Don’t have the porn industry sponsor your tech event redux.

This is part of an ongoing series called So you want more women at your tech event?

This past week I published a blog post on how having the porn industry sponsor tech events leads to decreased participation by women. A large number of people read the article, and left comments. Many of the comments were disappointing and off-topic.

In this case, the article involved ConFoo, a large tech conference held in Montreal. Women speakers made up only 4.5 per cent of the speaker roster, a low figure when most technical conferences include 10 to 20 per cent women speakers. In addition, the organizing team arranged for an adult entertainment company to be the main sponsor with attached keynote.

The comments relating to my blog post, in many cases, were wildly off-topic. Despite what people have written in the comments, this was not an article about the acceptability of pornography, the working conditions in the adult entertainment industry, or the acceptability of specific presentations. Bringing up these issues merely served to derail the discussion of the topic at hand.

The main issue

This article was about one thing and it’s in the title: So you want more women at your tech event? Don’t have the porn industry sponsor your event.

What if you don’t want more women at tech events? Then why participate in a series on how to increase women’s participation at tech events?

I suspect that some commentors were trying to defend the their friends and colleagues at ConFoo. In this case we are talking about an organizing team that has done the following:

  1. Held an event with an abnormally low number of women speakers for several years in a row. (Most technical conferences do not have fewer that 8% women and something like 10-25% is more common. ConFoo had 4.6 per cent women speakers.
  2. Refused to make efforts to increase diversity at ConFoo, claiming that would be sexist.
  3. Publicly insulted women who want to increase women’s participation in ConFoo.
  4. Allowed the adult entertainment industry to be the main sponsor with attached keynote.

In addition, someone redirected incoming links to confoo.ca, from sites that were critical of ConFoo to porn sites, even though those links might be followed by the general public, including children.

But to get back to the main point of the article… if you do want more women at tech events, there was only one real point to this article: Having the adult entertainment industry sponsor a tech event will decrease women’s participation in that event. The adult entertainment industry carries a stigma. Many people prefer not to be associated with porn when it comes to their professional careers. This is more often true of women than it is of men.

Women in many industries, including technology, are often subject to disrespectful treatment. Often they are not taken seriously. Women want to be treated as professionals and to attend professional events.

Professional events, whether they are technical, medical, academic, governmental, financial, scientific, or represent any other group that would like to be taken seriously, are not sponsored by the adult entertainment industry.

On derailing

What some of the commenters were doing can be referred to as derailing.

We talk about derailing a lot in social justice conversations and blog comments, which boils down to the fallacy that if less privileged people would just present a perfect argument for why they deserve compassion and justice, OF COURSE more privileged people would help! It’s just that you haven’t asked us in exactly the right way yet, and in fact, when you raised your voice or pointed out that we were wrong, you kind of hurt our feelings and maybe you should apologize to us for using that tone when we just want to help you? Could you start over and explain again from the beginning? -Jennifer P.

Derailing for Dummies has a list of methods for derailing challenging conversations about privilege. All of the following derailing methods were directed at me in the comments on my blog or via social media regarding this one article.

 What I’ve learned

  • Many people in a position of privilege won’t see the problem at all.
  • Challenge the status quo and some people will get defensive and aggressive.
  • Those with the loudest voices don’t always have the best arguments.
  • If no one attacks your main argument, it’s probably a pretty good one.
  • When they start calling you names, you’ve already won

Some interesting reading on women in tech

 Why conferences need more diversity.

You can’t know you’re getting the most qualified speakers if you keep going back to the same well.

Technical conferences generally have a paucity of women speakers…most have a minority around the 10% mark.

52% or just over half, of the female STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce leaves because of hostile macho cultures.

80% of women had noticed sexism in the open source community. 80% of men never noticed anything.

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