I have to make a confession. I don’t much like women-only professional communities. I like the idea of it, sure. Women are amazing. But, I just cannot get past the whole reverse discrimination idea. When someone says “hey, we should build a community that’s more female friendly” and then simultaneously turns around and builds a professional organization that literally refuses men from participating, I call bullshit on that. To me, that’s just an uncomfortably incomplete solution, however well intentioned. Do I believe that women should support other women? Absolutely 100%. Do I believe that a majority female environment is more likely to grow and encourage women to enter and perservere in the realm of technology? Probably, yep at this point in time (wasn’t necessarily true for me but I get it). However, I completely dislike anything “professional” that excludes someone from participating based on gender, sex, race, nationality, religion, really anything. Exceptions of course would be someone being excluded because they violated a code of conduct or just general human decency at a previous event or something of that nature. Anything else just doesn’t sit right with me.
Here’s another reason, and this is really just more about me than anything. I love working with mixed gender groups. I think a diverse mindset and really strong perspective is created from having women and men brainstorming on a product or service. I also am rational and like to deal in the realm of reality. The reality is, tech is 80%+ male right now. Training women to only be comfortable in isolated female-exclusive groups just isn’t practical, it isn’t in touch with the reality of the field, and it’s not going to lead to success. Let me be clear, I think there are huge benefits to women helping women, and to creating reverse-ratio support groups (90% women, 10% men for instance), organizations that support or encourage minority participation, and even companies that take a serious approach to diversity recruitment. But, closing the door on someone because they are a dude who wants to participate? Just not ok in almost any scenario for me.
I’ve been leading Girl Develop It in Chicago for nearly 6 months now. I had only one make-or-break question before I committed to being involved with the organization: “is GDI women exclusive?”. Nope, they said. We empower women, but we are an INclusive organization and people from all walks of life are welcome. Sold. Let me tell you, it does not deter the success of our classes, our social networks, our power to grow each other. Not one bit. The only thing that matters is creating an INclusive environment, where beginners feel comfortable asking “what the heck is a compiler any way?”. That’s something we can all create. It does not require a gender sort at the door. However, just by calling it a women empowerment organization, means women feel comfortable showing up. And when women feel comfortable showing up, and they keep showing up, that’s what creates that reverse ratio. More importantly, when newbies start showing up in droves, ready and willing to learn, that creates change. Change is happening my friends.
So, please don’t shut the door on anyone who just wants to be a part of your community, your class, your cause. Let’s set a better example than that, shall we?
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