(DISCLAIMER: I’m a female tech entrepreneur; I’m not a programmer but do work with programmers. I am passionate about having more women enter into & hold leadership positions in STEM professions.)
The conference is promoted as: “…for collegiate women interested in Computer Science that seeks to promote female representation in technical fields and create a community among women in technology.”
WECode made headlines because Goldman Sachs (Platinum Sponsor) gave away mirrors and nail files to attendees. One of the event’s attendees posted a picture to Instagram under her yuqz handle. The picture was accompanied by the caption: #goldmansachsbrought nail files and mirrors to the women's coding event. Not sure if this is#sexyfeminismor gender stereotyping
The ensuing coverage highlighted two things for me. One, the discussion became about what one should give women coders; don’t women use mirrors & nail files? And two, the importance of the conference and what the organization is trying to solve was an afterthought to Goldman Sachs’ mirrors.
Yes, women – not all – use mirrors and nail files. We also typically use bras. However, I wouldn’t be too keen if an event trying to motivate my entering a technical field included a bra in my swag. If someone is trying to attract me for my technical prowess, and I’m given a mirror and a nail file, I’m getting two very different messages. On the one hand I’m being told you want my ‘technical brain’ and on the other I’m told that, what’s most important, what’s first seen, what it all boils down to, again…are my aesthetics.
The choice of mirrors & nail files just underscores that whomever chose these items doesn’t know or understand their audience. And, with the greatest of resources & means didn’t consider that they didn’t know. I don’t think the ‘not knowing’ your market/customer is unique to any particular organization; I do think it’s consistent with the lack of access to and/or representation by your target market in marketing your offering. Which brings me to the second thing the coverage highlighted for me, the importance of the conference and what the organization is trying to address was an afterthought to the fact that Goldman Sachs gave out mirrors.
But first, some ideas for future swag,…The event was over two days. The first day was a series of speakers and the second was a hackathon. So what if WECode conference organizers provided sponsors with a list of items that coders would love to use in a hackathon? What if the WECode conference organizers provided sponsors with a list of items coders typically like or enjoy? What if one of the sponsors provided a prize to whomever performed best at the hackathon? The swag would recognize the behaviour the sponsors and event organizers are trying to incite: females coding.
So, the importance of what the conference is trying to address, a lack of women in the STEM fields, is overlooked in ‘MIRRORgate’. The organizer’s describe themselves as: “A group of Harvard-affiliated women dedicated to building a network of women in computer science across schools and industries. Creating awareness of and building opportunities for women in the technical fields. Promoting the importance of a technical education for girls.”
We need representation by women in the STEM fields for two critical and fundamental reasons. One, there is no way we can achieve our full potential as a company, as a community or as a society if we are only accessing 50% of our potential. FULL STOP. Second, we need women to be involved in the decision-making, design, policy, research and development of products to provide for gender diversity in perspective. Diversity provides a better solution. Gender diversity is also required to ensure women’s perspectives are considered in the products and solutions that are designed. I don’t subscribe to a 'all women think in the same way' theory, we (women) just add diversity in thinking. Diversity is categorically attributed to developing the best solutions, and, from an economic standpoint, the most profitable companies. STEM fields are the underpinning of economic growth, of innovation, of treatments for and diagnosis of physiological disorders. When you have a woman on your team she can’t but see the world through her lens. Her lens includes gender. No, all women are not the same. But there are physiological traits and societal norms that cause consistencies within a gender. And you can only appreciate and consider these consistencies if you identify with that same gender.
I’ll use the medical field as an example. Medical research has typically underrepresented women in their research and results. The results that are predominantly documented, covered and communicated are from research of male patients. EG the symptoms and diagnosis of heart attacks are different for men and women. Society presents male symptoms for a heart attack as unilaterally true across both genders. This is not correct. It is what we've come to believe because we don't see otherwise, we're not communicated consistently and with the same weight and importance research and results for both genders. I don’t think it’s because men want to exclude women in the studies, it’s simply they don’t think of it as a big determinant. Men look through their own lens, and although there are differences within the same gender (actually greater than across gender) the consistent thread is the fact that they are the same gender. And that is the lens through which they perceive the world. Just like the lens through which I perceive the world includes being a woman.
So yes, if I’d received a mirror in my swag I wouldn’t be too happy. Just like I wouldn’t be too happy if I got a bra in my swag.
And if I put on an event trying to get more female coders, I would hope the conversation would get us to talk about better solutions to attract more women into STEM fields and appreciate it’s the only way we will develop the best products, the best companies and realize our full potential. That only by including women's perspectives in everything from policy making to a product’s design will a society represent the interests of women.