Some thoughts inspired by Becky Isserman’s blog post “My Experience as a Woman in the Community:
Thanks, Becky! It’s good that we can discuss our ideas and concerns repectfully, and as professionals.
All my IT work has been in male-predominant teams, a fact that has never been a problem. In my experience, if you pull your weight and do the work, there’s not a gender issue. If you’re good, teach others. If you don’t know, ask. You’ll catch a lot more hell for being a slacker or poser than for being female.
Of course, it hasn’t always been that way, and a nod is given to the women of the “Mad Men” years who made it possible that, in my agency, the boss is a woman, and women outnumber men on most teams; a situation most remarkable today for its lack of remarkability.
That being said, I enjoy the comradery of groups in which I’m involved. As a newcomer to the SharePoint community, I’ve felt welcomed by everyone with whom I’ve interacted, but particularly welcomed by the all-female group, which encourages members to seek out speaking engagements and to share expenses to make non-work sponsored travel more affordable.
That gender division does seem to promote misunderstandings, however. Take for instance the Pajama Party Podcast idea. This was to be like a sleepover with girlfriends in flannel pajamas & curlers, but instead of dishing about boys, they’d be dishing about SharePoint. The speed at which this was interpreted as a potential “Tech Girls Gone Wild” episode was concerning.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good off-color joke, and will probably privy you to some if I meet you at a conference, if you’re up for it. But I think sometimes the all-female premise lends itself to misinterpretation, when that is not the intention. Because of that, gender-based groups might want to make a particular effort to choose their branding mechanisms wisely (…and yes, I intend to take my own advice on that note).
So do we *need* a gender-based group? Probably not. The community is accepting of both sexes. Although I appreciate the promotion of women by women within the community, I wouldn’t want to be selected over another speaker because of gender. But I didn’t percieve that as the intent of the female group; there’s enough talent among the members not to need special treatment.
Is a gender-based group a bad thing? Also, probably not. People are motivated in different ways, and if participation in a group pushes you to realize your potential in ways you wouldn’t have, that is a good thing. A very good thing.
The barriers to entry as a speaker today seem to be more within the person and their skill set. As a newbie, I have a lot to learn, but I’ll learn it. It takes time, and mistakes, and slogging your way through others’ mistakes, and asking for help. There aren’t any shortcuts, although knowing people who’ve been there before certainly helps. The support available from the community if you’re willing to ask is amazing – it’s definitely helped me.
And in the end, I don’t know any women who want to be known by their technology peers as “good…for a girl.” They want to be good. Period.