Little acts of rebellion

Jess White on the stage at New Adventures
Jess’s act of rebellion. Photo: Stefan Nitzsche

Last Friday evening, I spent time with my friend Anna reflecting on the tech industry. We discussed local tech events, from Nottingham meetups Women in Tech Nottingham (WiT Notts) and Tech Nottingham and the recent New Adventures conference to FOSDEM, which Anna had recently returned from. Anna’s experience of these tech events varied and what struck me was how her experience of FOSDEM was different from that of the Nottingham events with regard to female and gender minority diversity within the attendees of the event.

Hearing Anna’s mixed experience of these events, I started questioning whether am I biased in my understanding of women in tech? Because I co-organise WiT Notts, which we have seen grow and grow, and have been a (non-solitary) female speaker at a number of meetups and conferences over the last few years; am I seeing a more positive version of diversity at the tech events I attend than others do?

The events I’ve been involved with have focused on being inclusive but inclusivity isn’t as easy as it may first appear. Initiatives such as pronoun stickers, first introduced to me via DevOpsDays London and recently used at New Adventures, are a step in the right direction. However, these stickers are not without issue.

WiT Notts were very kindly given pronoun stickers from DevOpsDays London to use at our events. Whilst attendee feedback about the stickers is generally positive, I am aware that some attendees don’t pay attention to them or feel the need to wear them. We’re working on this little-by-little to help all of our attendees feel comfortable. If you’re unsure why these stickers are important, this article helps explain why everyone should include their pronoun in their profiles and at events.  

Inclusive initiatives aside, what else can we do to encourage women and other minorities into our industry? It’s something that we’ve been working on over the last few WiT Notts events by facilitating talks and activities that empower and build up the confidence of our attendees: female, male, non-binary or of other minorities.

How to talk really, really good

Last week Jess furthered this with her talk, How to talk really, really good. In it, she shared her experience of getting into speaking at events, along with some practical advice on how to get involved ourselves. Her talk was accessible and honest, she admitted to being nervous in front of a home crowd. From the feedback I received afterwards, that really resonated with people.

If we’re to see a shift in diversity in tech, we need to provide speaking opportunities and create safe spaces for female and minority speakers to practice. We also need to provide role models for the next generation coming into the industry. One of my colleagues messaged before WiT Notts asking if he could bring his 14-year-old daughter. She was more than welcome. When I caught up with him the following day, I was pleased to hear she’d enjoyed the event and was inspired by so many people gathering together to support diversity in tech – an industry she is considering joining.

This is why Jess’ talk was so important. We need women and other minorities to be visible in the industry, especially for young people who are deciding if it’s an industry that they want to be a part of.

Stepping out

In her talk, Jess referenced ‘little acts of rebellion’. I can think of no better example than that of one of our regular, and beloved, attendees Rizwana. Riz spoke at our first WiT Notts Lightning Talks event last June. She shared a poem about WiT Notts that I wasn’t expecting (not knowing that one of her many talents is poetry) and was really touched by. Through putting herself out there and stepping onto our stage only a few months ago, she went onto contribute a poem to the New Adventures conference publication which she opened the conference with. Words cannot express how proud I am of Riz and proud of Emma and myself for helping facilitate Riz’s journey in a small way. (She’d have excelled on her own, I’m sure, but I hope that we have given her a little nudge.)

Rizwana opening New Adventures
Rizwana opening New Adventures. Photo: Stefan Nitzsche

We’re running another Lightning Talk event in March. As organisers, we want to showcase a diverse mix of speakers and talks that demonstrate the expertise and passions of our attendees.  Public speaking isn’t easy though. It takes a lot of confidence to speak to an audience of friends and strangers.

This confidence doesn’t magically appear when you hold a microphone. I wish I could say it does, but in my experience, nerves still run high. Confidence can be gained. I have learned to relax into speaking, despite my feelings beforehand. Practice is everything – you may not be confident in your speaking ability, but if you’re confident in your material and the message you want to share, this really helps.

Get involved

My advice is to give it a go. Lightning talks are great as they are only five minutes long. You may find that you enjoy it. Equally, you might hate it. Both are ok, not everyone has to be a speaker. You can contribute by listening to those who speak. And more than listen, encourage. Pay attention to them, nod if you agree with what they’re saying, smile if they make eye-contact. This helps build confidence in speakers of all experience and ability. Be a friend to the speaker, even if they are a stranger.

Since the time I’ve been involved with women in tech, I’ve seen our industry move forward. Perhaps not as much across the board as I had hoped but the needle is slowly moving. A year or so ago, Charlotte Jee published a list of women in the UK who could speak at your tech event. This list has recently been updated with many more speakers than the original post. We’re starting to see more women speaking at and attending tech events and conferences and this is a great thing.

You can’t be what you can’t see”
– Marian Wright Edelman

If we want to empower women and gender minorities, especially of the next generation, we need to be visible. They need to see us. It’s up to us to support this in whatever way feels right. Whether you are a speaker, writer, podcaster or a consumer, be visible and a part of the industry. This is how change happens.

Resources

Here are some resources to help you with your speaking, should you wish to have a go: