do you have to make an effort to fit in? Often, even when there isn’t blatant sexism, racism or other discrimination in play, there can still be a lot of peer pressure to conform to the group and consequences if you don’t. Join us as our panel discusses some central questions around promoting equality and respect in the workplace. We’ll discuss hard topics like how to establish, build, and grow relationships with co-workers in a diverse setting, how to deal with situations where you – or a colleague – suffer from social exclusion, and how to arrange social events that are inclusive and promote teamwork in a professional setting.  And we’ll share ideas on what we can do to enhance each individual’s contributions and build stronger, more effective teams.


Panellists:


Erin Stellato
Rob Farley
Cindy Gross
Kevin Kline
Gail Shaw


Sometimes we all feel excluded for some reason, for example, their sexual orientation, or perhaps because of their religion or ethnic background.

There are different perspectives: Gail Shaw remains herself, true to wherever she may be. Yay to Gail for not being a social chameleon, but being herself. A good ‘herself’ to be!

Rob Farley commented about religious backgrounds, and how this can impact your ability for other people to allow you to fit in. As a committed Christian, he can see this occurring from time to time.

Cindy Gross commented sometimes it is hard to work out if people are treating you differently if you have a particular background, or if there is another reason for that.

The distinction between extroverts and introverts in how people think and how they respond to you. interesting commentary by Kevin Kline Note that people may not have a big circle of friends around them in order to share their thoughts or try to work out whether a situation is about them or not.

How do you deal with a situation where you or another person suffers social exclusion?

Rob Farley: by staying silent in these situations, then you can drop in others’ estimation. You have to make a judgement call about whether someone has crossed the line or not. If you see someone suffering social exclusion, don’t stay silent. Sometimes people need help in understanding where they cross your line. Everyone has a different ‘line’ to cross. It is important to read body language. There is a fine line between being funny and crossing the line. Be a champion for others.

Kevin Kline: find a backup if you think that someone is crossing the line. It is easier to discuss values with a group backup.

Gail Shaw: If you people you call friends that are pushing you to change, they are probably not your friend. Don’t let others push you to being something you are not. Words of wisdom. 
Burn those bridges if you have to, for your own sake.

Erin Stellato: You can lead without being the leader. Find that commonalilty and build that relationship. Relationships take time. It’s ok to identify the differences but find the common thread. 

To summarise, the panel all gave out some great wisdom in how to deal with diverse teams in the workplace, and also in volunteer settings as well. This can make teams more efficient and work better together in terms of work-life balance, quality of delivery, and can even help businesses be more productive.

at SQLPass Summit and Interested in moving into management? Then you must attend Women in Tech Lunch

The Women in Technology lunch at SQLPass Summit has a complex topic this year: “Beyond Stereotypes: Equality, Gender Neutrality, and Valuing Team Diversity” 

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. 

The McKinsey study also shows that diversity is especially important for problem solving and innovation, which are both extremely relevant for IT. Diverse teams find more innovative solutions, get stuck less often, and are able to find a solution faster because they have different perspectives within the team. In fact, diverse teams even outperform teams of experts, as experts are often trained to think in the same way. 

I used to think that companies sought me out, as a female technical blogger, strategist and implementor, because they were being ‘nice’ and wanted to tick a HR box somewhere. I now recognise that they wanted to hire me because, simply put: Diverse companies make are looking at innovative ways to make more money. The ‘nice’ bit is all very… nice…. but the bottom line is that they want diverse teams to increase their bottom line.

Some of the innovation policies at companies like Cisco, Toyota and Google recognise the link between diversity and innovation, showing an understanding that differences in the composition of their work forces boost their bottom lines.  Let’s take Cisco as an example, They are a keen supporter of the SQLPass Summit 2013 event, and you can visit them at their stand. They also have a Diversity portfolio, where they emphasise (quote from their website):

“When we talk about diversity at Cisco…it’s about inclusion – bringing together a diverse workforce with unique life experiences, cultures, talents and perspectives. We promote a creative, innovative, and collaborative environment that helps drive our business strategy.”


Communities have an influence on who we are, as an individual.  

Diverse settings aren’t always easy to navigate, however. In the Women in Technology session, we will be looking at dealing with situations where you see or experience social exclusion, and how to promote teamwork in a diverse settings. These are all hard management tasks, and the WiT lunch will discuss these difficult issues. If you are serious about a management career, these are things which you could end up tackling – so why not get sensitive to them now? If you are already a manager of people, then you will want to know how to get the best out of your team, and have a positive impact on them and on your organisation. The Women in Technology lunch is a great place to start learning, or be challenged about your ideas.

So, if you’re interested in moving from your DBA role in tech towards a management role, or you are already a manager, then you need to be aware of diversity and it’s importance in an organisation. To come back to our original question: companies are well run because their Boards are diverse, or do well-run Boards decide to appoint diverse boards? The data shows that the diversity leads to stronger teams, better problem solving, innovation, and understanding your customers better.

Diversity isn’t a pretty thing. It’s a real driver for businesses, and smart business recognise a good thing when they see it.

And that’s why you need to attend the Women in Technology lunch at SQLPass Summit 2013. You are here to learn and network, and the diversity discussion will help you to be prepared for diversity discussions when they occur in your workplace. 




Networking and Careers ‘Women in Technology’ Event in Edinburgh on 8th June

I am delighted to announce a ‘Women in Technology’ event in Edinburgh at 3.30PM on 8th June at SQLSaturday Edinburgh!
Can more diverse networks provide better networks? Is it beneficial to have a diverse network, and do men and women define networking success differently?
Is business networking useful in our careers? How much has networking helped you in your career?
How can you build good social media profiles – or are these even necessary to build a career network?
Join us for this fun and thoughtful discussion!