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#shesgeeky 2011: Why I love it

If you follow me on Twitter at all, you know I adore She’s Geeky. She’s Geeky is an unconference that just wrapped up its second time coming to the Twin Cities. Because I got so much out of last year’s event, I worked hard to convince colleagues and friends that they should come this year. I was mostly unsuccessful, except that I brought my 13 year old niece on day two (and she was immediately hooked!)

Having attended both days this year, I want to see if I can express more clearly why She’s Geeky is such a useful event to me, and why you should consider attending next year.

Geeky careers can be isolating

This is true on different levels. For example, some jobs themselves are naturally isolating, like my freelance programming job. Women who work at geeky jobs are often the only woman in their group/project/department, which can be isolating in a different way. And if your job involves interacting with non-geeky people, then you may feel alone and isolated in still another way.

She’s Geeky helps to combat that by helping you to connect with people who you have some commonalities with.

Have the conversations YOU want

How many times have you attended a conference and wished they had a session on a particular topic? Or have you attended conferences where the most valuable part of the event was the conversations you had between sessions, not the session itself?

At She’s Geeky, if you want to have a session about a topic, you suggest it. If others want to talk about it too, they’ll show up. Even if you know nothing about the topic, you can suggest the topic as a question or explain that you are hoping to learn more about it. I attended a session on setting pricing for web work, because the session convener was looking for advice, and I felt I could contribute something to that discussion. I ran a session on trying to get more women speakers at tech events, and got some good feedback about what might work or not work. This was very valuable to me.

The conversations are safer also. One of the sessions I attended this year was on imposter syndrome, the problem many of us have that we fear we just frauds, and that someone will soon figure out that we are frauds. This problem is not specific to women, but is more frequently held by women, and women deal with it in a different way. If a man feels insecure, he will often puff himself up more. When women feel insecure, they tend to apologize. This is a session probably would not have happened in a mixed gender situation. I think many women wouldn’t have been comfortable admitting that feeling in front of men.

You ARE geeky enough

Sometimes when I try to convince women to attend She’s Geeky, they tell me they aren’t geeky enough. FYI: you are probably are. Look, there were conversations at She’s Geeky this year on manga, digital art, and video games. These are all topics I have no interest in. That doesn’t mean I’m not a geek. There were also sessions on dealing with failure, starting a business, and management tips for new managers. Do those sound too geeky for you?

My point is: the conversations that happen are what YOU want and need. It is okay if you don’t like Star Trek, or don’t have the periodic table memorized. Really. You’ll still fit in.

Are segregated events a bad idea?

I’ll admit, before attending She’s Geeky for the first time last year, I was a bit suspicious of events that only included women. I personally have little interest in sitting around talking about how “oppressed” women are, or whatever. And I’ve heard it argued that women-only events are ultimately bad for women, because they are segregating themselves. Honestly: would we be comfortable with a “He’s geeky” event?

Good question.

Here’s my answer: Guys probably don’t need a He’s Geeky event, because as a significant majority in STEM fields, they don’t experience the challenges of being in the minority. So a He’s geeky event would feel like guys trying to exclude women for no good reason. But turn it around: my guess is that there are very few male elementary school teachers and nurses. They probably have unique concerns from their female counterparts in their fields. They might need a “He Teaches” or “He Nurses” event, and that would be completely understandable to me. I would think: good for them.

Further, I want to make something clear: to my great relief, none of my She’s Geeky experiences have been women trashing men in any way. There have been frank discussions about gender differences, and certainly some conversations about whether some of those differences originate via nature or nurture, but this isn’t a hen party. It isn’t gossipy or whiny. And it is usually practical discussions. How can I solve X problem? How should I handle Y situation? How can I make Z better?

Summary

Thanks to the sponsors and volunteers who made She’s Geeky 2011 happen. It was a great success. I can’t wait until next year!

Posted by Avonelle on Monday, September 26, 2011.

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