Making Ada Feel at Home


Today is Ada Lovelace day, and I am a man. That means that I can never truly understand any of the challenges women in technology face. I can tell girls about all the women who have changed the world, but outside of my family, my impact will be limited.

I can make sure that the girls that choose a career in technology are welcome and encourage them to stay in technology. I make sure that every industry group with whom I participate is welcoming of all participants.

At least I thought that was the case.

Reflections on an Invite

After one local event this summer, I was sitting at a bar having a drink with the organizer and one of the participants. Both were woman. We were discussing the turnout and why it wasn’t as high as we thought it should have been. One of the thoughts was that the offer of free drinks wasn’t called out in the meeting description.

Let’s face the facts. Free alcohol equals more attendees.

Then something surprising happened. They starting talking about how at some local events, only beer was offered and that it is a problem for some people, including themselves. One of the women doesn’t like beer and the other has a strong preference for wine.

When they see an announcement for an event and it only mentions beer, they are unlikely to attend. They aren’t sure that they’ll have anything other than water to drink and their experience are that those events draw significantly less woman than other events.

This isn’t always a reflection upon the organizers. One relayed a story of how she had mentioned the lack of wine at the event discouraging woman from attending. He confessed that it hadn’t even occurred to him that it would have that effect and would add wine to the next meeting.

To be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me either.

Monktoberfest the Awesome, but…

I want to start by saying that Monktoberfest was awesome. It was welcoming of everyone. It had some incredible women speaking and every attendee I met was intelligent and engaging. The beers that were paired with the dinner were excellent. Most wine drinkers would have enjoyed a good number of the beers.

I highly recommend you attend if you are in the development or open source world. I am going to be attending as often as possible.

When I look at the Monktoberfest website in the light of the above conversation, I wonder how some female technologists react. Would they see the craft beer references and decide that the event wasn’t for them? It would be a shame if they did because it is a great event.

I know the RedMonk founders well enough to know that they are extremely supportive of woman in technology. I have seen and heard them trying to find more female speakers for their events. They have been part of serious discussions on how to get more woman into technology.

I would never want RedMonk to change their event. It is a great event. I wonder if they mentioned on the Monktoberfest website that they had wine or made explicit statements that liking beer is not a requirement, if they would get more female attendees.

It is the impression, not the intentions, that encourages people.

The Next Event

If you are planning an event, be it for the local community or in the office, ask yourself this question.

Is there anything that will discourage ANYONE from attending?

Better yet, ask a woman for their opinion. When they offer a suggestion, don’t dismiss it. Seriously consider it and implement it if feasible.

When it comes to making sure that they stay there, it is up to us to make sure that they feel welcome, both consciously and subconsciously.

3 thoughts on “Making Ada Feel at Home

  1. I think you make an important point, but I think the impact is even broader.

    As a Mormon, I am uncomfortable with the role alcohol plays in many technical gatherings. I find that my Muslim co-workers often feel the same way. Drinking culture is a big part of many technical conferences, and that influences who will attend.

    That doesn’t mean that I think events like Monktoberfest need to change; I just know they aren’t for me. I think it is important progress that conference organizers like us are more aware of how the structure of our events cause attendees to self-select. I am grateful for the variety of high quality technical events available, and am encouraged by the trend to make each event more welcoming to a diverse audience when it can be done without altering the fundamental character of the event.

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    • Richard, you raise some very good points. I personally think that for a VAST majority of technology events, alcohol can be served but they should in no way be central to the event itself. The goal is to get people to network and talk, not to drink. If serving drinks keeps the attendees in one room and mingling instead of heading out to other locations, that benefits the conference.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts.

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