Where are the women in tech?

Last weekend’s OpenTech was great. Bill Thompson on two cultures. Ben Goldacre on Dore and his dream of some kind of auto-wiki thing. Sessions on government data, monitoring energy digitally, and geo-data privacy were also illuminating. BEST OF ALL: no bloody queues for the ladies’ loos. Because there were only about three of us in the building. Obviously that’s exaggeration but I’d guess (emphasis on guess as I didn’t do a head-count) women accounted for somewhere between 5 and 10 per cent of the audience (maybe the organisers could fill me in without an exact number? See update). Anyway, when it came to discussing the issue, the room swiftly emptied leaving a few stoic men and most of the women in attendance with about ten chairs each.

In the panel…

  • Suw Charman-Anderson – Ada Lovelace Day: what happened, why, etc.
  • Janet Parkinson – Marketing to the Digital Woman – Women in Tech
  • Sue Black – Setting up an online women in tech network – 10 years on, and how a supportive community and role models are really important for women to succeed
  • Kathryn Corrick – interactive brainstorm with the audience to find some women who they think are a modern Ada Lovelace

… the point was made that most of the female tech role models discussed for Ada Lovelace Day were dead. So they challenged us to come up with some live ones… Kathryn has posted the results here. It’s pretty hard to come up with a good range of inspirational female tech figures, but I plan to find out more about the names that were new to me.

So here’s my part in waving the female tech flag:

  • If you can afford time/money get yourself to Bletchley Park on July 26.
  • Follow: @suw, @kcorrick, @dr_black, @janetparkinson on Twitter.
  • Keep an eye on @findingada / http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/findingada/
  • One good bit of practical advice from the panel: if you spot a tech conference with an all-male line-up then raise it with the organisers. That should stop it happening the next year.

More philosophically, I’m curious – though I don’t think it warrants endless discussion space at conferences – why such a disparity occurs. Why are men’s voices louder? Why are women less prominent in tech when the normal factors (child-rearing / traditional working patterns) should hold less significance for getting ahead?

Update: Some info kindly sent by the organisers:

“Signups clearly from women were about 8% (by counting names/email addresses likely to be women, but excluding ones where we can’t tell e.g. Chris). That also excludes speakers and people who just showed up on the day.”

So my guess wasn’t bad! They also said they’d take all help they can get to help correct the balance for next year… Given that there was a whole session (in the main hall) addressing the issue, and more female speakers than at most events, the OpenTech team can hardly be blamed for the imbalance. Participation level comes back to the title of the blogpost: where are the women in tech? Bill Thompson made the point in his speech that education is key in improving coding literacy, and programming skills need to be taught early: that approach is equally suited to the women issue. How to encourage more girls to experiment with technology at a younger age? And how to get them to boast about what they’re doing?



  1. Pingback: OpenTech 2009 materials online
  2. Pingback: From the Online » Where are the women in tech? | tech-gals.com
  3. Pingback: Were you at OpenTech09? - Backstage.bbc.co.uk

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