I was honored to have been recommended/invited to participate at the blogger table for the Women in Technology (W.I.T.) Luncheon at the 2012 PASS Summit. I was joined at the table by Ed Watson (@SQLGator), Jes Borland (@grrl_geek), Gill Rowley (@Badgerbully), Allen White (@SQLRunr), Julie Koersmarno (@MsSQLGirl), and a few others.
I took notes during the entire panel discussion, and attempted to go back and make some sense of them. Some panelists were so full of facts, that it may seem to jump a bit. I apologize if any of it is hard to read, also for this post coming out a few days later than I had hoped.
Before the session started, Rob Farley (@Rob_Farley) sat down to chat with those of us on the blogger panel. He said to us, “I think the whole point of kilt day is so that we men feel the objectivity that women feel often. I can’t believe how many people have come up to me and said ‘nice legs’.” He also said, “I feel proper objectified.”
The W.I.T. Luncheon was in a huge room. The tables were round with the two chairs on the stage-side gone. It was set up in a way that no one had their back to the stage. What a great idea!
First up to speak was Bill Graziano (@billgraziano), president of the PASS Board. He said this was the 10th annual WIT luncheon. He told us that he tried to go to the first one, but he was the only man, so he left. He’s been to every one since.
Wendy Pastrick (@wendy_dance) (WP) was the moderator. She talked a bit about the W.I.T. efforts, and the Virtual Chapter. They used to wear buttons that said, “Ask me about W.I.T.” Not too many years ago, there were just under 100 people attending the W.I.T. Luncheons, this time, there were over 750! This year’s lunch was sponsored by @SQLSentry and PASS. She also thanked the organizers of many SQLSaturdays that support W.I.T. and their efforts.
The Panel Members and Discussion
Stefanie Higgins (SH) – founder of WIT Luncheon. Was a “closet computer science (C.S.)” major. She was an English major, hung out with C.S. students, and learned COBALT from them. She got married, but went back to school later. This time, it was a different story. She took an MCM course, and was the only female. She was ignored by the teacher almost the whole time. Later in the course, she was finally acknowledged.
WP: Said she is thrilled to have men and women talking about W.I.T. issues. People with questions or comments on W.I.T. topics can tweet it using the #PASSWIT hashtag. It will be monitored on twitter, and answered by members of the Community.
Denise McInerney (DM) (@denisemc06) – founder of WIT virtual table and a PASS Board member. Years ago, the W.I.T. luncheon impressed her, and inspired her to start volunteering. Very few women were speakers at the PASS Summit inthe earlier years. Created an opportunity to be able to talk about some potentially uncomfortable topics, and ways of thinking in a forum where other people wanted to talk about the same issues. PASS’s focus on Community has helped grow female attendance. At the 2011 Summit 15% (50% ?) were women. This percentage was the same for both attendees and speakers. About 25% of people in technology are women. Women also leave twice as fast in the industry. Women are high users, but not creators of technology. Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook talking about WIT issues, is helping drive the desire to collect statistics. Programs like Digigirlz, Blackgirlscode, etc. are trying to encourage girls at a younger age towards technology. We want women and members of W.I.T. to go out and volunteer, and to contribute to conversations about getting people into technology.
“This is not just a woman’s issue, it’s a communication issue.”
Kevin Kline (KK) (@kekline)- founder and former president of PASS. “Back in the day”, other professional associations were having conferences. They were mainly “cold”, cliquey, etc. He wondered how could SQL compete? He thought to himself, “We don’t have that many people, but we have great attitudes, and we can be very welcoming.” We need to invite people in. It’s kind of like “church shopping,” if you don’t feel welcome, you probably won’t come back. He talked about another group of techies who act like, “Disturb me in my cave, and I’ll turn you into a toad!” The fact that so many people are using the #SQLFamily hashtag says a lot to show that they met their goals. Kevin told us he has 1 boy, 6 girls (did I really type that right?)! Gave an example of how girls talk, boys would not have that conversation – they would be grunting at a game controller “Must kill monster.” Teams with women on them are more successful than those that don’t. Women think a different way. They ask about feelings, etc… It’s not an issue of girls asking themselves, “Do I want to be in technology?” it’s how their friends feel about that. Their friends want to talk about One Direction, not about the cool things they can do with computers.
Panel members have heard that this year is the first time women had to stand in line for the bathroom. That shows growth!
There was recently a story about a little girl with Star Wars lunch box, she was getting harassed by other students for it. Her parents started a group of people to talk about anything they are interested in. The focus was in getting people to be open to what other people are interested in!
Jen Stirrup (JS) (@jenstirrup) – new PASSion Award winner, MVP, European groups. She says that 25% of jobs in science/engineering are held by women. Computer Science jobs in particular are worse. Scottish are trying to make sure that IT is accessible. PASS is very supportive of WIT. We can come together, build networks, encourage and energize each other. Jen talked about how SQLSat Events all over the world are holding W.I.T. discussions in various formats. In Sweden, there were 5 in attendance. In Portugal, everybody at that SQL Sat came to W.I.T.! Wow! Poland, had 70 people at event. Across the board, the idea is to encourage and keep Women In Technology. When you help W.I.T., you are helping women find financial independence and look after themselves. We all love IT, we all have similar experiences, let’s talk about them.
Aside: Jen has an adorable accent, but it was a bit difficult to hear/understand with the dishes clanking behind us. The bus stations for the servers was right behind us. I’m not usually one to complain, but being someone who’s already easily distractible, it took every bit of my ability to focus to try to get the facts straight. After the event, we talked with the organizers about the possibility of having the blogger table in a different location next year, maybe towards the front?
Kendra Little (KL) (@Kendra_Little) – MCM, MVP, entrepreneur – Thought about the theme of this year’s W.I.T Lunch “10 Years of Technology.” She said that 10 years ago, she knew she loved working with data, but didn’t know what she wanted to do with it. She saw herself as an employee… She was always asking, “How can I learn this??? How can I figure this out???” She learned a lot through teamwork… Kendra would tell herself, “I know what I’m doing, I know I’m smart…” A lot of what changed her mindset to “I can own my own business” came from PASS [Summit] and speaking at SQL Saturdays. These opportunities made her think, “I have things to offer.” Kendra encouraged talking to speakers. When people ask the speakers questions, or talk to them about what they are talking about, they are giving feedback on how they can get better, as well as what they’re doing right. Gaining confidence as a speaker, also builds confidence in your career. This community supports and encourages that. Figure out what you can share with other people. A lot of what we know in data, may not be obvious to others… start speaking, it does great things, it’s magical. Aside: I was REALLY wishing I had Jason Strate’s (@StrateSQL) magic unicorn button right here. It says, “Never stop believing, miracles are everywhere.”
Questions From the Audience
Q: This question came from a teacher in a company who has trained 8 DBA’s all the way through. Only 1 of those was a women…. “What can I do to encourage more women to want to become DBA’s?”
DM: Ask them what’s stopping them? Going into a class that’s all men is intimidating. One on one mentoring can be more helpful, give them opportunities, let them know it’s ok…give them a safe place to discuss their fears, etc.
KK: This question came up in another discussion. Find out what motivates them. Money might not be a motivator. The thing that turned me off was I thought I’d have to be a cubical drone… I want to help people. I want to save the world. What’s the appeal? It’s not the benefits. Present it more from the standpoint of, “Data is the lifeblood of this organization… how would you like to be a part of that?” The happiest people are people who feel helpful. We help people, it feels good. Men are more rational; I’m gonna be inspired by a big raise, women are inspired by values.
SH: I get paid… a lot… to do what I love.
Q: Want to start WIT luncheon type thing in another country, but don’t know how to go about it. Some days I love it, some days, I hate it.
A: WIT.sqlpass.org has materials available. You can also email WIT@sqlpass.org with any questions or concerns.
Buck Woody (@buckwoody): brought daughter to SQLSat to “help”. Now she’s going into CS. Thanked women on panel, especially Jen for being inspirational, and creating such welcoming environments for girls/women. As a dad, he is grateful .
Q: Work/life balance – it’s hard when we sometimes work for 15-16 hours/day. It’s hard to ask for flex time, especially in IT because of the level of customer support, etc. we need to be able to provide.
JS: Staff turnover is higher in companies that are less sensitive than others. She left and started her own business where she can create her own contracts, schedules, etc.
KL: Wants people to stay motivated and stick around. Doesn’t want everyone to feel they need to work harder than they want to. Collect data on how much time you are spending doing travel, repeatable work, etc. Create a proposal based on that. Helps you know how much time you are spending on a Baseline your work day. Use webcam and other visibility tools during meetings when working remote. It builds creativity and credibility with your boss and your clients.
DM: The #3 reason people leave is lack of flex time, it is a huge concern for employees.
KK: Part of the proposal [Kendra suggested you create] is that to prove how you will be more efficient at home. Begin with ways to allow employer to back out if it doesn’t work out. Saying something like, ”Lets try this for one month.” Show them that you are more efficient. Show them how it is beneficial for you AND them.
Q: Wants to be able to share the knowledge with other people about the things that she’s learned… wants advice and starting up a group
A: Lynn Lange is leader of Digigirlz. There’s also girls who code, Black Girls Code, and many other resources available.
Q: How do we bring the girls into tech? It has been a huge struggle…. They want to be famous, they want to be cool…
A: Bring Girl Scouts to this event… they can see they can become rich, famous, and cool, even in IT. They also can often earn badges for helping at SQLSaturdays and other events.
Jen McCown (@midnightDBA): Can we start talking about at a higher level, tapping into college groups- pull them into user groups, etc. Create partnerships with student groups to sponsor SQL Saturdays, and also get them into our groups?
Comment from audience: Video games are often a start to getting people into computers interest. Ask girls to play video games with you. It’s a win/win, since it’s time spent together, but also gets them interested in “computers.”
Q: It may not be that everyone is interested/wired that way. (Somehow, I lost the context of the rest of this question/comment)
JS: Maybe they aren’t interested in IT, maybe it’s engineering, science, etc. Girls seem to be disconnected from science/technology. She likes the Dr. Suess quote, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.”
KL: People think women are too emotional – as if when a database drops, they won’t be able to handle it… most women I have met have been really great at that… it’s really not an issue.
DM: In the 80′s number of women in IT is much higher… something’s going on… They weren’t wired that much different. You don’t need to be cold and unemotional to be in the industry.
Q: Talking about organizational dynamics – “When I’m on a team, and it’s mostly guys, team cohesion comes from hanging out, etc. Activities tend to be competitive (Go Cart racing as an example of team building activities). Not my natural habitat… it feels as if these events are set up to make women feel on the outside again…
DM: This could be seen as an example of one of the small subtle things that happens that makes people feel like an outcast. Maybe suggest “other” ideas. Sometimes, people are not conscious of these decisions as making you feel outside.
KK: Those kinds of activities may be outside of the comfort zone of the others on the team too… women tend to be the conscience of the group. Make other suggestions.
JS: Maybe suggest more environmental teambuilding activities. Volunteer as a group to build cohesion.
Comment from the audience: Daughter was surrounded by computers, but not interested. Was in science, later went into marketing, then marketing website, then decided to start a company to market websites for others… it’s kind of come full circle.
Q: Culture plays an important role as well. In Indonesia , this audience member was one of a few in IT. What can PASS do from a Global Growth perspective?
A: In some countries, women work in segregated offices. Women work with only women, no contact with men. Maybe they are being funneled into certain choices. They don’t have the same visibility.
Q: How do you silence critics of WIT initiatives?
DM: Don’t silence them. Invite them into the conversation. Find out what’s the issue? Show it’s not just a complaint session. Get to the bottom of their concerns. If it’s an out and out attack, then just say”everyone has an opinion” and let it go.
SH: Most people seem to leave inspired and encouraged. Talk about what it is they do, when they understand what they do and what they’re about, it might help put their mind as ease.
KL: Encourage them to get involved. Helps them understand what’s really going on.
JS: The issues discussed are not just women in technology issues, they’re people in technology issues. Women just represent a smaller group.
Comment from audience: Encourage girls to do whatever it is they want to do. Later, they will realize everyone has their own talents… Show our daughters what we do, but also encourage them to be who they are, and do what they love. We can present ourselves as women who are strong in technology. The economy has hurt some, but options are changing. We are all smart people, and there are a lot of smart people we can bring in.
Q: This audience member had a question about balancing young children with a demanding job. She feels the pressure that if she’s at home, she should be studying and learning more. She wants to back off of some of her professional demands and spend more time with her family. How can you take time off, or back away, and come back at a later time?
SH: Did some PT consulting while she was mostly home with her kids with special needs. Set aside a certain evening, or a certain amount of time to “Catch up on blogs” or other learning needs, rather than feeling like you need to do it all. What kind of jobs are going to have security in the future? Talk to your employer about needs you might have. How can you work less… show the benefits to your employer of working from home, or working less hours.
KL: We are in a field that is incredibly valuable. They can’t find good people with experience, be safe in production, etc. Knowledge is important… investing in PASS etc is smart. Attending events like this is valuable and will keep people interested in you. Even if you want to take some time off, keep learning.
WP: Think about where are we going? Tweet, blog, keep conversation going!
I think this W.I.T. panel discussion was great! There were times it could have taken a direction that might have been less than awesome. I thought all the panelists did a great job of keeping everything positive. I thought Kevin Kline was a great addition to the panel. I think it was the first time I have been to a W.I.T. panel with a man on the panel. I loved his viewpoints and humor! I can’t imagine living in a house with all those girls.
I really liked how Wendy kept an eye on twitter, and pointed out comments from twitter in between questions/discussion points. She also brought out one question that was asked via twitter. Great job! Way to include everyone!
I always enjoy when Kendra is on various panels. She brings in a very real viewpoint, but also keeps things away from men vs women viewpoints, and rather, just talks about how to be a professional. Love her!!
Great job to all! I hope to be able to keep blogging about these conversations!