Through this week of Grace Hopper Recaps, I’ve mentioned more than once that I’m the one female in my office and that got me sent to the conference. I wasn’t the only one in my office to go. One of our senior engineers accompanied me, or rather I accompanied a male engineer to a conference with nearly three thousand women.
The conference was hectic. We both ran interviews for nearly every waking hour. Him more than me, as he started at the same time every morning but would leave an hour later. I would have time off the booth to catch a few sessions and he just burned through. I honestly wish I paid more attention. After the conference closed down, a few of us hit the complementary happy hour provided by Embassy Suites. He said something I did not expect. He felt a bit awkward, and he felt he understood what it must have been like being the only girl in our department.
I was taken back. As I mentioned before, I never really had that problem and I relayed the story with the student from the Yahoo! Breakfast. He was appalled. He had never run into the whole Brogramming culture. Or at least never had to work in it. I told him exactly what I told that student: I always felt respected by our team. He was visibly relieved. The last thing he wanted, he declared, was for me to feel separated. He said that they wanted more women in Sports! He wanted me to know that I was always a good Engineer, and that’s what mattered. There is something both flattering and validating about that.
He also mentioned that he was glad he was only doing interviews and not manning the booth. The girls did not seem to want to talk to him. It was understandable, it was a woman’s conference. The natural expectation is that the booth be run by women. Now that I felt bad about. I have been to conferences before, usually for gaming or AJAX, where I would be at the booth, waving my arms and calling out to the booth people only to get passed over for other engineers who happened to be male. I don’t remember which booths specifically did this, I simply remember that it had happened.
It is not a good feeling. And I hate that he felt like that.
It’s really not fair, is it? A conference like this should be for the promotion of women and gender equality in the industry, not flip the tables once we have the slightest bit of leverage.
I know for our engineer, he was never really alone, whether he liked it or not. Someone from our group was always around. I really thought about it. The pattern did not happen just for him, but all the men I did see there. They all had their little group to hover around them, but while girls were there to socialize, once the interviews were done they essentially were out of the picture. It was even pointed out during the keynotes that men were the minority.
That isn’t a victory. Everyone who threw a fit because of the JavaOne incident should look clearly on this. It’s the same thing. “Explain it to a woman?” How about completely shutting out men? The men who attended Grace Hopper did so because they wanted Good Engineers in their team. They knew women make Good Engineers. Those are the ones we singled out and ostracized. It’s good for everyone to be able to sympathize. It’s horrible that we don’t recognize that for change to happen, these men will be needed. They don’t just see women as equals, but they also see the need for change.
I won’t make the same mistake. The next time, I will engage them. Socialize. I will try to make them feel as welcome as any student who passed by our booth. I hope I’m not the only one.