Dev8D: where were the women?

Dev8D was exciting, friendly, encouraging, nurturing and… almost entirely populated by men. Of nearly 300 attendees, only 20 – that’s 7% – were women.

The technology/web development industry is notoriously male-dominated, but even in this context the gender imbalance at Dev8D seemed disproportionate.

We’d like to know what you think. Are we doing enough to attracted women to these kinds of events? What could we do to improve the gender balance? Do you even think it’s an issue?

We’d really appreciate your ideas and opinions on this issue, so please do leave a comment or get in touch with DevCSI with your thoughts.

6 Responses to “Dev8D: where were the women?”

  1. I have quite strong opinions on this. If people want to come, and have things to contribute and learn then we should make them welcome. However no amount of welcoming will bring people who are not interested. So far as I can tell, the thing in my brain which makes me very happy when I write good code is only found in a few men and a much smaller fraction of women. This is to say nothing about being a skilled programmer — I’ve not noticed women learn it slower or worse than men when they learn it for a purpose, but few women learn to code for the hell of it.

    Basically I know quite a few men who in their lives have coded until dawn. For fun. Most women, in my experience, don’t get that intense about it.

    Women are less likely than men to be afflicted with the “Dev” mutation. Those that are we should make welcome and get them to show as cool things they’ve coded/built.

    And just to clarify once more (because this is a thorny topic). I do not suggest men are better at something. I have observed that women who really love coding (and related activities) are much rarer than men who really love coding.

  2. Hope you get some interesting answers to this! The developer group that I run at the OU has often had a 50-50 male-female split in attendance, so I think it *is* possible to do better, although for overnight events I think you’d be very lucky to do as well as that.

    If people don’t have the ‘developer gene’ then of course the event’s not going to be right for them, but it’s certainly possible to like coding and not find events like dev8d welcoming. I hope that hasn’t been the case with dev8d this year and it certainly wasn’t for me, but we shouldn’t assume that it isn’t an issue.

    This is a difficult topic generally. You can’t easily separate what is ‘you’ from the part of you that’s female, and it’s dangerous to extrapolate from yourself to 50% of the population. It’s also far easier to just find the communities that *are* welcoming than to try and explain to the communities that aren’t why they aren’t and to attempt to change them.

    (For the record, I wasn’t so far off being a non-attender this year. Don’t suppose he realised this, but it was a word of encouragement from Ben O’Steen to go that swayed me into filling in the form!)

  3. Thanks for asking these questions. The lack of women at certain technical events is something that has concerned me for some time. I’ve posted some inconclusive thoughts in response over on my CETIS blog:
    http://blogs.cetis.ac.uk/lmc/2010/03/08/dev8d-where-were-the-women-a-response/

  4. Mark Johnson says:

    I’m really interested to look into the cause of this, as it almost always seems to be the case.

    Lorna, you mentioned in your blog post that you find the environments “blokey.” What is it that gives you that impression? Is it *because* the majority of attendees are male, or something else?
    I certainly didn’t get the impression of any leering or “OMG A GIRL!!1″ type reactions to the female attendees at Dev8D, which certainly for a while seemed to be cited as the reason you don’t get as many women at techie events.

    And of course there’s always the question looming on the horizon: Does it matter? I’m not saying that it’s a good thing that the majority of attendees are male, but as long as all the people who *do* come enjoy themselves and get something out of experience, does it matter whether the makeup of the audience reflects a census of the population?
    Perhaps the point is that women are being put off from attending where they could be one of those people who enjoys and benefits from the event, but unless those who were put off from coming can tell us why and what we (as men? as event organisers? as a community?) can do differently, we’re stuffed.

  5. (Tried posting a comment earlier today, maybe original is still waiting for moderation. Take two…)

    Is it *because* the majority of attendees are male, or something else?
    It’s something else. But I’m not sure what. I am used attending events where the majority of participants are male. It seems to be something about the format of these events but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

    I certainly didn’t get the impression of any leering or “OMG A GIRL!!1? type reactions to the female attendees at Dev8D
    I’m happy to say that I have only rarely come across that kind of attitude working in ed tech.

    does it matter whether the makeup of the audience reflects a census of the population?
    I think what matters is whether the make up of the audience is proportional to the balance of the field and from what I’ve read above, I’m not sure it was Dev8D. For example at the recent CETIS Future of Interoperability Standards meeting less than 10% of the audience was female. Not very encouraging perhaps but a reasonably accurate reflection of the number of women working in the field. However I think there are many more women working as developers than in interoperability standards bodies. As Juliette has pointed out above some developer events have a much higher proportion of female participants. So I think there are more female developers out there who are choosing not to attend events such as Dev8D or the CRIG Unconference.

    unless those who were put off from coming can tell us why and what we (as men? as event organisers? as a community?) can do differently, we’re stuffed.
    Agreed. I think we have a responsibility as a community and as event organisers to try to find out what’s going on here.

  6. Monica Duke says:

    This is a very late response to this post, but I saw this today and I think it says more eloquently than I ever could what some of the issues are and what needs to change:

    http://nathan.torkington.com/blog/2010/09/16/nzcs-demographics-talk/

    I’d held back from posting a response in my own words because I thought I might end up doing too much inappropriate soul searching on the blog, or even worse end up in a battle with Chris :) If I had to try to summarise what is unwelcoming in the event, it would be a feeling of the attitude which Chris seemed to embody in his response (sorry – although I acknowledge you were trying to be tactful!) – it is the attitude that you are only welcome if you ‘have the bug’ . That this is some exclusive club for those who have been prepared to code through the night and got the badge.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it is *fantastic* that through DevCSI and similar JISC has acknowledged the existence of a community that needed joining up and supporting, and I am delighted that this is happening. I’m not suggesting that Dev8D suddenly become an event for managers. However I think there is room for improvement in making the event more welcoming (read the article for suggestions) to those who have not yet caught the bug, are perhaps on the fringes of the community, or are just setting out.

    To end on a positive note, the highlight of Dev8D for me was meeting Juliette, and finding out there are people like her in the community (I was really pleased to hear she was on the committee) – so thanks from me to Ben as well for getting her to go. I am not particularly in favour of the idea of creating female-only ghettos but there are perhaps some measures we could brainstorm to help redress the balance: make an effort to invite/encourage one female developer to attend next year? Make an effort to introduce ourselves to all the females at the event? Offer mentoring?

    Incidentally, I came across the link I posted via @girlgeeks on twitter – and I learnt about girlgeeks at Dev8D so another positive outcome from Dev8D for me.