Natalie has written an excellent article about women in technology and more specifically female developer involvement in the Linux community. She makes a bunch of great points (so go read her post!), but the one that I find particularly interesting is this:

“One huge difference that has a significant effect could be that women are less prone to self promotion; while this modesty trait may be good in polite society, it doesn’t work well in the geek world. Men are quite happy to promote their ideas, share there excitement and unashamedly display the cool things they have made, this is a great thing and I’m not generalising without exception, there are many women who are able to overcome this and be proud of what they have done. Myself and many others I spoke with are less forthcoming with our enthusiasm and this may well be to our disadvantage.”

This is exactly why denying difference doesn’t help anyone. If you assume that men and women are the same, then by the same token, if someone ISN’T extolling the virtues of their latest work, then they must not have done anything interesting. However, if you accept that it’s OK for different people to approach the world in different ways, then it’s always worth digging a little. Grand self-promotion doesn’t always equate to competence … and self-effacement or downplaying also doesn’t equate to a lack of achievement!

Given that SXSWi is starting on Friday, I have some challenges for those of you who will be attending, similar to the one I set for Ryan a while back:

  • TALK to women at SXSWi — and in the same way as you take men’s bragging with a pinch of salt, if someone is being particularly demure about their accomplishments, try to dig a little deeper. Or just make a mental note to check out some of their work and form a proper opinion based on that.
  • Don’t assume the partners are “along for the ride” — as Nat rightly points out, a lot of the time geek partners are geeks in their own right! Hell, I’m the one working as an IT manager, but Elly (architect by day, web designer by night) has significantly more web design talent. Since she’s pretty quiet, you might not realise that unless you actually tried to talk to her.
  • Don’t artificially level — it is much more insulting to women if you add a blog you’re completely uninterested in to your blogroll, or endorse a woman whose work you don’t respect/value, or swap business cards with women at a conference just so you can hit on them, than if you have an all-male blogroll. Step away from the statistics and think about what you’re really doing.