What are our personal policies about fair treatment and how do they interact with the reality of our communities?
Some important quotes:
As I imagined how the women I invited must have felt, being discounted immediately on their arrival, previously unnoticed details became warning signs.
All-male guest lists. Guest lists with only one or two women, especially if they had RSVPed shortly after the meetup was announced; would they be showing up now that they knew how overwhelmingly male the event would be? Venues in neighborhoods with high crime rates. Events hosted at bars. No code of conduct, no policies of any kind. All things that seemed innocuous to my younger self, blinded by privilege.
We naïvely thought we were a victim of the demographics of the tech industry as a whole: few among us were women, even fewer participated in meetups, and none of them had happened to join us.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of that error was how it deterred us from publishing our better inclusiveness policies in a useful way. The group was explicitly apolitical, and we feared entering such a polarized space. Besides the concern that we would seem condescending, there was sentiment that we would be seen as a rights group. While that would have been a gross violation of our apolitical stance, the fact that inclusiveness policies or supporting tech community minority groups might be seen as “political” in the first place is deeply disturbing. Since when was respect for others a political belief?
And a thought of my own that reccurred throughout this piece as the writer (a trans woman thinking back about a time when she presented as male) reiterated how welcoming and generally ‘different’ the group considered itself: if you are an all male* group, or you are a man in a mostly male group, and you think your group is inclusive and welcoming of women, the changes that it isn’t are incredibly high.
I say this as someone who used to launch herself into groups regardless of dominant gender, but who had been slapped hard enough and often enough with the casual sexism endemnic to such places to know that it is there and that the men in those groups won’t see it.
Yes, aiming to be inclusive and welcoming is good, but you need to recognise that you’re going to have blind spots and problematic behaviours resulting from those blind spots. And that why ensuring that a significant number of women speakers being present is important to attracting women, and publishing codes of conduct matters. Because you have to make it clear to us that we will not be in the minority in order for your event to actually be a safe environment, and you have to have a code of conduct to enforce that, and to demonstrate to us not only that you mean well, but that you mean to be held accountable for any failings and take action where they arise.
Don’t sit there telling yourself that your all-male or mostly male group isn’t problematic and all you have to do is get women to come along so that they can see that. It is going to be problematic until sufficiently many women are there. You’re lucky in that so many women are NOT wilting flowers and are prepared to go into spaces where they know they will be in a minority. It’s not a catch-22 situation. Change can happen. But you damn sure have to show up demonstrating that you will support women if they do come.
*Granted, the situation is unusual here as there was a woman who was not presenting as a woman in the mix, I honestly wouldn’t want to speculate on any difference that might have made - I don’t know. My comments here are inspired by rather than directed at the writer, who is a woman writing about a mostly male group.