Women Only Conferences

Last modified on June 23rd, 2009

So, I gotta ask, and I’m probably going to get raked over the coals for doing so. I’m curious as to why there are so many technology events that focus exclusively on women? Some of them actually look pretty good, and I’m actually a bit disappointed that I can’t attend. In fact, some of the people I really look up to in the community are female, which makes it all the more disappointing that I’m excluded by nature from some conferences.

And that’s really my question I guess — why can’t I attend some of these events? Obviously there are a lot of women in technology these days. I’d be the first to point out that there are still more men (at least, the statistics tell me), but walking around Northern Voice or WordCamp San Francisco, I really couldn’t say whether there were more men or women there, which to me sort of implies it was roughly the same.

It reminds me actually of a time about ten years ago when there was an event in Vancouver called Take Back The Night. Many of the guys in the university found out about it, and wanted to support the cause. I’m not sure if things have changed since then, but at the time we were politely thanked for our support, and told not to show up at the event, as no guys were allowed. Obviously we were disappointed, since we strongly felt that standing up against rape was the right thing to do. It really called into question the nature of the event at that point, since it seemed wrong to have a supportive event of that nature where men weren’t allowed to show up.

And truthfully, I don’t think I could name a single conference that caters to men only. I imagine one or two exist, but certainly not to the extent that I see with regards to women-only conferences. Some people will probably read this and think this post harbors sexist tendencies, but truthfully, I’m just naturally curious. Given that some of my best friends are women, some of the smartest and most influential people in my industry are women, and that there were many women in my engineering classes, it honestly just feels a bit strange to me that we’re still segregating based on sex. In a lot of ways, I almost find that tendency self-defeating — that is, as long as we focus on the differences of groups of people instead of their similarities, we’ll always be creating divides instead of bridging them.