Sexism in Search & Tech – A Curation of Interesting Articles

Whilst you wouldn’t catch me ever burning a bra or describing myself as a raging feminist, I do have to admit to being deeply interested in the current debate about sexism in search and the wider tech industry. This is in no way a new debate but is one that has been made extremely topical by the release of Sheryl Sanberg’s book; Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. The book has had a bit of a Marmite effect, do a search for reviews and you will find both rave and scathing write ups. Sheryl has come under criticism from feminist groups for placing too much emphasis on the unconfident attitudes of women as opposed to shedding light on cultures of sexism in the workplace. On the other side of the fence the book has been dismissed as yet another whiney girl power manual.

Lean InThere have been so many thought provoking posts around this subject in the last couple of months that I have decided to curate some of what I consider the most interesting for inclusion here. I will share the link to the post as well as a sentence or two on the writer’s main point as it appears to me.

I’m going to start this post with a TED talk from Sheryl Sandberg called ‘Why we have too few women leaders’. It is aimed at women in general as opposed to women in the tech sector but has some very thought provoking points. At the time of the talk she tells us that parliament across the world is made up of only 13% of women whilst in the corporate world women who have c-level jobs and board seats maxes out at 16%. She feels that women face tougher choices between professional success and personal fulfillment. Watch her talk to find out why and how she feels women should ‘lean in’.

• In his post Women are the building blocks of the SEO Industry Barry Schwartz talks about how a lady flagged up a lack of female panel members to him at a conference he was organising. He talks about how he worked to rectify the problem but that it was not as easy as he might have hoped due to the lack of women who pitch to speak at these types of events.

speaker gendersFemale online marketing speaker stats is a substantial and highly interesting post by Marty Weintraub which looks at the number of female Vs male speakers at 19 search industry events. The findings are then discussed by a mixed sex panel of industry experts including Danny Sullivan and Joanna Lord. Across the 19 conferences there was an average of 74.7% male speakers to 25.3% female.

• Lisa Borone, in her post Sexism in Tech – Were not making it up talks about how women are treated when they do choose to speak or attend digital conferences and networking events. She shares the experiences of women who have been groped or propositioned whilst at these types of events. She encourages organisers to create a safer and more welcoming environment (no gatherings at Hooters or use of booth babes – but more on that later!) which women would not be at all apprehensive about coming in to.

• In this post Fighting sexism at digital conferences from State of Search, Barry Adams states that ‘We shouldn’t abide by companies and conferences using objectified women as enticements and attention grabbers’. He feels that a balanced speaker rosta, less booth babes and less laddish behaviour would encourage more women into the tech industry. Olivia Solon at Wired also agrees that it is time to ditch the booth babes.

booth babes• Continuing the booth babe theme, the BBC made this video on the use of booth babes at CES. Definitely worth a watch as it includes comments from women working in the industry who attend these types of conferences as well as comments from the ‘babes’ themselves.

• Ruth Burr, a Lead SEO over at SEOMoz, wrote a post called Things you think aren’t sexist but really are. She discusses the use of pet names, pick-up lines, compliments and sexual innuendo at work and at industry events.

• In her post Women as entertainment in the SEO industry, Jane Copeland shares an experience she had at a conference where a man was angry at her for taking her boyfriend along as ‘all women who attend conferences should be available’. She talks about how she has compared herself to the conference strippers who are used as marketing tools. SEO Oktoberfest anyone?

• Hannah Smith, an SEO Consultant at Distilled, wrote about Why we need to talk about female speakers in search. Coming at it from another angle, she asks why female speakers are generally rated lower than their male counterparts in audience feedback surveys. She wonders whether or not these lower ratings ‘feed the beast’ and put more women off conference speaking.

12 Women we’d love to see speaking more is another great post from Lisa Barone and does exactly what it says on the tin. Her speaker wish list includes people like Jane Copeland, Annie Cushing and Ruth Burr.

This is a subject that has long divided opinion. However, I don’t mind letting you know that my copy of Lean In is well and truly on it’s way!


Note: As I find more articles that fit with this theme I intend to add them into this post below.

Speaking Up – A blog post from designer Sarah Parmenter about an experience she had last year in the week leading up to a speaking engagement. – Added 22/4/12


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