Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Busting the Geek-Boys Club : If We're So Qualified, What's Stopping Us

I love when someone can prove me wrong. Dare Obasanjo gives a great list of women who are more than adequately qualified to speak at various blogging conferences, esp. on the topic of social software.

I am, though, curious to know why they don't appear at various conferences. Although there is a "good old boy" network going on, if there are qualified women, it's too easy to chalk it up to that one factor.

Does it have to do with the age-old problem that many women have of not liking to speak in front of large groups?

Or is it more that they are not real good at the shameless art of self-promotion--as many of the men happen to be? Is it that they believe that one must be asked to be a speaker rather than putting oneself out there and saying "hey, I'm available, I'm qualified and I have the resume to prove it?"

There is alot to be said for the shameless art of self-promotion -- at times more politely known as Networking. Women are not particularly known for networking quite the way men do. It has to do with the way we build our social networks: women's social networks are small and dense where men's are large and diffuse. They type of "intimate" connection that women value and look for in their social networks is different from that of men. Men's social networks consist of many people with less intimate connections. Men don't look for the emotinally intmate connection that women insist on. This attitude towards others makes it easier for men to ask favors of one another and not take it personally if someone either doesn't respond or outright refuses. Women, on the other hand, are bothered when they are refused, and want to know why. Women who are refused are often refused becasue they are not part of other women's intimate social network. To be part of a group of women's intimate social network often involves forming connections via dissemination of personal information. Men, however, do not require this of each other.

The 'teflon' attitude that men have, where they do not take rejection personally and move on to the next possible opportunity, makes it easier for men to promote themselves. The attitude is "what do I have to lose?" They have nothing to lose because they have not had to disclose personal, intimate information about themselves in order to be part of a social network.

Women often deride men for not having the types and kinds of friendships/social networks that women have, but the way in which women build these rich friendships works against them when they are either networking or self-promoting. Not only does it cause individuals to wonder why they don't "fit in", it also causes groups of women to dislike those women who network in a masculine style. How often do we call one another "superficial," "pushy" or "bitchy" when the same character traits in a man would be seen as "personable," "assertive" and "commanding"?

Women not only devalue the male networking style because of its lack of intimacy, but also criticize those who embody the traits that make men successful, self-promoting networkers.

So, perhaps women's invisibility at conferences has to do with their inability to value self-promotion. Perhaps, because self-promotion is often seen as a negative trait among other women, and they might subconsciously fear losing face with their own intimate group, they choose not to self-promote, thus giving the impression that there are no "qualified" women speakers in the blogosphere--when that might not be the case.

Just a thought.

, , , , , ,,,


ElisaC said...

I would like to take my pencil and add a "many" or "some" before every use of "women" and "men" in this post. And I'd love references to the studies that support these generalities...not just from you obviously...because we all just seem to nod our heads and accept that men and women behave in these ways.

As a woman who manages to have a network that consists of both intimate and less intimate relationships with both genders, I am sure I am only one of many such women who do not fall neatly into this "small, dense network" stereotype.

The real question is: when there are new voices of all sorts out there being assertive, putting themselves out there, being vocal (and being qualified): why do conference organizers (as just one example) still seem to find it so hard to book any but the usual suspects?

There's not much controversy about why someone who puts themselves in a corner doesn't get chosen. And I'm not sure it's fair to ask people to go find those lurking in the corners.

Therefore I think the more important issues are:

1. How to get more qualified people to come out of their corners.
2. And how to get such newly exposed voices heard.

BTW-I looked at Dare's list and if even *I* had heard of at least a handful of those women (non social-software geek that I am) then it's ridiculous to think they're blushing flowers within their own industry.

That's Issue #2 in action right there!

Tish Grier said...

I'm sure I could find references--esp. those in pop culture magazines that like to prove out the generalites of how women and men network. From a personal perspective, I don't really have the time to spend a couple of days in a library looking up the refs or calling psychology profs at the various Five Colleges who might have the info at hand.

That is, unless someone pays me a small advance on an article to do just that, or I get enough of a bug in my bonnet to do it :-)

Good question about how we get people to come out of the corners. Dare's list was great because, as you mention, while there were women I'd heard of, there were others I hadn't Whether or not the ones we hadn't heard of want to speak, I think, could be answered only by approaching them and asking.

However, there's still the issue of why conference organizers seem to want to ask the same cast of characters to speak. I wonder if they were asked, perhaps for a piece on conference organization, if any c.o.'s would be willing to answer about their choice-of-speaker criteria. That could, however, be one of those "mysteries of the ages." (but, you never know--people can respond quite openly to the right inquiries)

ElisaC said...

Sure we could ask. Someone asked BlogHer how we found our spekaers, so I did an actual spreadsheet and posted the results.

Then again, I wasn't embarrassed by the results ;)