I was reading the article Where the tech ladies at? the other day and jotted down some notes that I thought I'd share.

As a female developer, and now development manager, I've often thought about the lack of females in our field. After 15 years in the software business I've seen the ratio change at different companies (6 so far). I was, probably, hired for my first job as a result of a bit of positive discrimination at a large company that felt the best way to get it's ratio up was to hire female Comp Sci graduates - out of 6 hired, 5 of us were female.  I have also been the only female in a small company, and am often one of a handful.  This is par for the course, and something I'm quite used to.

Recently I've been reviewing CVs for a couple of positions (we're hiring for 2 support developers and a Tester if you're interested) and when I stopped and thought about it, as a result of reading that article, I honestly can't say how many of the CVs were for females. It wasn't something I was screening for - I was looking for skills, and potential, not sex, race of any other discriminating factor.

At dConstruct last week I was surprised by the ratio of males to females - most noticeably demonstrated by the queue for the Gents toilets, and no queue for the Ladies.  Where were the females there? It was a design conference, surely design is more female friendly than development ones (I have been to many dev days where you can count the female attendance on the fingers of one hand).  It is a good, non threatening, conference, held in a good, friendly and safe venue.  It had 2 female speakers (out of 9 in total).  The reason this surprises me, is that at every company I've worked at with a design team, it has been pretty equal in ratio.

As a female, when I'm going alone to an event, here are the things which will make me more comfortable (note: some of these might just be peculiar to me, I haven't done any studies or anything, and some of these I haven't done with events I've organised in the past, but will make more of an effort with in the future) :

  • hold it somewhere light and airy - a cafe, an office, not a pub (at least initially - I'm less inclined to show up to a pub on my own)
  • make your group look obvious - with most Brighton Bloggers meet-ups I turn up with a couple of cards with the logo on them which can be put on the table.  This takes away the embarrassment factor of stumbling around the venue asking random tables of people if they're the group you're trying to locate
  • make the leader obvious - if I'm turning up alone then I'd like to be able to identify at least one person (this is something that I know I need to do better for Brighton Bloggers meet ups), this could be as simple as wearing a badge, or putting your photo somewhere obvious online for people to identify you by
  • introduce me to people - I've often heard guys say that they don't speak to lone ladies at conferences because they're worried that they'll be seen as trying it on with her, so if you're the group leader, then take the time to introduce newbies to a couple of people to break the ice
  • use lanyards not stickers/badges - the most obvious place to put a badge involves guys having to peer at your chest - not a great start
For me, it all comes down to equality of opportunity - are both sexes given the same opportunities to learn and find out where their passions lie? Are they all equally welcomed to events, to conferences etc.  Does everyone get the same out of the networking opportunities?  As long as the answer here is yes, then we're ok.

The bottom line, is that I wholeheartedly agree with the sentence in the original article of
I want talented people, passionate about what they are doing to work and interact with – regardless of gender.
but I do want to also feel safe enough to attend events, conferences etc and to work in an industry which enables females to pursue their passion without risk to their safety, credibility or self esteem.