I am moderating and liveblogging the Professional IT Community Conference panel called Tech Women Rule! Creative Solutions for being a (or working with a) female technologist.
One point to keep in mind: The goal is not equality for equality’s sake. The goal is to have a diverse range of experience to make your company/project/whatever the best it could be.
That being said, these issues are not just around women; they are about anyone who is “different”, whether it’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, cultural.
So what are some of the solutions?
0) Better align expectations with reality. Are you expecting more from someone who is one gender than another? If a woman makes a mistake is it worse because she has to prove herself? Is it worse because she is representative of her gender? If she does something good is the achievement elevated more because of her gender? Either is bad.
1) Respect people for who they are. Everyone deserves respect; if someone is not at your technical level, they still deserve respect.
If someone says something that is completely wrong from a technical perspective, do not assume that they have no idea what they are talking about. It could be that they are the exact case in which that technical scenario is appropriate for them. If they are correct, your attitude will be refreshing and you might learn something. If they are indeed wrong, ask them about a scenario in which their thinking falls apart, or otherwise guide them through learning why what they are saying is wrong.
2) Be nice. Don’t condescend.
3) Be helpful. “RTFM, n00b!” is not helpful, and certainly does not follow rule #2.
4) Don’t do #1-3 for women only. Don’t treat women nicely because they’re women, and be a jerk to men because they’re men. Being helpful is good for anyone, not just women.
5) Cooperate, do not compete. Whether you are co-workers, working together on a software project, or just in a conversation, the game of “one-upping” another is a lot less useful than working together.
6) When hiring or when in an interview, concentrate on skills, not knowledge. “Skills” refers to attributes such as their ability to listen, how judgmental they are about a legacy system, whether they are open to new ideas, whether they disdain anything that is not cutting edge, and even technical skills such as thinking patterns, research patterns, algorithms, etc.
If someone says “I don’t know” in an interview, ask them “how would you go about figuring it out?” If someone says “I think it’s x and y” ask “how would you confirm/test that?” If a backup failed, do they start the backup over or do they try to figure out why it failed?
Are they thorough? Do they follow through? It is a lot easier to teach knowledge than it is to teach something like “debugging skills”.
7) Specifically encourage people to speak up. Train yourself to NOTICE when folks are not speaking up, and ask them if they have any suggestions or ideas.
8) If you are running an IT conference, specifically ask qualified women you know to speak, not about “women in IT”. If you hear of an IT conference, tell specific women you know that you think they would be a great speaker. Get women to speak at local user groups to get practice in a less intimidating space.
Read HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux
Join and/or send messages to Systers, the world’s largest e-mail list of women in computing and technology fields.