I am sat in a workshop room, in a Hindu temple, in Preston, for the first ever Social Media for Women conference to be held in the North West.
I am here not just as a delegate, I had decided to come along when Jane first mentioned it to earlier in the year, but also as a sponsor as Shadowcat chose to support the event. Here with me is Claire, the PA to the Directors who is choosing to up her skill levels in Social Media as she will be responsible for doing that more for the company. Part of our company strategy will be to have more content on our site, a broader social presence and to ensure we engage on social levels in the manner we do to communities.
The social media for women conference is not intended to be a single sex event, although a large percentage of those people who are around me would probably be biologically classed as women, and would likely identify themselves as female.☆ Speaking to Darren (of DigiEnable) when I arrived I was intrigued, though not surprised, to discover that there were four men out of approximately 100 delegates.
Sat in the room, just before the keynotes, I was approached by one of the other men with a cheery 'hello fellow chap.' So I have an interesting aside. I understand why he approached me, we are at a tech conference, you have seen someone you can relate to, you approach and greet them. I think I mumbled some pleasantries, I also thought I was a little rude as I didn't stand to shake hands (a personal thing I think is polite), nor did I engage much further than pleasantries.
Why did I do that? Well, it was a knee jerk reaction, I was one of the only men in the room, I was the only man at the table, it was perfectly reasonable for the chap to say hi to me. I just wished he had said hello to the whole table.
Part of my personal delight in this conference was that it would take pressure from me. I am involved with a lot of tech conferences, I organise a lot of events. There is a pressure to try and create an environment in which gender isn't a barrier or an issue. I felt that today could be part of a positive push to look beyond gender (even with the conference title) and be considered people.
You see, I was feeling that it is a refreshing change. I might have had feelings of being a unicorn, or an elephant or an aubergine in the room...I didn't. I didn't really feel out of place, which is not how I would have thought I'd feel in this situation. The atmosphere felt nicely uncluttered of the gender issue, even for a conference that aims to promote and support one gender. Maybe that's why I didn't feel out of place, maybe that is why I was a little brusque. For that I apologise.
I am at a conference with a title that some might take as an exclusion to men/males, and the last thing I feel is excluded. I'd like to thank the organisers for doing that, part of me thinks that I should wish there were more men in the room so they could appreciate it as well, the rest of me doesn't care as I would rather just enjoy the event for what it is. I would rather that the speakers be identified by their gender and the audience be just delegates, 'we the people' to paraphrase an address.
The main thrust of the event 'for women' is not the delegates but the speakers. The organisers, Jane, Liz and Darren intended this event to be a platform to encourage more participation by women into technical conferences. As outlined in the opening keynotes the issue is not just that women are under-represented, it is that some feel they are not able. Jane (Binion of Jane's Social Media) spoke of how she once felt intimidated about attending events where her voice might be seen as less important from a gender or merit assessment,☆☆ which is unlikely to be even representative of the truth.
I guess we could see part of the strength in this conference in the studies that state social media is a pursuit with a greater upkeep among females to males. There are a lot of factors that determine this and it is different across the differing networks, but generally women are greater in numbers, more prominent and more active on social networks than men.
Another strength, that I can find, is that for once I am surrounded by women speaking about tech. I know many women in tech, but we end up at conferences talking when they are still in the minority, here the males are in the minority and that makes a difference. How much a difference can be debated by better minds than I, but for me it again feels rewarding.
So I end my first blog about this day. You can see my reaction was positive and I would like to applaud the organisers for making that happen
☆ As always I am using 'sex' to indicate a strict biological distinction and 'gender' to indicate a social choice.
☆☆ There is of course a well understood social bias towards seeing men as more technical, adept at technology.