Why I won’t talk about being a woman in tech (and neither should you)

I won’t do talks on “being a female in tech” for a number of reasons.

First, because they prevent me from doing talks on tech, which is what I would actually like to do, because that’s what I am best at. If someone approaches me to talk somewhere just because I’m a woman, they haven’t done their job of finding what my expertise is. Therefore, I am going to insta-decline.

It not only is very insulting and distracting, but also pigeonholes you into “talking about being a woman in tech”, instead of “woman who knows her tech”. It feels like, once again, we’re delegating on women and other vulnerable collectives the “caring for others” matters, in addition to their normal job. That is not OK.

Second, it devaluates the job of diversity and gender studies professionals, as it is implied that just by virtue of me being a women, I not only can talk for all other women, but also know how to fix things for all other women (note: I don’t).

That, in turn makes me the “token woman”, where everyone assumes that I represent all other technical women. This is a handicap on my abilities to actually do my job and be an excellent technical person, as it puts an additional pressure on me to be “perfect or go home” (ref: tokenism).

And it also makes me lose precious opportunities to be a good role model for other women. If they see that women in tech are relegated to “speaking about being a female in tech” instead of building and talking about solid technical stuff, they’re going to be discouraged and uninspired. Why try hard at tech if people are just interested in you because of your physiognomy? It is, once again, focusing on women physically, instead of highlighting their work and personal achievements.

Finally, I really dislike that it so often feels like either…

  • a really lazy attempt to solve the lack of diversity in conferences by organisers that didn’t do their work, but also do not want an internet storm rightly complaining about their all male line-up
  • or a feeble attempt at having a “trendy” topic in your conference, because “diversity is the hot new thing everyone is talking about”

No! The answer to an all male line-up is not a talk on women on tech by a woman. The answer is diverse people in the line-up, talking about tech. And if they want someone to cover that “trendy topic”, they should reach out to qualified people. They need to do their homework, instead of reaching out to the first “tech woman speaker” they can think of, and asking her to do a talk on something she’s not qualified on (which again, puts her in a vulnerable position).

This doesn’t mean that I do not care about other women in tech. Of course I care! I dream of the day we stop having these conversations because “being in tech” has become the normal default, but in the meantime I will contribute to pave the road to equality by talking about tech, inspiring other women and normalising the presence of women in these environments. Which is tiring enough, with all the sexism already present in our industry/society.