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.


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.


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!

Be the difference: the Adria Richards situation

Here’s a summary of my thoughts on the Adria Richards situation, as a female in tech. For those of you who aren’t on Twitter, here is a summary:

  • 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.
Richards has the right to be offended; absolutely. I personally would have been dismissive of such juvenile commentary, and perhaps rolled my eyes at them.  I don’t think either party could have foreseen the circumstances.  Richards and the developer fired, for example, and the internet furore and backlash that has ensued. 
In my opinion, the ‘dongle’ jokes were juvenile and silly, and they were thoughtless. However I do think that Richards should have had a quiet word with them, either immediately or at a later point. A simple ‘Guys, I’m not comfortable with that…. can you keep that until later?’ would probably have sufficed. This would have been a mature, simple route for anybody; male or female. If she didn’t feel comfortable doing that, then she could have asked others sitting around her for their thoughts and opinions. A simple sentence, signifying maturity, would have permitted the guys to apologise and amend their behaviour; if they didn’t, then she’d have a clearer case for justifying her Twitter response and ‘outing’ of these developers.

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.

How do you get a balance, then? I do think that people should behave professionally; my code is to behave as if the CEO was sat next to you. Would you swear? Make juvenile jokes? Probably not. I’d expect the same professionalism from others, regardless of their sex.  Incidentally, the developer in question has made an apology, and it would be nice if it was accepted graciously. 
People need to wake up and realise that we are in tech, not saving babies or curing cancer, and apply our energies and brains to things that will really change the world. Like behaving as if we are adults. Like giving women the same opportunities as men. Like the risks to young women in various parts of the world, when they try to get an education – think of Malala, for example, at school near me. Like us women not shooting ourselves in the foot. Like trying to find the ‘mature’ route to set an example to the ‘brogrammers’ who are in the majority in our industry.
I really hope that this situation resolves itself as well as possible, for the developers and for Richards herself. That we all mature because of this situation.

Be the difference.

PASSion Award for me – and a little question for you!

I’m proud and hugely humbled to announce that I won the PASSion Award 2012, and received the Award at the SQLPass Summit 2012. here is a picture below, taken by Alberto Ferrari

I’m the small one on the right 🙂 The Award was presented to me at SQLPass Summit 2012 by Thomas LaRock, who you might know better as SQLRockStar.

I have been overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness towards me, and I want to say ‘thank you’ to SQLPass for presenting me with this Award. I was stunned to receive it, and I still cannot quite believe it.

I want to say ‘Thank You’ to the SQLFamily community who congratulated me over Twitter at JenStirrup, or in person at SQLPass Summit. To everyone who sent a good wish my way: I am extremely grateful, and ‘thank you’ goes to you. Every tweet or ‘hey, congrats!’ was much appreciated, and I am humbled and touched by your kindness. It’s one of these things where people don’t realise what an impact they’ve had on me, and even the simplest ‘hey, congrats!’ has made me feel overwhelmed.

Sometimes folks ask me ‘what do you get out of helping the community?’ To me, this is the wrong question. I don’t do it to get anything out of it. You’ll find a lot of volunteers will say that, too. So why do something, if you don’t intend to get anything from it? The truth is, I’ve met so many great friends and smart SQL / Business Intelligence people from my connections to PASS, it’s my pleasure to help and to be involved with the community. Being involved is a good thing in itself.

I have met some of my deepest and greatest friends in the SQL Server community via PASS, and this has been life-changing for me. If you’re wondering whether you should take the plunge and become involved – even as an active member, turning up to meetings – I’d definitely encourage it.

I know that myself and other SQLFamily members will tell you that the community has kept them strong when times are hard. I’ve certainly been personally buoyed by the kind hearts in the community, a lot of whom make the days and nights brighter without even realising it.

I’m looking forward to 2013, with all the fun that PASS activities will bring. Let’s push forward and bring the sqlfamily to more folks across Europe, India and Africa, and reach out to ‘newbies’ in the US. Everyone has to start learning somewhere, and I’m not ashamed to say that I will never stop learning. You’ll touch lives – the PASS and SQLBits communities have certain touched mine.  In particular, we can welcome people from different backgrounds into the community.

Sitting over here in London, we talk a lot about diversity in one of the most proudly diverse, yet welcoming, places in the planet. Diversity brings inspiration and ideas from different perspectives and places and this is why the Women in Technology movement, in particular, is important to the community. We can learn from each other, and to do this better, it can mean that we understand each other better. The Women in Technology debates can foster discussion. I tend to find that the WIT events are attended by the nicest, nicest people since they care, and they’ve voted to learn more about different perspectives by turning up to the event. We don’t have all the answers, but the amazing insights from audience members really bring it home that we have so many smart men and women in our community.

Curious? Here’s a little question for you: Why don’t you to along to the next WIT event at your local SQLSaturday, and see what the fuss is about? You’ll be surprised by the insights and interesting discussions you’ll find. Try it, and blog! If you don’t blog, why don’t you email me at JenStirrup[at]copperblueconsulting[dot]com and I would love to hear from you!

Thank you to all at SQLPass for giving me such a special day, and I will never forget it. 


‘Women in Technology’ at Munich SQLSaturday 170

We look forward to welcoming you to SQLSaturday 170 in Munich! This will be the first SQLSaturday in Munich, and we’d also like to invite you to another innovation!

 The SQLSaturday 170 event in Munich is a great opportunity to meet and network with your peers. To make it easier for you to meet others, we are arranging a lunch with a focus on ‘Women in Technology’ so you can meet your peers to share knowledge, stimulate ideas and build a network.

The topic of discussion for lunch is: ‘Women in Technology: why does it matter?‘ We will talk about whether female team technical members can influence product development and innovation, and whether companies benefit from having more women working in technology.
To meet for lunch, please meet us at the canteen at the lunch break, and we look forward to meeting you then.