Shireen Mitchell, Founder of Digital Sisters/Sistas, Chair of the media and technology task force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (Geekette ’84) and one of the founders of the Fem 2.0 Conference and Social Media Women of Color is at the forefront of the nptech and social media world. This pioneering woman sat down to discuss the obstacles and successes she has personally faced in the tech sector not only as a woman, but as a woman of color.
Inspiration For Social Media Women Of Color
So many “top ten” or other lists continue to post a majority of young men. I wrote about this in All the Tops are Missing Something in common. Women are generally missing altogether or there is only one or two noted. Women of color are rarely found among the “top,” unless it’s Oprah of course. When the list gatherers are asked why are there so many top women missing, the answer is generally that they don’t know where to find these women. Social Media Women of Color is one answer to knowing where to find some of these women. SMWOC website is designed to highlight women who are relevant in their sectors, ie politics, social media, tech, PR, etc., and are generally overlooked. In many instances it’s who you know and not how many followers/readers you have. When one of these lists gets posted we can send links to the profiles of women that are missing from the list.
The goals of the community are to list the top women in their fields, highlight their profiles, and to connect women with one another. We have been happy to find so many women that aren’t recognized and we have some exciting posts that will be following. However, the goal is not to create more silos, these silos should be smashed. Until women, particularly women of color, are seen as common tech peers, sites like SMWOC will continue to be an invaluable resource.
The Challenges Of Being A Women In Tech
I wish I could say that I have had no obstacles as a women, particularly as a women of color in the tech/social media space, but I would just be aiming for a “utopia” for women in tech. In so many instances, I have been completely ignored for my tech knowledge and actually once had a man repeat exactly what I said (in the same room) and then have people think it was a great idea while ignoring the fact that I had previously stated the same. In my early days of html coding, I would lose bids to men. Clients thought a tech guy knew more than I because of all the words he used that they DIDN’T understand. The same clients would later come back to me asking me to fix the mess, all the while expecting to pay less. They would spend big bucks on the big words, but expect me to work out of sympathy. I’ve been given various explanations, my age, appearance, or some other reason as to why someone wasn’t really listening or had made a decision about my tech ideas (good or bad), when none should have mattered.
Overcoming these obstacles is not easy, but I love a challenge. I remind myself that coding at 14 years old is considered normal today among the “digital natives,” but coding at 14 during the 80’s was NOT normal for a girl living in Harlem. My tech clique was always a bunch of guys behaving badly, so when I see them behaving badly in meetings, conferences or at my speaking engagements, I smile. I am not condoning their behavior with a smile, I am waiting to display my knowledge and to watch the look on their face when I do. Truly, I love tech, I always have, even on difficult days I smile. Nothing anyone does will change that.
Creating Change In The Tech World
One of the biggest obstacles is that there are not enough women in tech careers or social media. It becomes a cycle when both men and women aren’t used to seeing women in the space, and so they assume it’s by choice. I have heard so many stories, theories, or perspectives about why this phenomenon exists. In some ways our social dynamic is a small factor. This habit of giving radios and objects to the boys to take a part and tinker with but then give dolls & kitchen toys to girls. Many women will opt out of math, science, and technology as early as the 8th grade. For those women who are excited by tech, they are asked to prove their knowledge over and over again, while young men are simply encouraged. I have met so many women who spent years in the tech field and then left because they were just sick of the way they were treated. Sadly, this means we are losing ground instead of increasing the number of women in tech and social media.
Higher visibility is the key to meaningful change. Projects like Women Who Tech, Anita Borg Institute, Women of Color Technology Conference, and Social Media Women of Color are all ways to help with that visibility. At the NYC She’s Geeky conference Liza @blogdiva and I joked about using #estroswarming as a way to highlight and bring attention to women in the social web. It was one of the ideas around using crowdsourcing as a method to increase visibility and begin to change perspectives. Lastly, we have to get more women speaking at tech conferences and on tech issues in the media. These are not easy tasks, but all of them are needed to create meaningful change.
Shireen’s Advice To Women In Tech And Social Media
First and most important, don’t fear putting yourself out there. It is easy to say but hard to do. Many women, for various reasons, get on the social media web but then hide themselves and their updates. For women to be seen as key influencers they have to be seen. Most women want to know everything there is to know about a topic or new tech tool before they claim the status of expert. I would like to say to these women, many “experts” are still learning. The tech and social media world continues to change and evolve every day. If you wait you will never be sure you know all there is to know.