Let's be honest, no industry is immune from sexism, racism, or ageism for that matter. The tech industry is no different. Moving past the reputation of Digg as a boys club where SOME members use it as their personal platform to bash women or Matt Aimonetti's recent asinine presentation at the Golden Gate Ruby Conference portraying pornographic images of women touting taglines like "perform like a pr0n star", Pew studies show that women now outnumber men on the internet--including major social networks like Twitter and Facebook. However, many women in technology and social media still face a digital ceiling. Women make up approximately 20% (and sometimes less) of panelists at major tech conferences. Even fewer are asked to be keynote speakers. Furthermore, women in tech are rarely quoted and sought out as experts by the mainstream media covering technology. In other words, women in tech and social media are not valued as opinion leaders nearly as much as their male colleagues. In reality though, there are plenty of highly qualified industry women who would make fantastic panelists or provide reporters with thorough analyses on the latest research, trends and general commentary on tech and social media.
So who's really to blame for creating the digital ceiling? And what can we do to break through it once and for all?
Women in tech and social media industries need to do a much better job at promoting themselves as "experts" in their field and showing off their work. Women can aggressively promote themselves by:
- Blogging about their area of expertise and posting articles that showcase their successful products, site launches, critical analysis, industry predictions, etc.
- Get comfortable with public speaking and submit panel topics to several industry conferences. It's a numbers game. The more you submit, the more you get your name out there and increase your opportunities to be on panels.
- Network with other influential women and men who you respect and ask to team up on panel submissions, co-author a blog post, etc. Also don't be afraid to ask for help or seek out advice. People love to offer advice and find it flattering.
- Join The Speakers Wiki spearheaded by Mary Hodder to encourage women to promote themselves on the conference circuit and a central space for conference organizers to find great women panelists.
- Be optimistic and toughen up. While it's easy to get depressed if you feel overlooked, channel that anger to stand up for yourself and your fellow techie women, speak out, and take action.
"If someone wants to make the web do something new, thereby changing what it is, what exactly is in their way," said Dave Winer in response to the blog post "How can the web truly be 'open' when only young white male geeks get to decide what the web is?"
Winer raises a point (although he could have also acknowledged some of the very real challenges women face launching tech startups). When Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page, and Jory Des Jardins became frustrated with the male dominated blogging network they teamed up to form BlogHer, the largest women's blogging network in the world. When Shireen Mitchell was fed up enough with the lack of diversity in social media and tech conferences she started Social Media Women of Color and helped spearhead the Fem2.0 conference. Amy Muller, cofounded Get Satisfaction to address the lack of an online community for customer engagement and support. Several of these forward thinking women will be profiled throughout the week here on the Fast Company blog, leading up to the 2nd annual Women Who Tech TeleSummit. They will discuss their personal experiences breaking through the digital ceiling, launching their own startups, and their battles and successes along the way.