Since there’s nothing better than a topic which allows me to be both on-topic and narcissistic, I thought I’d explain my perspective on conferences in the light of the "women at tech conferences" weblog-thread:
- Liz Lawley: why sxsw?
- Shelley Powers: Number 9 Number 9 Number 9
- Kathy Sierra: My first ETech comments (via Dorothea Salo on misbehaving.net)
- (and, finally, a conference-I’d-actually-like-to-go-to post) Andrew Kuchling: Musings on gender balance
After all that lead up, I’m sorry to have to confess to say that my complete failure to attend a technical conference over the last year has nothing to do with their gender balance at all. The most I can contribute is to say that all other things being equal (which they never are), I’d probably have a better time at a conference approaching a 50-50 balance than I would at one approaching either extreme. As it is though, if I want mixed gender or female dominated spaces I know where to find ’em.
There’s two tech conferences I would have been tempted to attend this last year: linux.conf.au and PyCon. (linux.conf.au is, um, 3% female in attendance and around 5-10% in speakers I think. PyCon I don’t know about.)
The biggest single reason I’m not at these two conferences is holiday time. If I want to attend either of them, I need to take annual leave. Back in the days where I was unemployed and/or a student, a week at a conference did not automatically mean spending one week less by the sea that year: now it does. (My employer, like many, does not have its employees attend only peripherally relevant conferences on company time. Fair enough.)
This makes me a big cowardly custard in Free Software terms. (I know a bunch of people who would never consider having a holiday that didn’t involve a tech conference.) But there we have it. If I have to trade my beloved time-by-the-sea time off against a conference, it has to be a bloody good conference.
There are a few specific points that stop each conference qualifying as a ‘bloody good conference’. In PyCon’s case, it’s almost entirely the location. It’s an expensive trip from here: in addition to ‘spending’ holiday time on it, I need to spend thousands of dollars on the airfare. In linux.conf.au’s case it’s two things: I don’t drink heavily enough to find the after hours stuff all that appealing and I didn’t enjoy many of last year’s talks. (I don’t want to lean on that point heavily: I think it’s a sign of a mismatch between my interests and those of the program committee, rather than the committee’s choices being bad.)
What of women at conferences then? Well, some of the absent women are just stingy with their holiday time and their finances, just like, I presume, the absent men. There probably are some factors that specifically stop women attending and presenting, but I don’t think they’re anything compared to two things: women who are professional techies are less likely to have it as a hobby too (shades of my time-by-the-beach rationale here I admit); and there’s a huge starting gender imbalance in techies. I’m therefore not finding this particular issue very stirring.