I attended OSCON 2014, which happens to be my very first OSCON and O’Reilly conference.
The experience was a bit bittersweet. I will start off with the good: The sessions were awesome and the speakers were very nice and knowledgeable. The food was good and plentiful, and the after-parties were fun. I did manage to make a couple friends there.
Now, the bad. It was rather hard to make any friends there or get a decent conversation going with the regular attendees. In fact, I felt rather ostracized and was downright harassed. Here are a few examples:
Almost every attendee I have talked to, the conversation would start out like this:
“Hey, [my name], what do you do at [company name on my badge]?”
I would explain what I do and/or what my company does, then:
“Great. Do you have a BF? Are you looking?”
I would either say yes (even though I don’t have a BF, but saying no would make them not leave me alone) or say I’m not interested.
“Oh, ok, that’s too bad”
The conversation would end right there. That’s it, no other interest in me except what’s in my pants.
During many of my conversations at OSCON, the man would touch me somehow. Touch my arm, touch my back, touch my shoulder, touch EVERYTHING, even my butt. Yes, even my butt. I usually get treated better in a bar. It was incredibly aggravating, and telling them to stop or avoiding them doesn’t solve anything. This happened nearly every day during the convention.
I handed out about 50 business cards at OSCON. The people who I gave them to seem interested in learning more about what I do or what my company does. None of them were used to actually contact me for professional reasons. In fact, about 1/3 of them were only used to ask me out. The reason why this bothers me is because they were ONLY used to ask me out. Not only that, but my company expects me to at least recruit a few people. It wasn’t just “Oh, let’s go get coffee and talk about your company” or something, it was “Hey, you’re pretty cute/hot, want to get coffee sometime?”
While my experience at OSCON was enjoyable otherwise, and I have learned a lot there, I truly did not feel treated like an equal. The experience was also a bit of a reminder of how alone I feel. Being a woman in the tech industry, is actually quite a lonely existence. There’s a reason why women shy away from science or engineering type roles. 95% of your colleagues will be dudes, and most of them will be incredibly socially inept, or have that “brogrammer” mentality. If you don’t share similar interests with them, it’s “Oh, she’s a girl, that’s why.” If you DO share similar interests with them, it’s “Wow, that girl likes [x], I should ask her out because she’s also hot” You really can’t win.
The reason why I’m still even in the industry is because I truly love what I do. I love anything that uses electricity, and building things that make people’s lives easier is an incredibly satisfying thing. I don’t want to let the negative experience shy me away from my passion. I think soon enough, things will change, which is why I wrote this post. To raise awareness of why you (possibly you, the reader as well) are preventing half the world’s population from innovating and making the future brighter for everyone.