Last week was a bit of a crazy one for IOAI.com.
During my time at the wonderful GOTO Aarhus conference in Denmark, I published a blog post discussing the presence of subtle sexism within the tech industry. The blog post, which was originally about yours truly blowing off steam and venting frustration, proved popular in the Twittersphere, receiving over 1200 hits in one afternoon, hundreds of re-tweets and even making it onto the front page of The Huffington Post US tech page, as well as being featured on their ‘Women In Tech’ section. The post is now number eight in the UK Google search for sexism in tech.
The responses I received from across the world were numerous and varied.
Whilst making the rounds, the article seemed to inspire other women in the tech industry to come forward and share their personal experiences with me, and I would like to take a moment to thank them for this – it was truly inspirational. I received emails, comments and tweets from tech ladies; some of which made me furious, some of which made me laugh, and a handful of which made me cry. I certainly wasn’t alone in my experience, and indeed my encounter with the blight of sexism in tech appeared to be amongst one of the most mild.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, I actually came away from the experience feeling incredibly positive about the role and future of women in tech.
You read that right. Though the post certainly earned me a handful of negative comments and a few poorly written hate-emails, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support which came from all corners of the tech world.
At the conference itself I was delighted and incredibly surprised by the number of fellow attendees and exhibitors who stopped by my booth to tell me that they had read the blog post. Many apologised on behalf of the industry – greatly appreciated but totally unnecessary; it is just unfortunate that a few bad apples exist in what is an otherwise wonderful industry to work in. Some wished to discuss at length the circumstances surrounding the incident, and others still to share their own personal experiences and opinions of the existence of sexism within tech. Each person I had the pleasure of meeting had something new to say, and I learned a great deal – so for those who took the time to stop by, men and women alike, thank you so much.
The article also led to my meeting some of the most inspiring men and women I have ever met – many of whom were members of a group known as ‘The Ada Initiative’, which is ‘an unconference for women in open technology and culture and the people who support them’. In particular I would like to mention the likes of Therese Hanse, Dan North, Kristjan Wager Liz Keogh, Jesper Ottosen, Linda van der Pal, Gitte Klitgaard, Sam Newman and the incredibly inspiring Linda Rising, whose talk at the Women In Tech meeting truly blew me away.
The most inspiring incident of the entire event didn’t happen until my last day at the conference.
As was perhaps to be expected, the man who made the original remarks published in the article ended up reading it himself, and the way in which his throwaway comments had impacted me. Prompted to think about the encounter, he sought me out to discuss the issue – a brave step in itself. Though at first defensive about the intention of his comments, we soon found ourselves sat down together and discussing the role of sexism and diplomacy in tech, culminating with him vowing to really think about the way in which he broaches conversations with women in the industry from now on, and apologising profusely for any upset or outrage he caused me.
I could not have wished for a better outcome, and left the conference feeling full of positivity and renewed faith in those around me in the industry, as well as far more confident in my own abilities.
The biggest lesson of all which I learned from the experience is that words can have a powerful affect – do not believe those who tell you otherwise. Speak up and speak out.