Episode 53: A technical problem

December 1, 2014

"It's not just about women not feeling engineering is their thing...it's about the culture of the place that makes people not want to be there even when they have the skills." - Hannah Kuchler

"The team I'm on, we have a fair number of women programmers...but even then I've had the experience of I say something, and it's just not believed until it's repeated by a guy."    
- Talia Fukuroe

21 minutes.

This has been a big year for stories about women in tech, ranging from depressing tales of sexual harassment at startups to controversy over egg freezing and advice from a prominent CEO on *not* asking for a raise. The spotlight is shining on women in technology far more strongly than when I first covered this topic on the podcast in 2012. Hannah Kuchler

In this episode we focus on Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the world. My first guest is Financial Times reporter Hannah Kuchler. She says women making their way in the heavily male tech space face obstacles large and small - and not all of them are discussed publicly for fear of retribution. Talia Fukuroe knows some of this first hand. She works for a Silicon Valley company she says is trying really hard to get things right for female employees. But the gender ratio means that just being female can present a few problems on the job - problems that can't be taken care of by company policy.

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Episode 24: Women in tech speak up

August 5, 2013

"The truth is that women face a different judgment from the audience than men do, and a lot of women know that."

- Chrys Wu, co-organizer, <Write/Speak/Code>

If you follow the tech space maybe you read this post last year, which really did the rounds on social media - How I Got 50% Women Speakers at my Tech Conference. The fact is, it's very difficult to get a decent number of women speakers and panelists at a tech conference. Women are a minority in the technology space to begin with, and they're far less visible in the industry than men - not just because there are fewer of them, but because the ones there are tend not to become 'thought leaders' (i.e. write and speak publicly about the industry and gain a huge following in the process) or contribute much to open source software projects. 

Attendees study speaking materials on public speaking day at Write/Speak/Code

But it's not just women in tech who don't 'put themselves out there'. Let's face it, no matter what women do for a living, they're far less likely than men to feel comfortable in any kind of spotlight. The Write/Speak/Code conference set out to change that. Tune in to hear three different voices discussing

  • Why women have trouble saying what we think in a professional context
  • Why it's hard for women to claim expertise (and how to get over that)
  • The importance of speaking in public
  • Bluffing 
  • Why being referred to as a 'woman in technology' is incredibly irritating

 10 minutes. You can read the full transcript for the show below.


Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, we drop in on a conference aimed at women in technology. In an early episode of the show we talked about how few women work in technology and why. But for those women who are pursuing careers in tech…it can feel lonely out there. Relatively few women are out in public writing blog posts or op-eds about their subject, or speaking at conferences. Lots of men are doing both.

“The truth is that women face a different judgment from the audience than men do, and a lot of women know that. And they’re not necessarily eager to put themselves up on a stage where the first comment or the first thought amongst the audience is, why are you even up there, what do YOU know?”

Coming up on The Broad Experience.

Earlier this summer I dropped in on a conference for women technologists. It was held in New York and it was called Write/Speak/Code. The idea was to make women in tech who want to be a bit more visible in their industry comfortable with publishing pieces about what they do, speaking in public, and contributing more to open source software. Rebecca Miller Webster is a software developer and it was her idea it was to put on this conference. She told me open source software is a bit like Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, in that anyone can contribute – in this case, they’re contributing code. So why do so few women add anything to open source projects?

“I think there’s a lot of reasons for that…I think the biggest one is that people find it very intimidating, you know, your code is in the open, people see it, they can comment on it, so we’re sort of trying to address a lot of that because at Write/Speak/Code we believe all of these women can speak and contribute to open source so how do we get them to take those next steps...obviously there are systemic reasons for why women don’t participate more, but there are personal reasons as well – we’re socialized not to speak out, you know, as women in tech we’re already sort of an anomaly so you often don’t want to completely draw attention to yourself,  and all of those sorts of things, so we’re trying to address those more personal, emotional reasons.”

I also sat down with Chrys Wu, a co-organizer of the conference. Chrys is a journalist, a coder, and she founded the Hacks/Hackers group in New York, which gets web developers and journalists together.

AM-T: “So could you just expand a little bit on why the women who do work in tech are not very visible?”

“Because there are a lot of reasons it’s a little bit of a hard question to answer. Sometimes the conferences are looking for big names and of course the big names tend to be people who are more senior in a company, which isn’t necessarily a lot of women. Women on the whole don’t make up a lot of the developer population, period. It’s just a ratio thing. It is a big hurdle to overcome. That said there are a lot of women who are working who are not necessarily at the C level or at the director level but know a lot. So the hard part then becomes finding them, just looking for them. That’s one thing…another is…we’re going to need to pause, gather my thoughts…

AM-T: “I know it’s a really multi-faceted beast…”

“It really is…but another reason why you probably don’t see a lot of women speakers is that women on the whole are not really encouraged to come and stand up on stage for example. Um, I mean the truth is that women face a different judgment from the audience than men do and a lot of women know that…and they’re not necessarily eager to put themselves up on a stage where the first comment or the first thought amongst the audience is going to be why are you even up there, what do you know about being an engineer or being a coder? That doesn’t happen everywhere but there is sometimes that perception, so there are women who just don’t want to put themselves in that position. The third thing is there are plenty of women who are really, really smart, have a lot of experience, who know their subject, but just are afraid of public speaking just like everybody else. “

 Fade into sound of class taking place]

 “…sometimes they’ll ask for reviewers’ notes and this is usually where you have an opportunity to say, ‘I think I should talk about this because I’m qualified, this topic is timely, things like that, so especially if you’ve never talked before this can be a really good opportunity to sort of let the reviewer know what your motivations are…”

[Fade out]

I told Chrys Wu that when it comes to talking or writing, it seems so much harder for women to put a stake in the ground regarding our beliefs – whatever we do for a living.

AM-T: “That seems to be something that in general men are better at just putting themselves out there and saying I think this…and, they don’t have any qualms about putting their opinion out there in the world, whereas women are much likelier to sort of second guess ourselves and think, well who am I to say that or do that?”

“Yeah, for sure. And that’s one of the things that we’re helping these women overcome. And it’s not just through the workshops. But you know this morning - today is our speak day, it’s all about public speaking and we had a panel of four women developers who answered that very question. And they said you know, honestly, like, men bluff it all the time – as a woman, we tend to be more modest in our thinking…

AM-T: And a bit more purist, like…I can’t bluff it – you can’t bluff things!”

“Exactly, exactly, but the truth is that what you need to know to give a talk or to write about something is to assimilate the information and be confident about what you’re talking about. In the case of public speaking they were saying even if it’s something you just learned, the fact you now know it it gives you the authority to talk about it and explain it to other people.”

“Sounds simple but for a lot of us feeling like an expert on something was part of, I guess part of the journey we were trying to get through at this conference…”

That’s Aimee Simone – she’s a software developer at a tech startup in Orlando, Florida, who came up to New York for the conference. She says the instructors actually had the women practice stating that they were an expert in something, out loud, in front of the class. They had to say their name, what they did for a living, and then finally say what they were an expert in and why.

“It was hard for people to say that they were an expert in anything. That was something we had to say a few times with help from the instructors. So that was what contributed most to my confidence level when I left.”

She is an expert in Ruby on Rails, a programming language.

Whether she likes it or not.

Part of the reason Aimee came to Write/Speak/Code was to improve her speaking skills…although she’d already taken the plunge and spoken at a big Ruby on Rails conference earlier this year – Ruby on Rails is a programming language.

So how did that feel?

“Oh, I was terrified. Afterwards though I felt like I was floating on a cloud. I was just so happy, partially that it was over, because the couple of weeks leading up to it were pretty stressful…”

As they tend to be when any big event looms. She’d always thought, maybe I’ll speak at a conference someday…

“Which, some day is a dangerous phrase because it usually doesn’t come. I didn’t trip and fall on my face, and I remembered everything I was going to say. Some people even came up at the end to talk to me. It was really different – a really different experience being on the other side of the conference presentation.”

One she hopes to repeat with the skills and confidence she acquired during Write/Speak/Code.

Finally, I asked Chrys Wu about something that bugs a lot of women in technology – being spoken about specifically as…women in technology…

“I mean personally I struggle with this a lot as well, this notion of OK, so you’re a woman, you’ve got to be out there and be an example, pave a path and all this other stuff… It’s just, but why, you know? [laughs] I do this because I like it and not because of my gender. Obviously I recognize that I’m a woman and other people do too, but I don’t want people to think about it in the context of oh, a woman did this, which somehow makes it weird and different. So I kind of do fall into that category of women who work in technology who are just like, I’m normal.  Right, exactly, I just happen to do this: focus on my work and not the shape of my body or my gender. But that said, because I am, I’m also a non-white person, right? I also understand the need and the historical importance of people who are not the norm putting themselves out there and taking whatever comes, both the bad and the good.”

Chrys Wu, who helped organize the Write/Speak/Code conference.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. You can comment on this episode at The Broad Experience dot com or on the show’s Facebook page.

The Broad Experience is supported by the Mule Radio Syndicate, which hosts a whole collection of podcasts, including Here Be Monsters, Running from the Law…and Everything Sounds.

This will be the last show for a few weeks – I’m taking a break to do some teaching and to work on gathering interviews for new shows. I’ll see you in September.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. 

Episode 13: When women ask women for a raise

March 4, 2013

In this show we look at women and negotiating, but from an angle I'd never thought about until recently. What happens when a female employee asks a female boss for more money? Many women claim female managers recoil when they ask them for a raise. Why? And we return to the topic of women in technology. Why do so many women who work at tech companies perform 'emotional labor' roles rather than technological ones? 14 minutes. 

Show notes: here's the full story behind Ashley Welde's attempts to get a raise from her female managers (including details of who finally gave her a raise, un-asked). One thing I couldn't fit in the story is that Ashley's experiences have put her off female bosses. She prefers men because she believes they are likelier to advocate for her. Forbes Woman contributor Susannah Breslin feels the same way about male bosses, though for different reasons. Thoughts?

Sara Laschever is co-author of two books on women and negotiating and travels throughout the US giving workshops and talks on this topic.

Here's the piece in Dissent magazine about ex-Facebook worker Katherine Losse and the culture of Silicon Valley, which got Lauren Bacon thinking. Losse's book is The Boy Kings. And here's Lauren's blog post, 'Women in Tech and Empathy Work', which spurred our conversation.

Outtakes from 'women in tech', episode 3 of The Broad Experience

May 15, 2012

I got so much good, uncensored stuff from my interviews with Vivek Wadhwa, Gina Trapani and Adda Birnir that I decided to put up a few outtakes that didn't make it into the final podcast. I'd love to know what you think. 

First, Gina on something I had never thought about before.

Second, Adda on the tech startup scene, and on how to make technology feel less exclusive.

And finally, Vivek Wadhwa on the pushback he got from some women in the tech industry when he started writing and talking about the lack of women in Silicon Valley.

I'd be very curious to know if this last comment rings bells for anyone. Fair, or not?

Episode three: women and technology

May 5, 2012
Women are avid users of technology, but few of us work in the field. In fact fewer women graduate with computer science degrees today than they did in the '80s. I'm your typical technophobe. Yes, I use technology all the time, but I've never learned how to code and frankly I've always though it's best to leave these things to the experts. 

Listen to this segment to find out why I'm completely wrong, and how any of us can become experts - as well as why it is that tech has been a male-dominated industry for so long. Great guests again this week, from Vivek Wadhwa in Silicon Valley to tech star and founder of Lifehacker Gina Trapani, to my fellow CUNY entrepreneurial journalism fellow Adda Birnir of Skillcrush.