I was disoriented, I wondered if I accidentally poured decaf. I began to look around anxiously. In all directions, the only eager Doug Crockford fans I saw were men. As far as I knew (remember the room was long and shallow), I was now the only woman in the whole room. All of my ladies had left me. Did I miss something? What was that announcement? Did I accidentally stumble into a men’s support group and was all the JS awesomeness happening in another room? Nope, I was indeed in the right place.
Panic must’ve shown on my face, as the man sitting next to me leaned over and let me know what I didn’t know at the time. JSConf had this super awesome aspect called the Significant Other track. The SO track was a free ticket for those traveling with their loved ones that were attending the conference. The SO’s toured around DC and met up later for the conference parties. I thought this was super cool to offer. It just so happened in this case, all the SO’s were the women in the room. And they all got up at once, leaving me very confused. I’ve met many other female developers that have said that they are used to being the minority in the room and that’s okay. Thus far in school and work, that had also been my personal experience and I had never paid much attention to it, so I never really thought anything of it. But here and now, in this room of 150 people, for one of the first times in my nerd life, I was feeling genuinely lonely and out of place as a woman.
This Was No One’s Fault
The conference sold out, that’s the way things go. What can you do? It would be totally weird to hold half the tickets for women. But I was still left with this uncomfortable feeling. A little while later, one of the speakers finished earlier than expected and Chris came up on stage and offered a chance for anyone who was interested to do a 5 minute or less lightening talk to fill the time. Someone volunteered and approached the stage, and I began to think, should I get up there? Should I address the elephant in this room? It is an elephant, right? It’s gotta be. I started to get super nervous. Could I do this? What would I say? Is this stupid? Is anyone else even seeing this? And then the presenter finished up, Chris asked, “anyone else?” And as soon as the pause hit the 10-second mark, my body decided it knew what was good for me and my arm decided to raise itself and get me into whatever it was I just volunteered myself for.
I walked up to the podium and my heart was pounding. I had not done any public speaking before and I thought I might faint. I got up there and from what my revisionist history recalls, it went something like this: “So…ummm…hey everyone. You, uh, might have noticed I’m one of the only women in this room. [nervous laugh] I think I maybe might’ve seen one or two others maybe.” At this point, the faces of Rebecca Murphy and Kate Chapman came into focus, who had been sitting on the far right of the room. They gave a wave and I waved back. I had my head up for just long enough to see at least a handful of smiles, maybe more, but enough to think it was okay to continue and I’d be safe from thrown tomatoes. “So yeah, there are three of us here and that’s cool. Well I was just thinking, you know, this sold out fast, so maybe next year, when you sign up again, you could uh, tell your female friends about it, too. And then there’d be more of us. And that would be cool. Okay thanks”.
And that my friends, was my first experience as a public speaker.
The day went on and I eventually got to meet and chat with Kate and Rebecca, both extremely talented ladies. I met a lot of other awesome people there, too. Everyone from attendees to speakers to organizers were all supportive and high-five filled. This acceptance certainly made the feeling in the pit of my stomach like I just blew the big game or something start to fade away, but I certainly wouldn’t qualify myself as a “speaker” at this point.
Fast Forward to the Future
It’s a year later and I’ve had pleasure of being on two panels organized by other people, one for a local Philadelphia organization and one at SXSW. I watch videos of myself and learn I say “you know” about 500 times when I speak in public, but I’m still into giving the speaking thing another shot. That’s when JSConf announced they are doing another US edition for 2010 and that you could “submit a JSON-encoded talk to our call for speakers that’s hidden in the web site.” For sure, I go to check that out! As I’m chuckling over their clever attempt to avoid a boring contact form, I begin to think about my plea to the other attendees to encourage more female attendees, but what about more female speakers? Is it hypocritical of me to put the work on others when I have the power to submit something myself and help contribute to the solution? I thought about that a lot. I thought about in conferences (and life in general) the person you are going to be able to convince the easiest to help you in your quest for anything, is yourself. I can help get more female speakers by being one. I can practice what I preach. I can do this. So I did.
I think I shrieked. Even though I was nervous, I took a chance and it paid off. I had a great time speaking that year and the female attendance grew from 3 to 8. Over 150% growth! And sure 87% of statistics are made up on the spot (2% of users without JS anyone???) but it *felt* better. From any seat in the room, you could spot another woman and I was super pumped to be presenting, as not only do I relate with being a web standards lover, I also relate with being a woman. And being able to be on the stage as both for 30 minutes was an honor.
I Didn’t Want to Stop There and Neither Should You
Between the two JS Confs, I also did something else. I registered ladiesintech and ladiesintechnology.com. At the time, I had no clue what I was going to do the with the URLs, but what I did know is that if I owned them, I had the power to make something I believe in. And that’s what I’m doing now: Creating another place for a group I relate to, ladies. Just like I don’t think we can have enough female speakers, I don’t think we can ever have enough resources and content online for things we believe in. I can’t force anyone to speak publicly or to read this site, but I can put this site and myself out there. I hope you all do, too.