Join me on Ada Lovelace Day

by Suw on January 6, 2009

I’ve mainly stayed away from the discussion of gender issues in technology. I didn’t think that I had any real expertise to share. But over the last six months, after many conversations, it has become clear that many of my female friends in tech really do feel disempowered. They feel invisible, lacking in confidence, and unsure how to compete for attention with the men around them.

Then I see the stupid puerile misogynistic manner with which some of the more powerful voices in the tech community – some of them repeat offenders – treat women, and it makes me very cross indeed. The objectification of women is bad enough when it’s done by the media, but when it’s done by a conference organiser or tech commentator or famous tech publication, what message does it send? Nothing but “You will never be taken seriously, but we might take notice of you if you’re hot.”

But what to do? Well, let’s pull back from the anger a little, and start to look instead at why it might be that women feel less secure in their abilities than most men, and what might help change that. Undoubtedly it’s a complex issue, but recent research may shed some light: Psychologist Penelope Lockwood discovered that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male ones.

Well, that’s a relatively simple problem to begin to address. If women need female role models, let’s come together to highlight the women in technology that we look up to. Let’s create new role models and make sure that whenever the question “Who are the leading women in tech?” is asked, that we all have a list of candidates on the tips of our tongues.

Thus was born Ada Lovelace Day, and this pledge:

“I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same.”

— Suw Charman-Anderson (contact)

Deadline to sign up by: 24th March 2009

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

It doesn’t matter how new or old your blog is, what gender you are, what language you blog in, or what you normally blog about – everyone is invited to take part. All you need to do is sign up to this pledge and then publish your blog post any time on Tuesday 24th March 2009. If you’re going to be away that day, feel free to write your post in advance and set your blogging system to publish it that day.

You’ll notice that I’ve asked for 1,000 people to sign the pledge, which is an ambitious number. Indeed, PledgeBank makes a pretty strong point during the pledge creation process of asking people to limit their requests to 20 people, but I am sure that over the next 77 days we’ll be able to find another 989 people to join us!

What can you do?
Obviously, and most importantly, please sign the pledge. If you already have a blog, then it will be easy for you to take part. If you don’t have a blog, this might be a great reason to start one! It’ll take you about five minutes to get yourself set up on WordPress and then you’ll be up and running!

Please also consider putting a pledge badge on your blog now or writing a short post about the project to help spread the word. You can also use the “Share This” link on the pledge itself to send the pledge to your favourite social bookmarking or news site, or to email it to a friend. The more people who send this link to Delicious or Digg and the like, the more likely we are to hit our target!

Also, if you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Jaiku, Identi.ca or any other microconversation tool, please ping a message to all your friends about Ada Lovelace Day, and don’t forget the link! If you’re on LinkedIn, you could also add it as your temporary status for a while.

It is going to be a challenge to hit 1,000 people – we’ll need an average of 13 people signing each day – but if we all tell our friends about it, I think we can do it!

Keep up with Ada Lovelace Day news
I’ve got a Twitter account, mailing list and blog set up, so feel free to follow, subscribe and add to your RSS reader, as you wish!

What will happen next?
If Ada Lovelace Day is a success I’d like to make it an annual event. And, once the economy is in a better position, I’d like to put together a one day conference called Finding Ada. We would cover presentation skills and would introduce women to tech conference organisers, with the aim of getting more women up on stage at tech conferences. At the moment, I’m short of money to get Finding Ada moving, so if you’d like to be a sponsor please get in touch and I’ll tell you more about it.

Finally, who was Ada?
Ada Lovelace was one of the world’s first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programmes for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Penny Herscher January 6, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Suw – Absolutely!! I’m female tech CEO: a maths grad from Cambridge now with 25 years of tech in silicon valley – and while on many levels things have greatly improved for tech women the latest phase of the tech frat boys around the web industry is pretty disheartening. Yes I’ll sign your pledge – but I’d also point you to the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology http://www.anitaborg.org. Sponored by firms like Google and Microsoft, ABI focuses on programs to keep women engaged in technology despite their environment (I sit on the board).
I built my last company to an IPO and subsequent sale in the semiconductor industry (the first female CEO to do so) and I knew semi was old school. Now my current company, FirstRain, is in the business of using the web for investor research, and while there are a few more women in the blogging world, the culture you have observed is tech frat boy instead of old school white male. It’s a fascinating problem and one we must work to change so that the next generation of smart technical women stay in the tech industry.

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