Traveling Geeks, men and women

The Traveling Geeks have come to London and Cambridge UK.  According to their website, "The Traveling Geeks are an informal group of technology influencers and bloggers rooted chiefly in the San Francisco Bay Area. We're traveling to London and Cambridge in July 2009 as part of Innovation UK. We like to report on innovative technologies through blogs, video, podcasts and social networks." Welcome to Europe, that sounds like a lot of fun and I'm sorry I missed you guys this time.

They attended a Reboot Britain event on July 6th, where Renee Blodgett blogs about a panel titled "Is the web female?"  Renee brings up several points that resonate with my thinking.

Kudos for the person who accepted this topic into the agenda. The issue is often avoided by both women and men, because it's not regarded as politically correct to talk about gender, when we should be talking about technology, or because people find it in generally uncomfortable and prefer to avoid talking about "these things". Also, I'm not afraid to say that there are those who think that the current state works in their benefit, either men who feel powered by the fact that they "know more about these things" than women, and women who feel they have more power because they are only few of their kind in the group.

Once in a while I question a line-up of a leadership team, board, or a tech forum inside our industry, and often get a friendly response on how my observation is correct, and then an excuse why these selections were made, and a promise to improve in the future. Sometimes I get no response, sometimes my question is forwarded to HR which is always a dead-end. During the 9 years I've been around mobile tech, I haven't seen much change.

Renee writes that sometimes women disguise themselves as men in Second Life or chat rooms because it feels safe. The fact that women authors often disguise their first name by using initials is the same category of behavior, or when one of the panelists on Monday said that she does a lot of "masculine" things in the web. What "masculine" things? I think she's afraid that by being labeled feminine she would be labeled lesser, or weaker. What is masculine and feminine in the web, anyway? I would have hoped that the panel had gone deeper into this topic.

A surprise to me was Renee's comment, when after a general thought had been that the tech is not geared more towards male, that these people hadn't been to Silicon Valley. I've been to SV and elsewhere in the US for some tens of times, lived there for a year, and can say that SV is much more women friendly than the "equal" Nordic countries when it comes to women getting an equal opportunity in technology. During the past year I've had two Californian people (one man and one woman) who spend time in Finland comment to me how women are side-lined here in the tech business. Visits to London are also very nice for me, when walk in an open office and see a lot of women coding and doing the "real stuff", as they say.

The key point to me in Renee's entry, however was this sentence: "Masculine energy drives a lot of the UI decisions in many of my past experiences". Spot on! Also "clarity and friendliness and making it easier to find things on the web", as stated by Meghan Asha, one of the traveling geeks. These are things that I keep hearing about from my women friends and colleagues all the time. Women find it in general difficult to understand why the UIs are so complicated that you need a manual to operate a simple mobile phone. It doesn't make any sense. And then you get some arrogant guys throwing in comments like "if technology is too difficult for you, then perhaps you should stay away from it..."

(stand by for the results from survey later this year)

I've seen and heard countless times how UI designers who listen to anthropologists, social and behavioral science people, have designed a fantasticly simple and easy to use interface, and how an engineer comes along and says "this can't be implemented. I'll do it my way". This is of course a bit shortend and perhaps slightly exaggerated imaginary discussion, but things along these lines happen all the time in all tech companies. And often the people who studied human behavior and user patterns, and who turned those observations into a user interface are women. And the coder who doesn't appreciate this work, is often of course a man. Thank goodness for Apple for bringing the iPhone UI into the market, that has put generated a flurry of action into the mobile industry. I wonder if Apple has more women working for them than the industry average. I wouldn't be too surprised.

Finally, a quote from Renee that I can also happily sign: "One of the things women do online is get things done. It’s all about efficiency. Meghan feels that if women were involved earlier on, there would be more group regulation around commentaries on social forums and that technology would be more practical and efficient. More practical and efficient? I couldn’t agree more." Of course men also get things done, but we shouldn't forget who we are designing the devices for, 50% women and 50% men. Listening to, and giving a voice to the other 50% of customers cannot hurt anybody.

The Traveling Geeks are seven men and five women, a fantastic ratio which you cannot find in most company leadership teams.

Sarah Lucy and Meghan Asha, the traveling geeks.
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