A few days ago I clicked a link in Twitter to read this post wondering where the women in WordPress are. Since I am one, I’m pretty interested in the topic.
After all, there’s a gender gap in pretty much every industry. Even though we make up 57% of all college graduates, leave with a higher GPA and pay the same amount for our educations we still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That’s a loss of almost half a million dollars over a 40 year career.
I mean, for God’s sake, a few days ago Steve Kush, the executive director of the Bernalillo County Republican Party in New Mexico, called a 19-year-old Working America volunteer a “radical bitch” on Twitter, following it up with a tweet about how she was “hot enough to almost make me register democrat”. And that’s not tech. That’s every single industry there is. But after reading the post, I didn’t see my experience as a woman in WordPress reflected in it. So I decided to write about *my* experience as a woman who has worked on the web for 17 years and WordPress for the last five.
I want to start this off by saying that everyone has their own experiences and opinions on this topic. My goal isn’t to tell anyone they’re “doing it wrong” or that how they feel isn’t valid. This post is to share my personal experience in the industry and talk about how I am personally working to make my own change instead of waiting for change to happen organically or asking for someone else to change the industry for me. If your experience is different, please, share it! Until we’re ready to have an open conversation about the topic and become an active part of the solution, nothing’s gonna change.
To give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I’ve been working on the web for 17 years, in companies ranging from a skateboard manufacturer (made up primarily of 16-29 year old dudes) to a scrapbooking magazine (dominated by women–I think there were 10 men in the entire industry). For the last five years, I’ve worked with WordPress and the Genesis framework exclusively. Maybe I’ve been fortunate, but in all of that time I’ve never once felt like I was being discredited, passed over or sidelined for being a woman. Some of that, I’m sure, is simply good fortune, but I think the majority of the reason is that I expect to be respected and treated as an equal. Here are five of the things I do to make sure I am:
1. Respect is mutual (i.e. don’t be a dick back)
If we want men to respect us, we should respect them back. I know I would get tired of constantly being told I’m a pimply faced nerd with no social skills who doesn’t know how to talk to girls. When I think about my professional network in the WordPress world, I don’t see that stereotype at all. People like Brian Gardner, Bill Erickson, Chris Lema, Dre Armeda, Steve Zehngut, Austin Gunter and too many others to list here have always treated me with the utmost respect. Not a single one of them is a sausage-fest-y member of the He-man Woman Haters Club. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that if I were to stop waxing (getting old sucks, y’all) and take up smoking they’d gladly let me show up at a BeardPress event to smoke stogies and drink scotch. They’re just cool like that.
2. Use your voice
There was a huge kerfuffle a while back at PyCon. You can read more about it here if you’re so inclined. In a nutshell, a couple of guys were making some Beavis and Butthead level jokes about forking code with their big dongles. Instead of calling them out on what she felt was an inappropriate conversation, a woman there publicly shamed them on Twitter, complete with a picture of the men. Two people lost their jobs (including the woman who sent the Tweet). And it made for quite the Twitter Outrage Event for several days. Now, I probably wouldn’t have been offended at that, since I’m basically a 14 year old boy trapped in a 40 year old woman’s body. It’s likely I would have thrown gas on the fire with inappropriately snarky comments of my own.
But I *have* been in situations where I didn’t agree with the conversation going on. At my first WordCamp, I was stoked to be sitting at a table with a bunch of “big dogs”. I didn’t know everyone at the table, but I knew they were all kind of a big deal. I overheard one of them say something about “the f***ing Mommybloggers.” At the time, I had two themes for Mommybloggers in the StudioPress store. I felt like a woman-specific industry I was deeply involved in was being called out as less valuable than other business verticals. And it made me really, really mad.
I could have sat there and stewed, or posted a gripe on Twitter, or written a “pimply faced nerd-boys can suck it” blog post. Instead I spoke up and said “Those Mommybloggers are responsible for the success of my business, and it sounds like they’re responsible for a lot of yours–so why talk shit?” (FYI: if you haven’t met me in person, I tend to have a mouth that makes my truck-driving uncle blush.) The mood at that table went from woo-hoo to WTF in 0.7 seconds. When the silence became excruciating instead of just awkward I excused myself, and felt like an idiot for calling out someone who was at the top of the food chain in such a public and direct manner. This particular story has a great ending, though–at a party later in the evening that guy was in a group of people I was talking to. We wound up having an awesome discussion about Mommybloggers and their place in the industry and drank a beer and laughed about the awkwardness after I dropped a word-bomb at the lunch table and had a great time hanging out.
But if I’d kept my mouth shut and stewed about it, I may have left the conference feeling like “Man, they sure do disrespect women at that company.” Instead we had a discussion and everyone left feeling good about the conversation. Even more valuable was that it made me think a lot about the effect that segment of the community was having on WordPress as a whole. It was actually pretty awesome.
3. Show up
If you’re lamenting the lack of women in WordPress, start showing up! Go to WordCamps and Meetups. Engage in conversations on Twitter and G+ with people you respect. Get involved with support forums or contributing to core. Ask for opportunities. I went to an Advanced WordPress Meetup last night. There were 11 guys at the table and me. These guys are scary-smart developers. 60% of the stuff they say whizzes over my head so fast I’m afraid it might scalp me. But I show up, and ask questions, and offer my opinion on topics that I do know a lot about, even if it isn’t making OOP plugins or multidimensional arrays. And every single guy there has been more than willing to not only walk me through things I may not understand, they’re willing to listen to what I have to say as well. Visibility for women in the community only happens if you bother to show up.
4. Look around—we’re here already
I actually think that, as far as tech goes, WordPress is one of the most open and accessible communities for women. I remember being blown away at the number of women who were at the first WordCamp I attended. It was the first tech conference I’d ever been to that gave you the option of ordering shirts sized for women, because there were enough of us attending to make it an issue. It’s probably because there are already a huge number of women who kick all kinds of ass in the WordPress community. There’s no way I can list them all, but some of the most influential ones for me are Andrea Rennick, Jessica Barnard, Megan Gray, Lauren Restored, Shannon Dow, Linsdey Riel, Heather Jones, Joelle Reeder, Suzette Franck, Lisa Sabin-Wilson and Carrie Dils. I’m sure I’m missing loads of them, so add your favorites to the comments below! I only see the industry coming more into balance as WordPress grows.
5. Be the change
Not happy with the status quo? Work on changing it. I’m not a huge proponent of women-only tech events, since I want to learn from anyone who is awesome. I totally cracked up when Mandie Shaner tweeted “I’ll start paying attention to the ‘women in tech’ posts when we all start actually building internet things using our genitals.”
I see that as a valid opinion when it comes to writing code or other concepts that aren’t affected by gender. But what about things like negotiating salaries and rates? It’s fairly well known that women do a less effective job than men at that task. We are less likely to highlight our accomplishments, believe we’re worth more money, are worried about people liking us, and other things that are probably related to our moms telling us things like “Nice girls don’t do that.” So I’d love to see some women-specific events that address the things in our industry that *are* holding us back because of our gender.
For example, the business track at WCSD this year was awesome and I learned a lot–but I’d love to see a woman who owns a WordPress-powered business talking about her unique perspective on success at a future conference. We *do* approach certain things differently, and it would be really interesting to compare the approaches where everyone has access to a different perspective. I don’t want us to segregate women (or men) into a gender ghetto, but I do think we have valuable lessons in learning how different genders approach common business problems.