Devoxx 2011 and Women

« The absence of women in tech is the elephant in the living room, it must be discussed » – Tim Bray – Conference Day 2 Keynote – Devoxx 2011

Tim Bray started the keynote with this statement and announced the session « Why we shouldn’t target women ». Room 3 was full, whereas we had been expecting 20 people. Thanks again to Tim Bray for his vibrant keynote and supporting us so brilliantly.

How many women at Devoxx this year ?

Not many. 1% of Devoxx 2010’s attendees were women. Figure is unavailable at the moment but it seems similar.

More female speakers in proportion this year. Amongst 167 speakers, 9 are female speakers though only 4 gave a technical talk or BOF (Patrycja Wegrzynowicz Performance Anti-pattern in Hibernate, Lilli Thompson Cross platform game programming with PlayN, Birgitta Boeckeler Code generation at large, Sonya Barry BOF lessons from the migration ) and 5 talked at the women BOF and panel ( Regina ten Bruggencate, Trisha Gee,Anna Gos, Kim Ross, Claude Falguiere )

Four speakers is more than last year anyway. Don’t blame the Devoxx organization: few women in IT means few female speakers.

Women are fewer and fewer in IT and Computer Sciences schools. The number decreased from 40% in the 90’s to 20% nowadays. Why? Someone posed the question to the panel. Unfortunately we’re the people who are the least likely to answer this question and we don’t want to make assumptions for others. You may find a lot of theories there

The slope down also affects other scientific jobs to a lesser extent but conversely the number of women in the building industry increases despite the male image of these jobs. Interestingly the number of women in IT is about 50% in emerging countries in Asia, India and Brazil.

Apparently a change is possible. So why we shouldn’t target women ?

First, is it a women issue ? The lack of women is very visible. But other minorities are not there either. How many black speakers ? 1. How many old speakers …

IT experiences a diversity issue. It tends to clone white young men with the same kind of aptitudes.

It’s not only a fairness issue. Diversity is a must for projects. IT projects requires a mix of exploration of new technologies and prudence, a mix of rationalisation, imagination and communication, being in touch with users and ops. IT requires people with different mindsets and career path.

Diversity of people, diversity of jobs

Let’s introduce IT as an industry with a large number of activities ranging from design to hard core programming, to produce a large variety of applications from web site, smartphone application to plane control system. Let’s show different kind of people.

!Geeky image: DONE

What else ?

What about a women in the team because women are good at communicating, visual design or whatever ? These are stereotypes as well. Amongst the panel Kim liked being a mom of the team, others don’t. Not all women like nurturing and caring team members and conversely some men are very good at that. We must consider the human being not the category

So how can we increase diversity ?

Welcome newcomers

Have you ever try to join a group of geeks arguing about the better framework ? It’s intimidating, they all seem so clever. JUGs are good places to get in touch with teams and be aware of interesting jobs. But JUGs, especially the ParisJUG because it’s so large, may be intimidating to new comers.

Welcome newcomers. Help them get into discussions, prepare the meeting with them like the Duchess France does before the ParisJUG, pass information you’ve learnt in previous sessions, promote open-source projects and help them join the community though hackerspace.

Newcomer is a woman ? Great! But don’t forget men also feel new and alone.

Increase confidence

Women often lack of self-confidence. They don’t feel expert enough, they fear they’re bad speakers, they worry about rating themselves too highly. What can we do ? Mentoring, pairing are ways to get started and improve self confidence.

And girls, pluck up your courage and move forward. Talking to 50 people, learning new technologies is uncomfortable for men too. But they never mention it 😉

Sometime you will fail. You will think about it and improve yourself. And retry.

You will come across guys that proudly state that the female brain is not wired to do Computer Science. You’ve chosen to go for IT because you like this job. Recall all your successful projects. Even if it’s true (I’m not a neurologist) and it’s harder ? So what ! Some of us made it, you will as well.

You will also come across speakers that show offending images like the « Duct Tape talk » at Devoxx 2011 ( ). Don’t feel rejected. Everyone feel it’s inappropriate to show almost naked women in a technical talk. Humor is great around a beer, but not when the target can’t reply.

There are stereotypes around. Be prepared to explain again and again that there are women in IT and show what you can do until there are enough women to break this stereotype.


One the things women have to deal with is maternity leave and parenting.

Instead of rejecting women because of maternity, we may adapt this industry to parenting, especially working hours. Antonio explained that men also want to spend more time with their children.

Proactivity for the next generation

The attendees had a lot of questions about proactivity. Should we be proactive when hiring women ? Would there be more women if we gave away free tickets for Devoxx to women ?

Proactivity is often a bad idea. It creates imbalance. Some guys complained about long lines at the men’s room while the women’s were empty. What would they say if the women besides them had a free ticket ?

Moreover quotas may promote unqualified persons in order to reach the quota. Someone posed a question about how to behave with a boss that is a woman and younger than you are. Was she young and a woman or unprepared for this job ?

People learn by experience. Women should have normal career path, learn, become the most qualified person and be promoted because they deserve the job. Same goes for talks. It would be a very bad idea to promote women that never did any talk straight to Devoxx. Lots of talks given by men are bad, but a bad talk given by a women will be more noticeable.

Still want to be proactive ? Prepare the future.

We all want to see new faces in conferences, whether they are women or men. I’ve talked to a lot of JUG Leaders that want to bring more women to their JUGs. JUG Leaders, you have the hard task to promote new speakers and let them know. Ask women around you and men too for talks.

JUGs are a nice place to begin as a speaker because of limited audience and low stake. The talk can be given many time in different areas, giving the opportunity to tweak slides, improve speech capacities, calibrate the talk length …

If you’re an experienced speaker, pair or mentor new speakers. Want to be a speaker ? Look to all the talks you can from good speakers and look for mentoring. You’re a team member, welcome newcomers, bring them to your  JUG, talk to students.

Unfortunately the number of women in IT is limited by the number of women that went for computer sciences.

It takes root in childhood. Teach children, girls and boys, to be curious, to learn programming through games, to build things. Teach them interest in sciences and all the beautiful things science produces.


These are reflections about Devoxx 2011’s women in IT sessions. Please feel free to give me your feedback via the comments form.

Trisha Gee also wrote a post about these sessions Why We Shouldn’t Target Women. Thanks Trisha for proofreading my post.

Tim Bray’s post about Devoxx 2011 Geeks Gather in Belgium

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