I was the first woman at any DrupalCON, the only woman in Antwerp. Until the brouhaha over the keynote, I never really thought about why I went there in the first place. But the decision to travel there was triggered by a tiny and important event, so I'd like to share it.
I had been communicating back and forth with Matt Westgate about some e-commerce functionality. At the end of one of his emails, he tacked on the following:
PS - You headed to Belgium?
This question wasn't a part of an outreach initiative to involve women in open source. I doubt he questioned that my interest might be affected by my gender. It was simply, "we're having an interesting conversation that would be even easier to have in person". Before I read that email, the thought of traveling to DrupalCON hadn't crossed my mind. But my response to that simple question was to make it happen! And thus my life was changed.
But five years later in San Francisco, when the number of women in attendance had risen from 1 to 300, I was settling into a BoF session when I was presented with another innocuous question:
This is a technical BoF. Are you sure this is where you intended to be?
This question was not intentionally harmful. It was an offer of help, in a tone of "hey, do you need some help finding your way to a session you might enjoy more?". But this "help" was based on the unconfirmed likelihood that I might not belong in a technical session. If I was new, I might have doubted my own aptitude and diminished my participation.
This post is not about lambasting the BoF guy or calling out the similar encounters we encounter every day, such as asking if I'm on the documentation team, a designer, or just there with my partner. This happens regularly and quite cordially, usually perpetrated by someone who you wouldn't call 'sexist'. But good or bad, tiny exchanges make up our community as a whole, and have a much broader impact. What if Matt, without any derogatory judgment, questioned my interest in showing up in Antwerp? What if he hadn't bothered to ask? Five years later, would I be contributing to Drupal, running a company that employs other Drupal contributors, and helping to support the local Drupal community?
More importantly, what if more people reach out to others in similar ways? How many others would there be out there doing more good for Drupal? Setting aside the topic of what is/isn't "offensive", how do we focus on being more inspirational, and asking questions instead of making assumptions?