Last week I went to #startupfest in Montreal. I was there on vacation (meaning I was not there representing Dell in any way). It was great. I could go to sessions, I could hang out with people, I could pay attention to what I wanted to pay attention to. And Montreal is definitely my new favorite city. If only it didn’t snow there, it would be perfect.
I will write another post about my take-aways from the conference. Here’s a hint – planning and executing a startup is just biz dev! Not sure why that is so shocking to me, but it was a nice reminder for me that the struggles we face in large organizations also challenge scrappy startups.
Was startupfest sexist?
I want to address a post that was written by Shannon Smith titled the Price of Admission. Shannon wasn’t happy with an event held during startupfest called The Granny’s Den. I also think she was very (understandably) angry because she was pulled from participating at the last minute in favor of a sponsor.
Disclosures: Before I go on any further, let me disclose that I’m friends with one of the organizers. My friend Julie also wrote a blog post describing her experience working with the ladies of the granny’s den and it sounded fabulous….put some experienced women in front of these cocky boys and knock some sense into them. I’ve written many posts of the challenges of being female in the high tech industry. Also, I guess I should also say that my children are old enough for me to be a grandmother, so I was defenitely one of the old ladies at this event (somehow that is more palatable than granny for me..).
I also want to point out that participants in the event weren’t free from sexist behavior. I tweeted this during the conference:
It really pissed me off. A very young guy said it to me, and I honestly wanted to punch him. In the face. Instead I told him what I did for work and asked a lot of hard questions. And then I vented with my guy pals who were part of the conversation. The kid was sorta lacking social skills and had annoyed the guys at well. That ‘s not an excuse – but maybe an opportunity.
That being said, I didn’t feel that the conference was sexist. There were lots more women than there are normally at enterprise tech events. I had that one issue, but otherwise I had deep technical conversations with men and women. I had a great time.
So what happened?
How can one conference been seen so differently by members of the same community? I think its the filters we all have. I know the person who organized the granny’s den, so I had a head start with understanding his intent, where he was coming from, what he wanted to accomplish. Maybe that could have been articulated better. It would also be great to know what role the grannies will play next year, or what happens from any relationships they began during startupfest. So maybe the lesson is – make your intent crystal clear. Report back on the impact your event had in six months or a year.
I have no idea what happened to bump Shannon for a sponsor, but perhaps that is an area to look at how things are perceived by others. Someone who was put off by the premise of part of the conference, still agreed to participate, and then was asked not to participate. That would put any one off.
It should be ok for someone to raise problems they see from their vantage point. I think telling someone to get over it is the worst thing we can do. We need to talk about this openly, we need to help each other understand how words and actions impact others.
We also have to give people the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t mean to offend with something they said. Like the awkward kid who pissed me off …. I know he didn’t even realize what he said to me. I’m still wondering how I could have handled that better so he won’t do it again to someone else.
I had so much trouble writing this post…maybe that is the problem. We don’t seem to have the collective vocabulary, customs, and rituals to come to a common understanding of the issues that impact women in technology. There has to be a place for women to tell the bad stories, for men to react, and for all of us to get to the next level. I don’t think we’re there.
What will get us there? I’m not sure. Keeping communication open, realizing we need everyone to be in (men and women) to have balance and to be successful. Not marginalizing people who feel the need to point out flaws, and not assuming the worst when someone pisses us off so bad when want to punch them in the face.
Here’s my idea – maybe next year I can do a panel on what.not.to.say. And I will shake in fear if the grannies are in the audience….I can only imagine what my mother would say. What ideas do you have?