All posts by matt

Asian girl in a plaid shirt looking thoughtful

Advocate more than Male at #GHC14

This year, for the first time, the Grace Hopper Celebration is actively asking for men to join the Women in Computing conversation.  Though the plans were announced months ago, the timing couldn’t be better: Emma Watson recently made an impassioned plea at the UN for men to become feminists, other celebs piled on, and for at least a moment, men needing to be a part of gender equity made national news.

Obviously, as a long-time male advocate, this is a welcome change.  For years, male advocacy has been a “nice to have” part of the women’s movement and not a necessity.  An invitation to be at the table always makes it easier to join and hey, guys want to celebrate women in computing too.

But I am also cautious.  Because while it is true that equality requires the willful relinquishment of power by the hegemony, it is imperative that inviting men into the conversation doesn’t overshadow the importance of celebrating the voices of women.

In less academic language: the conversation for women shouldn’t become a chance for men to do all the talking.  We do enough of that already.

Case in point: at GHC this year, there will be two male advocate-focused sessions – a focus group and a panel.  And while the focus group has received little attention, the panel has become a maelstrom of controversy because it features the CEO of Godaddy,  a company with an abysmal record of highly sexualized advertising and a GHC14 sponsor.  Some people, both men and women, are justifiably concerned about the ethics of  accepting money from companies with a troubled past and with the potential endorsement implied by putting them on stage.

It isn’t my intention to comment on the controversy itself, because I don’t think GoDaddy needs me to defend them.  They should be clear and direct about their policies and initiatives, and engage thoughtfully with the criticisms of the community at GHC.  What concerns me is that of all the things happening at GHC, this is the one that has generated the most discussion so far.

GHC is one of the few conferences that I really look forward to attending (rather than speaking at).  I am going to be insanely angry if the subject of male advocacy or the role of men in the feminist conversation overshadows the fact that 8,000 technical women in one place is an opportunity for a much larger, much more important conversation about the power and support of women in tech.

Especially because this year is so important.  Satya Nadella is a featured speaker this year and as the CEO of the world’s largest tech company, it is a sign of how serious the topic of women in computing is being taken at the highest levels of computing leadership.  Leave aside his gender for a second: this is a big deal.  There are some incredibly important things to talk about at GHC this year that shouldn’t be drowned out by male advocacy panels.

And it may be that the issues around the male advocacy panel aren’t actually about male advocacy and just about GoDaddy.  They may have been present if the CEO of GoDaddy were a woman who was invited to speak.  But the language being used on social media is gendered and strong and it feels as though this is becoming about something more than just a company with a troubled past.

Hence my concern.  At GHC, there will be talks from many incredibly women on topics ranging from the explicitly feminist to the unarguably gender-neutral.  If the net effect of adding men to the conversation is that their participation in two events overshadows the rest of GHC, then we all will have missed the point entirely.  The fact that I am a male advocate should never be more important than what I am advocating for.

I hope it doesn’t happen.  I hope that there is intelligent discussion about male advocacy but that it remains a very small part of a much larger, much more important goal: celebrating, admiring, emulating, and learning from and with women in computing.  Because that’s why I’m coming and it is the reason that I’m a male advocate.  Women like my friends Hilary Mason and Charna Parkey and Anna Roth are worth celebrating and I intend to come celebrate them.

Side note: can we talk about how much I love this shirt?