The influence of subtlety

Allie Micka's picture

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?


I prefer the rather

seutje's picture

I prefer the rather neutral

so what do you do with Drupal?

or the even more vague

how does this relate yo your interests

but it sounds so formal, which I don't want it to be

do note that for people who don't fully master the English language, it can be hard or feel unconventional to form such questions

but it's impossible to judge a web-book on its cover, even despite the gender bs. People constantly think I'm a designer, yet I can't design worth a foo...

That's great example

Allie Micka's picture

seutje, you're right. When meeting someone for the first time, you don't get any points for guessing their profession. So asking something like "are you a designer?" creates an unnecessary risk of putting someone off, with no real benefit.

But asking, "so what do you do with Drupal?" is a great conversation opener (at a CON, anyway).

Sexism always creeps back in

jp.stacey's picture

The big problem is that sexism always creeps back in. People try to make Drupal a pristine community, with meritocracy at every level, but discrimination is like mildew: lots of external cultures harbour it in huge semantic vats, and if you don't give it a good cleaning-out every now and again then, it just re-colonizes all the empty spaces in discourse: chit-chat, jokes, pleasantries.

What you were asked at SF was a real shame, because I expect that the other BoF attendee thought they were being as nice as they possibly could be at the time, maybe even approachable. It shows that sexism hurts everyone, not just the apparent victim: it cheapens human interactions and prevents people from forming equal, beneficial and mutual acquaintances. Moreover, if you're in a socially awkward situation (for geeks like me: every social situation) then you're going to resort to stock responses, and these come ready-prepared for you in those huge semantic vats. It's hard to know how to avoid it, but there must be ways and I hope we all can discover them in the context of the Drupal community.

Agreed! Let's come up with some new placeholder text :)

Allie Micka's picture

I agree. I'm personally pretty awkward myself. Shuffling 3000 strangers from predominantly-introverted professions into the same conference hall is bound to create some awkward silences and the occasional social blunder.

A big part of the recent dialog has been about dealing with the aftermath of a faux pas, but most people don't want to reach that point, or they find themselves there unintentionally. If we find new placeholder text - or stock responses - to fill in the awkward silences, we can skirt some of the mishaps.

Again, when I'm asked if I'm a designer, I don't call people out or go away in a huff, but I'm much happier to have a conversation that's not preceded with a reset of expectations. It's easier to talk about what I do with Drupal than what I'm not doing. Similarly, the SF guy could have asked, "Are you here for the mail BoF?", and the entire hour that followed would have been more collaborative. A simple change to a stock question makes all the difference.

What other areas are there?

Drupal social fallacies?

jp.stacey's picture

In an ideal world it would be obvious; but we're geeks and we don't always get the socially obvious. So maybe we need to take inspiration from another explanation of the socially obvious, the geek social fallacies (my score? four out of the five.) That could give us a handy cut-out-and-keep guide for what to say in the most frequent awkward situations. That way even if you're like LizaK and you have the strength that day to laugh off sexist remarks 1-20, people never push you as far as remark #21.

So there's:

  • "Are you a [stereotyped career]?" -> "What's your interest in Drupal?"
  • "Are you sure you should be in this session / wouldn't you prefer a session on X?" -> "Are you here for the session on Y?" / "Do you know, is session Y starting now? Have I missed it?"

(Maybe every chat opener should just become "What's your interest in Drupal?" We could hand out postcards for ease of use :) )

As a man I'm blind to my own assumptions on this, so I'd appreciate any other thoughts on times when people have felt pigeonholed by well-meant comments or actions like these, and what they'd have preferred to hear.

There's also rules of thumb like:

  • Don't assume people have interest X unless you know things about them personally that would imply it (that would also cover Mom's Tupperware party.)
  • Be careful with rhetorical questions about people that imply things about their likely reactions to something.
  • Imagine whether your comment would be appropriate if the person was of your gender, race or ethnicity. If it would seem a bit bizarre to you in those circumstances, don't make it.

Is there also a neutral way of calling someone on a sexist remark? Something like "Sorry, I don't think you meant it that way, but what you just said was sexist and made me uncomfortable?" What have people found works best at defusing that situation, at prompting a non-awkward apology and moving on, rather than defensiveness and escalation? I realise jrdixey suggests you can change opinions by doing, not acting, but that seems to work better on actively held opinions than on the slightly passive sexism of chit-chat and offhand remarks.

postcards? How about an

kreynen's picture

postcards? How about an Inclusiveness and Diversity Expansion Pack for NodeOne's Drupal Game!

Not every problem in the

jp.stacey's picture

Not every problem in the world can be reduced to a weird hybrid of site development and Carcassonne, but it'd be nice if that were the case.

and I'd do it again :)

matt westgate's picture

We rocked the face off of Amsterdam, all 40 of us.

I invited Allie because she was actively contributing to the ecommerce package and because it was easy to see how brilliant she is. Believe it or not, that first Drupalcon paved the way for CCK ultimately being built` and ultimately becoming a part of core. Allie and about 10 other developers spent three days hashing out a new metadata-driven model (now called CCK) to Drupal and what needed to be re-architected to accommodate for a different way of thinking.

Allie is a passionate about her work, and we fortunate enough to have a community that usually fosters and supports anyone with a passion to dive-in contribute. Sometimes we don't and we're making steps to be more aware when those situations arise.

"This happens regularly and

LizaK's picture

"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."

"...calling out the similar encounters we encounter every day..."

Allie, I think this is the thing that really gets to me. I have an incredible skill for laughing shit off - and I know that I myself can be extremely insensitive sometimes. I'm not sure that there is a lot to be gained by us freaking out over every little thing.

But you know what? It's gets fucking tiring. Over and over, day in and day out, it's exhausting. At any given DrupalCon or Camp, I might laugh off or ignore the first 20 potentially sexist comments but get really riled up about the 21st. It's not that that one was so bad... it's that I am sick of dealing with them day in and out.

As someone who's only worked in technology for the past five years, I can say confidently that it's not like this in all industries. We're ahead of the curve in a lot of ways here, but just plain behind when it comes to diversity and inclusiveness of all kinds.

What I find particularly exhausting is that more often than not, when sexism is called out in our community, the people calling it out become attacked. This - precisely - is why I have stopped publicly calling it out when I see it. Sad.

"I am woman! I am invincible! I am pooped! " ~Author Unknown

Breaking down stereotypes on person at a time.

m_rookie's picture


I don't know what you mean by "calling somebody out" so this could be exactly what you were thinking and I completely agree that being harsh and huffy in a conversation like that is completely counterproductive, but I propose a slightly different solution.

I am a back-end programmer and I am passionate about it. I take the opportunity to talk about why its my passion. At that point you are breaking down those stereotypes one person at a time.

We are all guilty of making assumptions. Its human nature... an instinct that when dealing with dangerous or unknown situations has helped the survival of our species, but this instinct is harmful when dealing with human interaction. Our views of the world are formulated one experience at a time and if we take the opportunities to share our passions we win. Not only does one more person have an experience that is opposite of the stereotype (women that develops modules, a short person that plays basketball, etc...) but we may be sharing that excitement with someone new and starting a passion in a new person.

I know many people have a hard time believing that you can make change one person at a time, but it can happen and more so the positive side effects can spread faster than wildfire.

one person at a time

jrdixey's picture

"At that point you are breaking down those stereotypes one person at a time."

Absolutely agree. I started programming in pre-Internet days (scripting Lingo in what was then MacroMind Director). I was working with some friends on an interactive piece - all designers, and all guys. We were all gathered around one guy at the computer, when he said out loud, "So how do we make these buttons work?"

Since I had played around with HyperCard, I felt comfortable saying I could figure it out, and booting him out to take his place. No one said to me, "You can't do that, you're a G-I-R-L" - because they all knew that none of them knew how. It never occurred to me to doubt myself. At that moment, those 3 guys knew that I could do something they couldn't, and it didn't matter what gender I was. I could have been a purple spotted Martian genderless being and they would have felt the same, because we had a job to get done.

At a Con or Camp, my answer to the person asking, "Are you sure you mean to be in here? This is a technical session" would be "Yes! I'm interested in this topic because --" and not directly point out the person's faux pas. In the ensuing conversation about an obviously technical topic, the misperception that I'm a non-techie would naturally correct itself (and hey, maybe I'd learn something, or have an opportunity to teach the guy something he didn't know).

This works for an important minority

Allie Micka's picture

One of the most enlightening things I've learned over the years here is that we all bring a range of experiences, understanding and ideas. I long belived that women should just "get over it", jump in and start participating.

I used to be young, cute and spunky; and at first glance, the last person you'd expect to have much knowledge about anything. I reveled in the inevitable flicker of understanding in someone's eyes - that they weren't talking to someone's young blond girlfriend, but rather someone who could teach them a thing or two about building an operating system from scratch, managing a distributed hosting infrastructure, or writing a complex API.

When I was kindly invited out of a technical session on mail tools, I was able to respond by explaining that I had written several mail modules that addressed more problems than the tools being presented there, and that I was mostly hoping they'd collaborate instead of reinventing a tiny part of a big important wheel. But I was already feeling defensive from the initial exchange, and no collaboration was forthcoming. So even if I wasn't scared away, this subtle exchange had an impact.

But more importantly, what if I hadn't written mail tools? Or even installed them on my site? What if I was just there to learn about new solutions? This is the first step of all contributors, because 100% of all drupalers were completely ignorant of Drupal up until some point during the past decade. As long men can get up to speed faster because they don't have to waste time reseting expectations, there will always be more men in the field.

The experiences of m_rookie, jrdixey, myself, and countless others are really important. We can challenge assumptions and set an example. It's equally important to remove obstacles so that everyone can find their niche and get up to speed when they're just starting out.

Couldn't Agree More

joyseeker's picture

Very well said, Allie. And this is totally my experience also. The best part of your post is:

"As long men can get up to speed faster because they don't have to waste time reseting expectations, there will always be more men in the field."

Except for one or two exceptions, the guys at the Los Angeles meetups just ignore me, and are not willing to see how much programming and design I actually know. So because of the lack of mentorship, I learn Drupal on my own, and, yes, it takes much longer, and I'm doing it outside of the "mainstream" of Drupal shops because I'm not even being considered for positions.

I applied to the Drupal shop of one of the organizers here in LA, and I didn't even receive an acknowledgment of my application, let alone a response.

I have a double whammy because not only am I a woman, but I'm an older woman.

I love working with Drupal, and I'm not giving up. I'm about to get my own site up, and although I know I'll have to deal with the problems that pop up alone, I'm confident that I can find the answers I need to solve them.

I'm guessing they don't know how to react

Jeff Veit's picture

Hi Joyseeker,

When I was at university, in my late teens, I had a much older women in one of my courses. She must have been in her 60's. To long-lasting my regret, nobody in the course really talked to her, myself included. I think it was because we didn't have any rules-of-behaviour/models for how to react to a 60 year old in our class; we were teens, interested in parties, politics, sex, and we'd only ever been in classes with other people our age. If there ever was an older women in the classroom, she was the teacher. For myself, at that age I couldn't imagine that I'd had anything in common with someone who was a grandmother, even though now I'm absolutely certain that I would have had.

I don't have a proper answer to how to get them to include you, but I think that the trick is probably to show them that they have something social, more than just Drupal, in common with you. And I reckon it also wouldn't hurt to show that you have technical skill. (Maybe a module or theme on And then ask a few who have ignored you to review it?) I'm sure that once that social barrier is breached you won't be ignored.

So here's thing...

KarenS's picture

I too am both a woman and older (I'm a grandmother several times over) and I'm actually even more conscious of misperceptions based on my age than my gender. So, for instance, when Dries talked about 'grandmothers', I didn't hear an inference that women don't know much about technology, I heard an inference that anyone old enough to have grandchildren is probably pretty clueless about technology. I know Dries, I've been on trips and code sprints with him, and I don't believe for a minute that he thinks that I'm clueless, but the misconception that anyone over a certain age can't be very tuned in is pretty strong.

I actually waited a long time after getting involved in Drupal before going to any face to face Drupal events because I wanted to be sure that people had a chance to judge my contributions before they could be influenced by seeing how old I was. I finally decided to 'come out' when I went to the Sunnyvale DrupalCon. There most of the people I met were pretty obviously surprised when they met me. I got comments like "Wow, I never expected to see my mother giving presentations" and "I pictured you as a college student." I watched for a while after that to see if I would be treated any differently and I was not. I was making contributions and the Drupal community is overwhelmingly very welcoming and inclusive of contributors.

What would have happened if I had gone to a Drupal meeting when I first got involved, before I had made any contributions? I can only speculate how much that would have changed the way things worked out.

I've been through the gender bias my whole life -- I wanted to be an architect originally but was told 'women don't do that'. I had a job in high school working in a fast food restaurant and the manger told me I was doing so well he would have made me assistant manager if I wasn't a girl. But I had good role models, like a grandmother who went to college and wrote a syndicated newspaper column way way way before women were 'supposed' to do things like that, and I ended up just ignoring whatever everyone else said about what women could do. The age bias (or my fear of age bias) is more recent, I'm still figuring out how to adapt to that one.

But basically I do believe that if you make contributions (code, theme, participate in issues, debug problems, write documentation, whatever), the Drupal community will eventually notice and respond, regardless of your gender or age, and that bit by bit over time the fact that we have women and older people making many meaningful contributions will start to affect those preconceptions.

Wow, talk about blind spots!

webchick's picture

Thanks a lot for this post, Karen!

Talk about blind spots. It had never even registered for me that you would've had to jump through additional "expectation resetting" hoops because of your age. I thought you fit in perfectly at Drupalcon, but you're exactly right that a lot of that perception had to do with the fact that I "knew" you from your awesome work in the issue queue first. I'll need to make sure to check myself in the future for these kinds of age-related biases.

I do love using your story though with people I interact with who have those stereotypical biases of what a grandmother is capable of. :D Thanks for inspiring us. :)

technology is young myth

sepeck's picture

The sad thing is, technology is old. Email is now over 30. I have a retired relative that runs our families email list serv relay so we can keep in touch. I have to laugh when people fail to realize that life experience seems to include experience and that perhaps that may make you better at things.


dmitrig01's picture

I actually waited a long time after getting involved in Drupal before going to any face to face Drupal events because I wanted to be sure that people had a chance to judge my contributions before they could be influenced by seeing how old I was. I finally decided to 'come out' when I went to the Sunnyvale DrupalCon.

I just want to add, that I went through exactly the same thing at the other end of the age spectrum: I (and my parents) was afraid that people would judge me based on my age and not on my contributions. Luckily, it turned out not to be that way at all, but I still felt that way. And, occasionally at Drupalcon, I am (more was than currently, but still) treated as if I'm just someone's kid who had to come along.

Yeah, I totally understand

KarenS's picture

Yeah, I totally understand how you feel. A funny, very subtle, thing about bias is that you generally only notice it if you are 'different' in some way. If you're the 'right' age or sex, you don't have to wonder if people will mis-categorize you based on that difference.

Another place the message

kreynen's picture

Another place the message towards women in Drupal is being made subtly is schwag. While Morten got it right at the conference, the other vendors giving away tshirt only offered men's fits. Kathy Sierra said it well several years ago after a Java conference...

This is partly tongue-in-cheek, but still...the t-shirts are a metaphor for--or at least a reflection of--the way the company feels about users as individual people. The shirts matter, and they speak volumes about your company.

It would be great if the Chicago organizers would give vendors an unsubtle push in the right direction. Remind them about how small things like the tshirts they give away add up with other small things that happen at a Con to shape how the community is perceived. Getting a few more of these small things right would go a long way.

Ask people; be pro-active

jp.stacey's picture

It'd be good if the Chicago organizers could also poll the Drupalchix group about the details of T-shirts, what sort of sizes they should buy in etc. (see joyseeker's comment.) They shouldn't assume that they know best about what a minority wants, especially in powderkeg decisions like those involving gender, and especially when it takes only five minutes to ask people's opinion. In an ideal world that would be an odd thing to do, but as this mistake has been made in the past then I think it only shows consideration to ask in advance.

I also think they should print maybe 20% more T-shirts than there are expected to be purchasers for them, and maybe expect to sell a few on the last day to the other attendees "for your friends or family back home" if that's possible. There's nothing worse in the world of schwag, when you're in the minority, and the majority are rolling in their own special schwag while it's really painfully clear that your minority-specific schwag was undersupplied, or really only just borderline supplied, because all the "don't knows" were normalized as members of the majority.

(I can say this with confidence, from my experience as a vegetarian at the hands of the caterers at both DC Paris and DC CPH. That experience was, in brief, both patronising and miserable. Never assume that the people who don't get round to filling in one particular form would have all filled it in with the default.)

A pervasive attitude...Ohio Linux Fest did it too

crimsondryad's picture

I'm here at Ohio Linux Fest today and though they had women's t-shirt sizes on the order form, when I got here they only had men's shirts. Lame.... Is it really that much more work to print out some women's shirts, particularly when you know exactly how many you need?

I've worked in IT for over 15 years, and in the automotive industry before that. I've been exposed to sexism of all sorts, from less qualified men being promoted over me to the more subtle kinds of comments.

All I can say is IT is generally less sexist than the automotive industry. So it could be worse. :P

I am planning to go to DrupalCon 2011, so hearing that the guys won't talk is interesting. Fortunately for me, I guess, I'm an assertive individual with a fairly thick skin. (Though there is a whole other conversation about how assertive women are labeled as "bitches" when equally assertive men are praised).

For me, if the guy had asked me if I really wanted to be there, I probably would have replied with "Do you?" and kept going. Replying with "that was sexist and makes me uncomfortable" is usually pointless because it IS a red flag statement. At that point, a woman gets labeled as a whiner (or emotional ....that one never fails to piss me off). Though thinking about it, sometimes you don't have to say anything. Just pausing with a very direct look and a raised eyebrow is enough to make someone realize they've been an ass. :P

There is no easy way to turn this around...and I am pretty sure some people will read this and immediately get turned off. Their knee will jerk and that whiner label will get applied, and they will go on their merry way, more convinced than ever that the gender assessment is valid.

I don't think too much about what other people think. Sometimes you just have to pretend things are how you want them to be until they actually are. shrug

SF DrupalCon had ladies tees

joyseeker's picture

SF DrupalCon did have ladies tees, but only in sizes up to large, no extra large (they ran small). And when then they had to place another order during the Con, even after I expressed dismay at no ladies' extra large, they printed more guys' extra large, but not ladies' extra large! Glad they had ladies' tees, but what an unconscious, or perhaps conscious, choice a guy made about what sizes to stock.

Hoping to stay positive here

Allie Micka's picture

Like most women in tech, I can come up with a lot to say about what has irked, offended or hurt me. Some behavior is obviously egregious, some of it is very subtle, and it's usually unintentional (and when bad behavior is intentional it's an entirely different discussion).

I usually keep my mouth shut when stuff bothers me, because I'm concerned about creating an environment where people are walking on eggshells. Hey, I just wanna talk shop, not derail into gender politics! That said, I think it's positive and useful for people to voice their concerns when they need to. This is courageous and helpful.

The inevitable next branch in the discussion is focussed on parsing out why people feel the way they do, and whether that's even valid. There's a lot more subjectivity here, and often insurmountable obstacles in understanding and cultural differences. Few people have restated the keynote issue in terms that correspond with my reactions, but trying to get people to see it my way will reach a point of diminishing returns. And I don't have the energy for it.

But what gives me energy instead of taking it away is positive encouragement, credit when I'm due, and exciting conversations - or even arguments - that transcend gender and culture and get straight into the reasons we're here in the first place.

So how can we broaden the audience for these inspirational activities and get more of what we came to this community for? While it's good to hash all this out, well-meaning men and women are left wondering what they should be doing. How can we encourage all new Drupalers? How can we make subtle changes to be more inviting, which is usually our intention anyway?

I commented on my BoF experience as a contrast to something that worked well and influenced me in a positive way, in hopes of focussing a discussion on other positive influences we can all have.

Talking about assumptions, I

sapark's picture

Talking about assumptions, I would like to see Acquia randomize the images on its front page for Designers, Developers, Business Owners, and Partners. The images seem to be permanently stuck on sexist and ageist stereotypes. Designers. Younger women. Developers. Younger men. Business Owners. Older men. Partners. Older women. It seems so blatant. Feels like I time-warped when I look at it!

Positive discrimination is a good kludge

jp.stacey's picture

+1 to this, for Acquia and any other big Drupal hitters. Please be sensitive in your publicity!

If the community is lacking in a particular minority, compared to the world at large, then there's an invisible barrier there somehow. It needs fixing. So publicity material should at the very least strive to represent the world at large. And that means the world of human beings, not the microcosms of PHP developers, business owners, conference attendees, designers etc: let's not replicate other communities' mistakes.

"Girls don't use Drupal"

NonProfit's picture

A bit off topic, but somehow seems appropriate...

This very morning, as we were finishing up breakfast my 4yo girl says,

"Bye, I'm going to work."
"Bye, have a good day." I replied and continued, "What do you do?"
"I work with computers," she tells me.
"Good." And then wanting to plant a seed, I ask her, "Do you work with Drupal?" (it's worth noting, the idea of Drupal comes up often enough, she understood what I was talking about.)
"No," she comments, "Girls don't use Drupal."
So I break rank, stepping out of story time, to carefully explain lots of women work with Drupal and there is no reason why she can't.
"OK" and after a long pause she adds, "Some girls use Drupal, but I don't."

It kind of floored me. My wife and I have attempted to make great strides to not perpetuate these types of gender roles. Truthfully, she's spunky enough she may have read "He wants me to pretend Drupal", and intentionally took an opposing view (which she does quite often). But it's always a more personal "I don't..." vs. "Girl's don't...".

We want the world to be a place where anyone can pursue their interests, not feeling limited by these type of gender roles. That needs to begins at home. It was an off the cuff remark, but it floored me, as it goes against what we've been trying hard to build.

If anyone has any insight, please ping me.



Parenting & gender roles

jrdixey's picture

Kind of off topic, but appropriate I think. I sometimes wonder whether my son will have some different ideas about what girls and boys are good at, based on seeing me and my husband work on different things with computers. He's mostly a designer/photographer, I'm mostly a coder.

Part of it is probably based on your daughter identifying with her mom (if her mom doesn't "do Drupal" but you do, she has probably generalized that out to men-do-drupal, women-don't. It would be the same with anything else she sees one of you doing that the other doesn't.

Later on in her life, I hope she will meet up with women who do code-related work. (Fortunately since you're in Drupal, that's bound to happen sometime!) That's the only thing that will break the current perception.

Further off-topic, Seattle has a wonderful program called SMARTgirls that brings together 7th-8th grade girls with women scientists, technologists, mathematicians, etc. to teach a short class that just gives the girls direct exposure to the idea that they can do this kind of work. I taught a Hands-On Multimedia class for SMARTgirls for a few years, back in the early 90s. The class used Flash, and I always included coding a button in the mix, and had them write the code from scratch, just so that they could see what it's like to write a small program and make something work (and incidentally, see that it was a woman showing them how). It was an awesome feeling to have that light go on in a few girls' eyes where you could see them deciding they could do this.

Wow, those girls would be adults now. I wonder if any of them went on to pursue technology? I sure hope so!

Another possibility is

kreynen's picture

Another possibility is NonProfit's daughter heard about Jen Lampton's DrupalCon presentation is now using WordPress.


NonProfit's picture

jrdixey, thanks for your insights. I think your comment shows a lot of wisdom; although my wife is significantly better educated than I (Psy.D. vs. BA) she's not particularly interested in technology. At the very least, my 4yo was pretending to use a computer, so I'm holding out hope that she may one day love coding.

kreynen, Ack! It never occurred to me she was pretending to use WP! (That would certainly justify a time-out!)


Leading the Horse vs Princess Roles

crimsondryad's picture

My daughter is 6. When she was small, I bought her toy hammers / drills / other traditional "boy" toys so she wouldn't get stuck in that "girl" mode. hhahahhahahaha. Fast forward to today when her entire closet is pink and purple, her room is all pink, and she loves her Barbies.

Our family is firmly entrenched in geekdom, though I'm more hardcore than her Dad. She knows that IE is bad, that Firefox is good, and she's used to using the Ubuntu laptop (though really...all she uses is the browser so far).

If you want her to geek though, it doesn't matter where she gets it...from mom or from you. Get her to sit down with you and help her code her first web page. There is a program called Scratch from MIT that teaches programming concepts to young kids in a fun way. Spend time with her and try to explain the technical. My 11 yr old was bored, I handed her a web design book.

It doesn't have to be about what her mom models. She will cherish the time you spend with her and hopefully the lessons will stick. Though once she hits middle school you will have a hard time regardless...the peer pressure at that age to conform is very strong.

If she doesn't become a techie...that's ok. At least she knew the option was there.


NonProfit's picture

crimsondryad, thanks for your thoughts and info about Scratch ( I'll be interested to review what it has to offer. -NP

Keeping it positive... my first Drupalcon.

webchick's picture

Since Allie started this post as an attempt to highlight when we're doing things right, here are some highlights from my first Drupalcon (Vancouver, 2006).

For context, to those who didn't know me back then, imagine the most introverted, shyest, mousiest little geek you can imagine, whose big ice breaker plan was to put on a Google Summer of Code shirt and tuck herself into a corner in the lounge of the hotel everyone was staying at, hoping desperately that someone would maybe, possibly recognize her and come talk to her, since she was too shy to actually introduce herself to anyone. ;) That was me, 4.5 years ago. Like Allie, my interactions at my first Drupalcon had a huge impact on the future direction of my life.

  • Inclusiveness: Adrian Rossouw, Drupal mad scientist extraordinaire, was talking super excitedly about crazy next-generation Form API stuff and I was sitting there nodding vaguely, kind of deer in the headlights about it. He paused and said basically, "Oh, sorry. Did that not make sense? Here, let me try explaining it a different way, because it's REALLY AWESOME and I want you to be as excited about it as I am." And then proceeded to do so, and I was. :)

    Note that he didn't end the conversation and then go off and talk to someone else more at his level, nor did he ask me if I was in the wrong room, implying I wasn't smart enough to be part of this interesting conversation. Instead he saw me as an equal who just needed to get brought up to speed, and made a conscious effort to include me in the discussion.

  • Role models: Though there were other women at that Drupalcon who I bonded with, I remember being particularly drawn to Allie because she was hardcore. She is a total geek (meant in the most complimentary way!), runs her own hosting company, can rattle off random unix sysadmin facts like nobody's business, and at Drupalcon she was leading or co-leading talks on brain-blowing stuff like relationships API. And the guys respected her. When she talked about why a certain approach was good or bad, they'd sit back and listen, and took her seriously.

    While I wasn't *remotely* at Allie's level (and still am not now, and probably never will be :)), I saw someone I could relate to, and received confirmation that if someone like that was at home in this community, there was a place for me, too.

    This is why all types of diversity initiatives in our community are really important. We want people from all walks of life, backgrounds, interests, skill levels, etc. to see someone they can relate to kicking ass in our community in an environment of mutual respect.

  • Challenges: One evening we were all seated around a big long table in one of the hotel's conference rooms, Moshe at the helm, handing out release-blocker bugs for the folks there to look at so we could get Drupal 4.7 out the door (deja vu, anyone? ;)). I wanted to help, but wasn't sure where to start. Moshe fired me off a couple of bugs to look into. One was way over my head, and I told him so, but he told me to stick with it and do what I could, asking for help if I needed it. I started with a basic code review, but it actually revealed a deeper bug, which would've led to further regressions had it not been cleaned up. It was a little thing, but I felt a profound sense of accomplishment for making some tiny little contribution to helping 4.7 come out faster.

    I hope that we can retain this same "spirit" in code sprints today, even though there are several hundred rather than a dozen or so people around the "table". It's invaluable for communicating the Drupal community's "spirit" of contributing, and getting people hooked. :)

  • Encouragement: At lunch with Allie, Earl, and some other folks. We were talking about what sessions we wanted to attend, and I told everyone I was planning on attending the module development tutorial for newbies. I got some chuckles in return, saying "No, you seriously don't need to attend that session. You've been coding modules for 9 months now." It was a silly thing, but it opened my eyes to the fact that "oh, hey, maybe I *do* know something after all." :P~

    I see this come up a lot at the Drupalchix BoFs. A woman will introduce herself as "not a coder" and then go on to detail all of the very-much-code-related things she does: theming, front-end development, putting together code snippets from the repository into something that works, etc. With some encouragement, I think there'd be far less devaluing of skills all around, and more people taking big leaps they hadn't taken before.

Similar to Allie's experience, the subtlety in these interactions was key. If any one of those instances had gone differently (had, for example, the guys rolled their eyes at Allie when she attempted to explain her approach towards relationship API, or had I been politely asked to leave when I joined the core bug squashing sprint and didn't know anything), I don't know the effect it would've had. But I do know that together, they formed the perfect concoction for getting me totally hooked on the Drupal community and sticking around long-term. :)

I think we can do a lot to off-set this trend by changing some of our default assumptions:

  • Assume that the next person you interact with could become the next $prolific_contributor if only they were given the right guidance.
  • Assume that people at Drupalcons belong, unless they've told you otherwise, or have explicitly asked for help.
  • Assume that someone who starts out their interactions with the community in a blundering fashion could become totally engaged and one of your biggest assets, if they're only shown "the Drupal way".

And most of all, if you see someone mousy and shy, hiding in the corner at Drupalcon who doesn't have anyone to talk to, go talk to 'em. You might just change their life. :)


jrdixey's picture

This has to be my favorite comment so far on this thread. Very encouraging about this community!

'A woman will introduce herself as "not a coder" and then go on to detail all of the very-much-code-related things she does'

This is something I've noticed a lot in my years in technology, and it goes in the other direction as well; any guy who has done any coding at all will proudly proclaim himself a code geek (not meant to reflect anyone in the Drupal community btw - humility seems like part of the culture somehow). At the same time, woman with the same level of skill will often devalue it to the point of acting like it's nonexistent.

Which, to me, means one thing, and that's "claim your skill set". Whatever it may be.

BTW I have my own positive Drupal-inclusiveness story to tell. I went to the Pacific NW Drupal Summit in Seattle last year as a newbie. My first conversation with a volunteer (while I helped him lug coffee urns from the Starbucks down the road) was one of those "So what do you do with Drupal?" exchanges. I told him I was just a beginner and that I'd written a one-line module, to which he responded, "Cool. That's more than most people have done". It's personal interactions like these - which, I want to point out, could be replicated online a lot more effectively than they currently are - that could make the difference in new people of all stripes feeling at home in the Drupal community.

Fabulous post Angie!

miche's picture

I too want to share some life-changing positive experiences.

I was employed at a small web shop doing HTML/CSS when we landed a big project. We chose Drupal and hired some more people. My new boss was amazing! He regularly gave me tasks that he knew I had no idea how to do. We would brain storm the approach together and he would give me links on api.drupal and tell me to holler if I had questions. He pushed me. He had confidence in me. After I was done with the tasks, he would do a code review and point out the areas where things needed to be changed or refactored. I learned so much and am forever grateful.

Although he had confidence in me, I still didn't have confidence in myself. Another coworker, equally as brilliant as my boss, kept telling me that I knew more than I thought I did and encouraged me to meet other local Druaplers. He knew that once I started talking to other people, I would realize how far I had come. He was the one that told me to get involved with the community because I had important things to share.

And the icing on the cake: My boss was supposed to present a session at DrupalCon Paris but a family situation kept him home. He sent me (and another coworker) to represent the company and share his (*my) knowledge. I was honored and did not let him down.

Two very experienced developers didn't just see me as newbie. They saw someone who was an equal, just a couple years behind. They did everything they could to impart as much knowledge as possible. They challenged me and instilled a desire to learn more. They helped me to realize that I could.

I was fortunate enough to work at a company that was extremely collaborative. We prided ourselves on how we constantly worked together to find solutions. It was that environment that helped to make me a capable and confident Drupaler.

@ebeyrent & @sethcohn: You will always be my mentors!

Michelle Lauer

My first DrupalCon

Itangalo's picture

My first DrupalCon was in Paris, last year.
The best experience was the party night out at small square somewhere, completely filled with Drupal people. And one of the best memories was that webchick started to talk with me, and we actually taked for a while. She seemed interested in what I was doing. That made me happy for ... well, it still makes me happy.

Thanks for including me.

Thank you for this excellent

techgirlgeek's picture

Thank you for this excellent comment webchick. I skim through these posts every day as they come through my inbox, and this has to be one of the best, and most inspirational posts that I've read.

It really inspired me to take some time to get onto the issues queue and see what I can do to help. I have been wanting to for quite awhile, but have to admit I've been really intimidated. I really want to become more active in the community and contribute back as much as possible. I've gotten so much out of it, I feel so compelled to give back.

You are an inspiration to all of us "geeky" gals.

Thanks again,
TechGirlGeek (Karyn)

Since we're mentioning first DrupalCons

laura s's picture

My first DrupalCon was OSCMS in Sunnyvale in 2007. I had started in Drupal in 2004, knowing nothing except html and my newfound self-taught basic understanding of CSS. Even xhtml was new to me. I tip-toed into the community and experienced a bit of bruising as my dumb questions were brushed aside with passive-aggressive under-replies. I learned quickly, though, especially seeing everyone get similar treatment: first do your homework, do it yourself, work the problem, and ask only when you're still stuck. Still, I asked so many dumb questions and made an idiot of myself so many times, when I finally started to know enough to actually answer questions and help others, I created a new account, the one I use now.

By the time I went to my first conference, OSCMS, I had been doing consulting for over a year, had built a few somewhat high-profile sites, and was feeling confident enough to co-present with a couple of colleagues, greggles and ezra-g, on the basics of theming and overrides using hooks, and lead another session on building and managing community sites (which seemed to be what a majority of Drupal sites were back then).

But when I arrived, I was petrified. All these people (about 225 Drupal people, 75 Joomla people, iirc) who knew so much! I'm a shy person anyway, so I could not get myself to approach anyone. I met some people in casual conversations with others, but the small talk thing has always had me stymied. I'm usually so self-conscious that I don't remember anyone's name either. It didn't help that it seemed like everyone already knew everyone.

But I did meet Dries. I had to. I was very nervous about approaching him, but he was the guy and hell if I was going to travel a thousand miles to a conference and not meet the leader! So all nervous and bumbling I walked up to him and introduced myself. And he said immediately that he was wanting to introduce himself but kept getting waylaid by people, getting pulled into conversations (and it was as true then as it is now). But we had a nice conversation and he, more than anyone else, made me feel welcome at the conference. I think many of us may have had similar experiences.

Others had done it online. Chx comes to mind. greggles is another. When people are inclusive like that — and make a point of doing it — that means a lot and helps in the land of low expectations, misplaced assumptions and benign neglect.

Laura Scott
PINGV | Strategy • Design • Drupal Development

Hi Laura, I too was at my

lyricnz's picture

Hi Laura,
I too was at my first Drupalcon at OSCMS, and recall having one of these casual conversations with you. You struck me, right from the start, as someone who was right "up there" - I never imagined you'd be feeling just like me! Hahah. To get offtopic for a second, my main recollection of that con was the wonderful people in the community, who were so helpful and inclusive. Even the superstars.
Cheers, Simon

Simon Roberts
Taniwha Solutions

I'm inspired by the comments, encouraged by the passion...

kae76's picture

I'm new to Drupal (roughly 6 months!) Copenhagen being my first experience of a Drupalcon... which was excellent!
I'm trying to go along to as many meetups as possible! enjoying the community spirit, learning tons, meeting friendly people, getting inspired... and hoping to get beyond saying "I'm not a coder"



Drupalcon for women

Jeff Veit's picture

Are there specific things you'd like us to do at Drupalcon or before Drupalcon?

Things I can imagine:
- Ensure that there's more than just a Drupalchix BOF. Maybe a talk?
- Some sort of spotlight celebrating Drupalchix
- Either web pages or FAQ entries specifically aimed at women who are thinking of attending
- Making sure that the T-shirt issue doesn't ever happen again. Duh.
- A forum space on the website
- Ensuring that we have more women presenters
- Some quotas for us to aim for. [And to be clear to anyone reading who might be upset by this idea: I'm particularly aware that quotas can be viewed both very positively and very negatively, and may be a sensitive area. I mean this in the best way: if we have some targets - for example for the number of women speakers then that may be better than an amorphous 'More women presenters'. Please give me the benefit of doubt before flaming.]
- One of the underlying themes in the conversation above is that you have to work harder to establish technical credentials than men. So maybe some sort of signposting that shortcuts that sort of thing. E.g Stars on the badges for 'I have written code', 'I have contributed modules', etc. This would apply to everyone.
- A buddy system
- An "I'm usually a bit shy to butt in" marker on badges - so that all our semi-autistic audience (and I'm allowed to say that cos I'm one of them) get a great big cluestick.
- Some sort of icebreaker. I dunno what this could be, but maybe something that forces interaction... like partner badges - you get points for finding your partner badge at the conference. I know this doesn't just apply to women, but there are men who come who also need help.
- A session on interacting at Drupalcon, right near the beginning - a 'this is the way we do things' session which gives people some rules/framework that tells them that they are expected to randomly go up to someone and say 'What do you do with Drupal?'. Or maybe some other kind of icebreaker session.

I don't think these are likely to be the best ideas, and I know some of these are a bit off-the-wall but I'm brainstorming, so please forgive me if some of these are daft.

I'd like to generate a take-away list of things to do: I'm involved in Drupalcon London planning, so I hope we can take your suggestions and incorporate them.

I'm sure that Drupalcon should be addressing other people too, for example age extremes compared to the community might be a problem too: really young people need a helping hand, and clearly some people who are older than our average need some support. It would be great to get a list which would not only benefit Drupalchix, but anyone else who isn't a white, male, straight, slightly introverted, developer/themer. (Marketing peeps, I'm looking at you! Maybe, for once, you need help connecting.)

Spin-off a new thread?

webchick's picture

First, thanks so much for your interest. It's great to see a Drupalcon organizer take this seriously, and with enough advance notice that we can do something about it. :)

Secondly, be warned that this is a bit of a hot-button subject. People will argue vigorously on both sides that you should either go out of your way to be way more inclusive towards women with specific, targeted outreach, or that you should not do these things because they only widen the gender disparity when women are treated differently than men. I have my own strong opinions on this, obviously. ;)

Would you mind starting a separate thread here for this question? I think it's really important to know that this is being considered, and I worry it's going to get buried here on a week+ old thread. I think we'll get a lot more participation if it's separate, and it's an important issue to discuss.


Jeff Veit's picture

People will argue vigorously ... that you should not do these things...

No problem if other people want to vigorously do nothing. :-) I can probably stand that heat. And I'm guessing that any action items will make the whole conference better.

The other side of this conversation

slavojzizek's picture

Is that as human beings we should all consider doing our own inventory and take away buttons for people to press. We don't need to be victims or as fragile as this. We don't need a framework of things to say (if x then y, z else this). Its all based on feeling, and being connected to each moment and determining the right presentation. It would do the Drupal community a lot of good to pick up mind/body/spirit practices that gave them some degree of personal and intrer-personal sensitivity, then such things as stated above might not occur, or if they did, they would almost seem like nothing. Just be who you are, let those who notice notice, and those who don't carry on their illusions. If we're not needing to be special, wonderful, or given any kind of status then its OK to hear potentially rude remarks and brush them off. The work to be done is on both sides, the person who says something insensitive, and the person who takes it personally. If we don't make these slight, insignificant interactions into mountains, then they are easy to get through. For example, its possible to artfully engage in those discrimination based moments and say, "well you're not just saying that because I'm a woman right?", and then you are actually teaching someone in that moment, which is of far greater value than planning and organizing movements around "How to treat people at Drupalcons" and "codes of conduct, etc. etc.". If we all grew up a little, this would be a very minor thing.

OK. Let's grow up. You first!

jp.stacey's picture

You have to be aware that saying "if we all grew up a little, this would be a very minor thing" absolutely, positively reeks of unexamined privilege. Is suggesting that people who complain about discrimination should "grow up" really any different from suggesting that Kathy Sierra, in the face of sexual harrassment, stalking and death threats, should "grow a pair"? How can a community function with that as its tenet? I honestly can't see how anyone can read this thread and come to the conclusion that somehow everything will be fine if the work is "on both sides", the implication that somehow the perfectly valid requests for people to be treated like people must compromise with the utterly invalid established, privileged position and magically not be fatally flawed.

And "slight, insignificant interactions?" Who are you to judge how significant these are to other people? That's the very point, surely: that unwitting abuse of privilege might be insignificant to the privileged (and you and I are privileged, though it's often hard to see: privilege is like that) but it is very significant indeed to the underprivileged. As human beings, all in this together, the privileged have a moral duty to appreciate that asymmetry, and respect that it needs behaviour adaptation by the privileged first and foremost. Because minority groups bend over backwards, every day, to fit into all sorts of communities They're already doing far more work than they should ever need to. The underprivileged hardly have any ammunition, but they're already doing all the fighting.

Geek communities are known for having certain, odd social blind spots. Some of these mirror the blind spots of society at large; some are a consequence of the sort of people who are attracted to, or conditioned towards, technology at an early age. That's why truisms like the geek social fallacies gain such traction: these communities and their members make the same mistakes again and again; and those mistakes hurt every community where they occur. There are complex, subtle reasons why barriers get erected, barriers which are so great for other people but insignificant for you; maybe the solutions are just as complex and subtle too.

It can be said

slavojzizek's picture

That using an extreme example is not a way to disprove or prove something. For example, I did not say that this person should grow a pair, I said that they had an opportunity to get what they wanted, in that very situation, by using the art of conversation to teach the person doing the bad thing that it was bad. Instead, posting online from a computer, engaging the community through gdo, was chosen. I understand how one might feel difficultly around working with people in person, especially if the male:female ratio is unequal - or for that matter any kind of ratio. Also, there are positive sides of speaking about things digitally, but they are seemingly few the more I learn about myself and others. Its about human relationships, made in person, and how we are deeply afraid in our core of conflict and working with difficult issues. I have worked extensively with underprivileged individuals, most notably American Natives who were not only treated subhuman, but actually killed & relocated (vs just having something nasty said to them), and even they are starting to see that needing to be special, victimized, or otherwise "stuck in the past" is not the most positive idea for creating change.

I fully support the woman who had the issue, and I do not wish for her or any other woman (or man) to feel like they are not at ease. That being said, ease is a state of mind we are personally responsible for - no one can take that away from us, if you look to examples in all of the worlds major religions or spiritual practices, it is said that we must do our own inventory when it is all said and done. We can't change other people or make them bad because we have a problem. We can work with them, in personal ways, using humor, trust, love, and compassion and get to the core of the things that we would like to see happen differently. As drupalers, we are more hidden and behind little monitors so it is easy to lose our social skills, that would certainly make issues like this seem insignificant, because we would be able to deal with them on the spot, vs. writing text about it later and feeling damaged.

If we look at my suggestion and yours, you see that mine (which isn't something I own, its the "natural human way") has a "way out" or a way where we can all learn and progress as individuals, and be better for it. Your way doesn't seem to offer any way to change the situation in the moment, but excuse me if I just misread it. I am not very scholarly, and I also would like to know if you have a viable solution for the issue that's not just based on saying what I said was wrong. Even in your words torwards me, being right vs. wrong, and debating, creates a hierarchy, that is the basis of all power issues of us vs. them. I'm willing to be right from where I see it, and willing to let you be right from where you see it. This respect and dignity we have for ourselves and others is what is needed in the Drupal community.

Maybe I'm just stepping in

laura s's picture

Maybe I'm just stepping in it, but comparing borderline genocidal policies with a faux pas at a tech conference, as if that were a valid comparison, rankles me. If we want to step out of the context being discussed, let's talk about the prevalent violence against women worldwide, which is all quite a bit more horrific than "having something nasty said to them". Objectification and denigration of women has its dark side, too. "That using an extreme example is not a way to disprove or prove something" indeed.

This is not about whether one person feels at ease. This (I hope) is a discussion about the kind of community we want to cultivate. I would hope that this could happen without people being accused of "needing to be … victimized." So far I feel the conversation has been extremely positive, not at all about victimization.

Laura Scott
PINGV | Strategy • Design • Drupal Development

Your view holds truth, its

slavojzizek's picture

Your view holds truth, its best to rid ourselves of any extremity, and its an alluring tool to use when trying to make a point. My only point is, lets be good to each other here and now and at Drupalcons. Couldn't care less about making one plight seem larger or smaller than the other, the point is that we can make anything big or small as much as we feel to justify our positions. Lets create a position that is workable, and founded in a practice that works - whoever can do that, no matter how good or bad of a person they are, is worthy because they had the courage to try.

There was some experiment

sapark's picture

There was some experiment that I learned about in a Psychology or Sociology course to show that people's minds change when their behavior changes, not the other way around. I suspect this was why integration and affirmative action were so successful--even though you can still find lots of people who disagree that they were--and conversely why segregation was so successful for awhile.

The more diversity in a group, the more people will get used to it. And their descendants won't know the difference.

The other side of the coin

cookiesunshinex's picture

I once worked in the IT department of a fortune 100 company. Our specific team was made up of 7 people (5 males - including myself, and 2 females). We also had a female boss.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with each of them irregardless of their age, sex, or race.

One of the women was in particular a real stickler for the rules, especially anything related to sexual harassment or workplace inequality. Other than being a stickler, she was also very organized, talented IT person, and fun and enjoyable to work with.

The boss used to occasionally treat the team with a team lunch or bring home-made brownies. This started a trend of other people on the team bringing and sharing food - homemade cakes, cookies, etc.

On one occasion, we planned on bringing cakes, cookies, candies on a specific Friday before Christmas. I volunteered to bake some cookies and candy. The woman who was the stickler joked that I would cheat by having my wife or girlfriend bake them for me, or just buy them at the store. I let her know that in fact, I enjoyed baking and had my own recipe for the items I would bring to the Christmas treat day.

I was particularly offending by this, not only because it was truly sexist, but also because the woman was such a stickler against sexism and sexual harassment, in what I'm sure she perceived as always being towards women. I made a real effort in making sure that I treated everyone equally on all levels, and if I had not done so, she would be the first to report the matter.

I'm reporting this story here to highlight that this can happen in both directions, and is not necessarily meant with a mean heart or intentional. The best thing we can do is educate and be tolerant where possible.

Symetrik Design
Drupal Consulting

Right on!

jrdixey's picture

"The best thing we can do is educate and be tolerant where possible."

Agreed, and that's exactly what you did - you educated her on the spot. I hope you also told her that her assumption was sexist (in a nice way), because being conscious of these kinds of things she probably would have wanted to know it.

Positiveness. That's what I

kgoel's picture

Positiveness. That's what I will continue to have to be part of the team where I am the only girl.