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Women on the Web

Careful! This post is looking a little old and could be inaccurate in many, many ways

To see a new conference launch that brings together like minded individuals in one space to learn and make contacts is something I always like to see, especially if the cost can be covered without remortgaging your house. However upon hearing about the Women on the Web conference my reaction wasn’t so positive.

After reading a tweet from Zoe Piper today I was led on a bit of a reading exercise firstly of Zoe’s post and then Dom Hodgson’s post of which Zoe referenced. Both posts centred on the Women on the Web conference and the minority of women in the web industry.

The Situation

In a nutshell there are too few women in the industry, not through sexism, inability or inexperience. Instead it’s because the majority of women when looking into careers at 16 to 18 (or whenever) are not excited over sitting in front of a computer and writing code for a login form or a design for the next big social networking website. There exist no barriers for more women to enter the industry; the simple case is most women seem to prefer to do something else.

My Experience

I work in an office of 13 men and one woman (who happens to be the boss) and in the life time of the company no other women have ever been employed there. Of course being red blooded males we would like some more women around, not just for the obvious reasons of having some extra pretty faces and to flirt a bit but because the differing views and opinions that come with the experiences of being a woman could in truth provide better solutions to problems us males may not consider. That added to the fact a woman can be just as good if not better than anyone else in the office adds experience that only makes us as a company better.

Of course in such a male dominated office and industry any female coming in would have to be fairly thick skinned to withstand the male banter that occurs. Truthfully no comment or joke is too crude in our office, and neither should it be because as sensible people we are able to distinguish between a joke and a person’s true opinion no matter the subject.

No men allowed

Some of the justifications put forward for the Women on the Web conference are that some women feel intimidated at ‘mixed’ conferences, this sounds fair enough, I too can feel intimidated at conferences due to a mix of shyness and lack of self confidence. However I don’t stop attending conferences because of this, nor do I start a shy people on the web conference. Instead I carry on going, trying to overcome my own insecurities in the knowledge that not doing so will not solve the problem.

Although I’m sure it’s possible for a man to attend the Women on the Web conference due to discrimination laws its clear the conference is intended to be a female only event to provide a place for women to band together in a safe environment, but not only does it not solve the problem it makes it worse.

By attending such conferences solely they may never integrate into the fuller community and there’s a real chance that by selecting only female speakers they are likely to miss opportunities to invite better speakers who may just happen to be men. Imagine big web entrepreneurs like Kevin Rose (Digg), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) or even Sir Time Berners-Lee (Godfather of all things web) being turned away from speaking because they are male. That is a huge amount of experience, knowledge and insight to turn away.

Male Discrimination

Note: This goes into a bit of a rant, if it hasn’t already.

For well over a century women have fought for equality, and achieved it. The same goes for the African American population, hello President Obama, and a number of other minorities. Yet the Women on the Web conference if viewed from a certain standpoint would indicate this is not enough, to some this conference is not about empowering women but excluding men. Britain has become too obsessed with ensuring equality that we have ended up with positive discrimination that rather than helping the minorities punishes the majority.

One example that I feel best illustrates this point is the case of the Wimbledon Tennis prize money. Equal pay is what the female Tennis players demanded, which on the face of it sounds fair enough, but not when you highlight the differences. In the Wimbledon Singles Tournament the men play up to 5 sets a match whilst the women play 3. Over 7 rounds this equates to a potential 14 more sets for the men than the women and it’s safe to assume playing more sets takes longer on average. Yet the women players now receive equal pay for doing less work. Is this any different than a man and woman both doing the same job on equal pay in an office, yet the woman leaves work 3 hours before the man. This is not equality it’s discrimination, but because it’s against men people don’t seem to want to rock the boat in fear of offending others.

I could continue to rant about the whole positive discrimination thing but I’ve gone a little off topic.

Peace and Love

I understand all this may not be worded in the best way to keep me out of trouble and I may be seen as just moaning about women who should be at home cooking and cleaning, this isn’t true, the way I see it is everyone is equal and everyone deserves the best opportunities irrespective and despite any differences. If you have the hunger, drive and ability to do something then you should be given the opportunity to do it. Further dividing yourself from the majority only highlights you as the minority.

Although I wish all involved in the Women on the Web conference the biggest success I feel it highlights the problems in our industry but rather than fix any problems it only serves to replicate them in a female dominant sub group of our industry. Instead why not look into levelling the playing field by trying to get more women into the industry, or keep going with the mixed conferences and integrate with the community. Many of those I know in the industry don’t see women as anything other than equals, friends and awesome people.