Obviously mentoring is a great idea, but it implies a pairing of
skilled/less-skilled folks and therefore makes me a bit uneasy in our
current context (although no one has said this) because it seems to
imply that if we bring up the skills of women they will be treated
equally. In fact, we have ample proof that this is not the case.
Therefore, I want to promote a concept beyond mentoring: promoting. Also
known as: giving credit where credit is due. Make sure that we equally
acknowledge and celebrate the technical achievements of women. We
already have women doing great geeky stuff, but it's kind of like Mitt
Romney's "binder full of women" -- they aren't visible.
Sounds easy, right? I think we'll all find that it's harder than it
sounds, but we should be making a conscious effort.
Let me give a personal anecdote. I was doing some consulting for a large
organization, and we got to the point that we needed an XML schema for
our metadata. The organization had an uber-geek, and so the task was
given to him. After a considerable while (about 2 months) we started
pushing for this schema, and finally met with uber-geek who said some
strange things about some theory of XML, and essentially we intuited
that he didn't know XML schema, was taking a strange path in terms of
learning it, and it was clear we wouldn't be getting our schema from
him. I went home and wrote the schema (thank you O'Reilly!). Now, you
might think that I would have earned geek points for that. But I didn't.
In fact, no mention was ever made of the fact that I, rather than
uber-geek, wrote the schema. I suspect this would have been an
embarrassment to all who looked up to uber-geek, being "bested" by a
girl. I don't know how this would have gone were I carrying a Y
chromosome, but my guess is that the outcome would have been different,
that a sub-uber guy would have been given some credit (while still
saving face for uber-geek). This type of scenario plays out many, many
times a day. I'm sure it doesn't only happen to women, but it happens to
women regularly enough (think about the pay differential that we still
live with) that it's quite discouraging.
So I see it as my duty, and hope some will join me, to make sure that
women's efforts are recognized, publicized, and, if necessary, made
"in-your-face" until women in tech achieve the visibility they deserve.
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