Geeks speak, and everything changes, if only a little bit

BlogHer Original Post

Can't we all just get along? (And not only that, connect and network and mentor each other?) That was the sentiment expressed by what seemed like an under-represented group of BlogHers.

I'm talking about the geeks. (Hmmm? Forgot about us?) :D

The highlight of the entire BlogHer Conference for me was the Deeply Geeky session -- and I'm not just saying that because I was on the panel. This was a session full of passion and insight, and I really feel like people walked into the room as individuals, but walked out with a sense of, if not solidarity, than connectedness. We are not alone.

Deeply Geeky chart"How many of you consider yourselves geeks?" Nearly everyone's hands go up.

"How many of you are self-taught?" Again, nearly everyone raises a hand.

"How many of you were mentored?" Five, maybe ten hands, out of a room of, what, 70 or 80 women.

That says a lot.

From the very start, we panelists -- Melanie Swan, mir verberg, Nancy White and myself -- wanted our "panel discussion" to really be an un-panel. Who were we to speak for everyone? I certainly did not want to be part of a pontification session. No, we wanted to engage the "audience" and make them be participants.

As a result, 97% (or so it seemed; maybe a geek will add up the minutes when the podcast goes live) of the hour and a half was filled with women standing up, taking the mic, and opening their hearts.

"Why are so few women able to find mentoring?" There was a lot of opinion on that: because men won't mentor women; because women aren't in positions to mentor other women; because women won't mentor women; because women aren't getting hired in the first place.... The answers were not at all unanimous.

Women stood up, took the mic, and took issue with what others said. It wasn't nasty or contrarian, but spirited. The whole room was in on the conversation. Some women stood up and laid their hearts out, sharing their passion for what they do, often with tears -- not of victimhood, but of joy, of determination, of speaking from the core of their beings. (Yeah, it sounds corny to read it, but I swear it's true.)
"Are women victims of chauvinism?" Yes. No. Maybe. So what? Duh! "Is it worse in tech than other fields?" Yes. No. Maybe. So what? Duh!

"Why are women uncomfortable assessing their own ability?"

"Why don't women get hired into management?"

"Why are women so often assumed to be incompetent technically?"

"Why are so many women entrepreneurs, yet so few are CEOs of larger concerns?"

"How do you deal with the jerks?"

"What can women do to change this?" Fight. Do better. Network better. Be more assertive. Change the culture. Estroswarm (a hiliarious word tossed out by Liza Sabater).
One of the most gratifying things coming out of this session was that here we were, all sharing a general sense that we had to do something -- and someone suggested we start right there, in the room, by gathering everyone's contacts into one meta-group, networking and mentoring each other and just staying connected.

That made total sense! As a self-taught geek who's too much the dork to be any good at networking, this was music to my ears. I mean, this room was its own estroswarm of geek power in this corner of the 'net industry.

So I pulled my notepad out of my bag and started passing it around the room, and it seems like everyone add their name and email -- a brave thing to do at a conference. We now have a list of women interested in keeping something of the connected feeling I think we all felt in that room.

--And some of the women sent us emails following up, giving us more names of women from their networks who would be interested in joining the community!

Of course, being geeks, Nancy, Melanie, mir and I are now sizing up just what the best way to go about this might be. A simple listserv? A social networking site? A corporate service like [fill-in-the-blank] Groups? (The latter is most unappealing to me.) Options are being considered. We'll have something up soon. Promise!

I came away on a total high from that Deeply Geeky session, and for me was the utter highlight of the entire conference. And no swag shortcomings or perceived demographic tilts or very odd bottled water or commercial corporate sponsor miscalculations can take away my sense that the BlogHer Conference was way cool, because for those 90 minutes, I was not alone, and I met some really great women before, during and after.

What else could I ask for?

[Contributing Editor Laura Scott also blogs at pingVision and rare pattern, and photoblogs at scattered sunshine.]

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