It is because of the Ada Initiative that I felt inspired & empowered to bring their Ally Skills Workshop to Spotify as part of our internal diversity training. I took the workshop back in March of 2014; it left me feeling prepared and comfortable to handle uncomfortable and awkward situations, even though the workshop is meant for men. I have since been working hard with our internal diversity working group to integrate such a workshop into new hire orientation.
But wait! There’s MOAR!
The goal is to raise $7,500 by 5pm (Pacific) on Friday, September 26th. If that goal is met, Jacob Kaplan-Moss, Alex Gaynor, and Carl Meyer are matching those donations, bringing up the total raised to $15,000!!
Why support the Initiative, you ask? Because besides myself, the organization inspires and helps others:
The Ada Initiatie has my back. In the past several years they have ben transformative force in the open source software community and in the lives of women I know and care about.
Looking around me, it is so obvious that women don’t get equal opportunities in tech and there are so many things that lead to that. The statistics are very clear. If I look around in the café at work there are tons of women. But if I look around me in my little engineering team there is only one woman. And I think it is a shame that so few women choose tech and those that do have so many things to fight.
I spent the weekend at AdaCamp Portland! This was my fourth AdaCamp and as usual, I came away full of ideas, with new friends and invigorated from all the wonderful conversations.
This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend AdaCamp, an unconference for encouraging and supporting women and other non-male people involved in open technology and culture.
It was an incredible experience: I met fascinating and inspiring people, learned new technically skills, got some ideas for projects to work on, and received a ton of career affirmation. There were a lot of web developers and other solidly-tech people there, but we also had a handful of journalism-minded folks, quite a few librarians, Wikipedia editors and more.
So what are you waiting for? DONATE.
Curious about the Ally Skills Workshop?
Back in March, I attended the Ada Initiative Ally Skills Workshop (formerly Allies Workshop) in San Francisco to see if I could gain more insight on how to better support women within Spotify and within the tech communities I lead and am involved in.
The Ada Initiative defines allies as:
Allies are people who are not themselves part of a particular group, but support people in that group. Allies are a crucial part of supporting women in open technology and culture. While this workshop is designed specially for allies, people of all genders are welcome to attend. The most successful workshops have about 50% male attendees.
The workshop lasted about two hours long, and had about 20 folks attend (and surprisingly, only one other female attended). Valerie Aurora led the workshop, starting off with a few small but key definitions and principles:
GENDER IDENTITY & INCLUSIVENESS
Valerie started off with an important distinction with folks identifying with genders:
- “cis” – gender you are born with and identify with
- “trans” – gender you identify with but not born with
My own personal note: It’s important to understand these two groups in the perspective of a cooperative and comfortable professional environment – especially cis-gendered folks. By identifying with the gender you were born with, you already have a privilege that trans-gendered folks do not. There is a lot of subtle and overt discrimination against trans-folks which cis-gendered folks do not face and therefore do not have to “swim upstream” within society. Here is a great example of issues trans-gendered folks can face, and here is a great cis-gender programmer privilege checklist.
Similarly, Valerie noted that men have a built-in advantage within the tech work place. This is generalizing – but she mentions that when a woman speaks up against any workplace issue she has, she is perceived as a complainer, as whiny, and as weak. However, when a man speaks up about something, he is seen as brave. A really great article on male privilege can be read here.
RESPONDING TO A SEXIST INCIDENT
Valerie outline some basic principles when responding to a sexist incident:
- Be short, simple, and firm
- The use of humor usually backfires
- Pick your battles
- Play for the audience
- Don’t be homophobic, transphobic, or make fun of people for being sexually undesirable, unattractive, etc
In small groups, we went through the following possible scenarios in the workplace that women might face. I only recorded the scenarios, as I wanted to respect the discussion between the group. However, I’ve included my own thoughts.
1: Creating a friendly environment Scenario: A woman you don’t know is standing near your group at a geek event. She is alone and looks like she would rather be talking to people.
My thoughts: The goal should be creating connections. It could come off poorly if someone was to go up to this individual independently and engage in conversation (and of course, the topic of conversation matters). It’s better to invite the woman into the conversation that you are currently having with the group.
For instance, ask “what brings you to [geeky meetup]?” If someone else in the group can relate, introduce the two. Or else, bring the woman up to speed about what you’re talking about, e.g. “We’re talking about whether tabs or spaces are better when coding in [x], what’s your opinion?”
2: Creating a friendly environment Scenario: You are deciding where to hold an event for your tech community.
My thoughts: take into consideration the following elements:
- Ease to get to location (close to transit, lots of parking, handicap accessible)
- The environment you are trying to create (for instance, a bar would not be a good place for a professional tech meetup)
- The reputation of the location (e.g. has this company just been dragged through the mud for being openly sexist? why would I want to host an event there when I want everyone to feel comfortable?)
- If the event will have alcohol or not
3: Speaking up about casual sexism Scenario: On a mailing list in your community, someone writes “How would you explain this [technical thing] to your girlfriend?” (e.g. using a woman as an example of a technically unsavvy person).
My thoughts: Since this is a public mailing list, address it publicly. But address it in a way that does not fault the person, but the behavior displayed. For instance, saying something like “I know you may have not meant it like this, but this sort of comment ostracizes women and pegs them as not being technical. This is not the environment this community wants to create.” A good article can be read here titled “Dick Jokes and Devops”.
4: Speaking up about casual sexism Scenario: At a meeting, a woman makes a suggestion but no one picks up on it. Later, a man makes the same suggestion and is given credit for it.
My thoughts: This is very hard to proactively work against. Many people do not notice this happening to others, yet it happens extremely often. And it’s not just women (although it does happen a lot for women). Sometimes our teams are set up to listen to the loudest or the most powerful/highest up. It’s easy to say “ah well I would just repeat what she said and attribute credit to her”. But this assumes awareness of the situation, which is the problem itself.
One of the things I like that my team, Unishark, does is during some meetings, we write our thoughts on post-it notes. This removes the voice aspect, and allows us to have a visual representation of the point at hand. When the time comes to talk about a particular post-it note, then the writer speaks up and gets the stage.
I encourage folks to pay attention or try to be aware of anyone on your team not having a voice being heard. If you notice a comment or an idea being reiterated again by someone else, gently attribute the thought to the originator.
5: Not supporting sexist organizations Scenario: You are speaking or recruiting at a conference your company is sponsoring, and you notice a booth with sexual advertising (e.g. “booth babes”).
My thoughts: In this scenario, because our company would have direct influence, we as employees can go directly to the person that arranged the sponsorship and talk about our concerns. If Spotify/the sponsorship arranger has no issue, then we have a bigger problem here.
If we did not have any monetary influence like sponsorship, I personally have no issue calling companies out (e.g. Twitter), raising awareness of this issue.
I’ve also personally pledged to Let’s Get Louder that I will only speak and attend conferences that have a code of conduct. Impact may be small, but if I refuse to speak at a conference without a CoC, I may have some influence (this happened with RuPy 2012 when I brought up the lack of CoC and mentioning not being able to speak unless there was one).
6: Witnessing harassment of women Scenario: Someone makes a sexist joke at a party. Everyone is holding a drink.
My thoughts: Holding alcohol can confuse the situation, but should not. If this were a professional environment, I hope someone would feel comfortable in speaking up, saying “hey that’s not cool” or something else to immediately address it. If it goes untouched, it sets the precedent that it is okay to make sexist jokes. Because it was said in front of a group, it should be addressed in front of a group immediately. If reaction time is too late, sure – let’s take it off line and talk to the person one on one.
Tip: Charles Rules of Argument
Valerie described these rules, aka “choosing your battles”:
- Don’t go looking for an argument.
- State your position once, speaking to the audience.
- Reply one more time to correct any misunderstandings of the first statement.
- Do not reply again.
- Spend time doing something fun instead.
Other important notes/comments
In general, talking about sex is sexist because women are seen as the targets within our society. Best to avoid talking about sex within a professional environment.
- Don’t expect praise/credit for not being sexist/fighting sexism
- Do follow and support women leaders
- Do assume women have more knowledge or wait for an invite to help/explain
- Follow your discomfort if something makes you feel bad/off
Companies/entities that only sponsor events that have a Code of Conduct in place (both foundations I am a part of):
- The Python Software Foundation
- The Django Software Foundation
- Geek Feminism’s Resources for Allies
- Captain Awkward advice blog – tips for how to say uncomfortable things to people, and enforce boundaries
Again, what are you waiting for? DONATE.