A meetup you will actually like: Product Secrets
(Cute logo by #1 designa Emmi Hintz.)
It’s official: my friend Mike and I are starting our own meetup. I know what you’re thinking: another meetup is exactly what the world needs! We don’t have enough of them! Yeah, yeah.
We started ours because we want it to be different. Three things we think we can do better by running one ourselves:
A conversation about the full product process
Mike and I are both product people. We’ve gone to meetups for PMs, meetups for designers, meetups for engineers. At each one, the conversation is limited, because the topic is built for one demographic and then is discussed by people who all have the same frustrations and suggestions and resources. We think one meetup group targeted to people who are involved in the full cycle of product development will be more interesting, more valuable, and more effective. (Plus, as you might have guessed from the name, every speaker will reveal an industry secret that they haven’t shared publicly. So that’s cool!)
A focus on networking
I know, networking is a dirty word. But it doesn’t have to be! We want to provide a place where every person you meet is relevant, interesting, and probably has something in common with you. We hope to achieve that by really getting to know our attendees and being able to introduce people who should meet. Plus, easy things like nametags, letting people stand up after the speaker to announce things they need or can offer, and, most importantly…
We want to be very clear that this event is for product managers, engineers, and designers. If you are not explicitly involved in building a product, we still think you’re great but this is not the right meetup for you. Recruiters who show up will be banned from future events. We are very serious.
Basically, we’re developing the meetup we always wanted. We’re looking forward to sharing knowledge and learning, meeting other great people in the industry, and making sure everyone feels happy and welcome. You should join us!
Women in Tech
I’m not a person who generally talks about the “women in tech” issue. I’ve always said it’s never affected me personally. I feel awful when I see bad things happen to women in our industry, but have never felt the need to get involved in the conversation.
I think I was confused about what the issue is. I’m at AltConf this week (which - to their credit - have been incredibly welcoming to women and vocal about the inclusive nature of the event), and Brianna Wu got up on stage today to give a talk called “Nine ways to stop hurting and start helping women in tech.” The room was packed. She gave a lot of concrete advice on things men should be doing differently. You should watch it. But what really struck me was the conversation that happened with the audience after the talk. As soon as Brianna finished, a man raised his hand and said (I’m paraphrasing, but this is all true):
"This was a really aggressive way to approach this issue. You gave us a lot of stick and not a lot of carrot. Why do you have to attack us and make us feel like bad people? Why not phrase it positively and constructively - like, our businesses are at a disadvantage because we’re missing out on female candidates? I think people would respond a lot better if you did. I’m not saying this from a place of privilege or anything."
It illustrated her point so perfectly that I wondered for a second if he was a plant in the audience. First of all, hello tone argument. Secondly, he did it. He did exactly what every man does when they hear a woman talk about these issues. He made it about himself. He chastised her for “being negative.” He got defensive. He separated himself from the issue by saying that he’s not sexist or privileged; he’s just a normal nice guy trying to help her out. (For the record: he did actually seem like a nice guy trying to help. I don’t at all mean to imply he’s a bad guy or not supportive of women in tech.)
Part of Brianna’s talk was about how it’s not enough to be a nice guy. (This echoed a lot of the concepts in Mike Lee’s incredible talk, as well.) In fact, that mentality is part of the problem. It keeps you from changing anything. It prevents you from taking accountability. We get it; none of you do this on purpose; you still do it. You really need to acknowledge that you are doing it and stop doing it, instead of relying on us to get used to it.
So, for the first time, I got really, really angry. I felt personally offended. I finally saw the thing other women have been experiencing. I realized I am one of them.
Brianna kicked off her talk by saying that no women like talking about this issue. Female developers want to talk about, you know, development. And some of them have gone so far as to say they no longer want to be responsible for speaking to this issue; they just want to get back to what matters to them. But we have to talk about this issue. We have to talk about it until it stops being an issue. That’s going to take all of us (all of us women, and a lot of you men).
So let’s talk about this. I don’t think of myself as a victim of sexism in tech. I’ve always had respectful coworkers, and I’ve been lucky enough to always feel safe at work. But this conversation happened to me last night at AltBeardBash (which was, otherwise, a lovely party):
Guy: “Hey, we’re thinking a lot about how to make WWDC and AltConf more appealing to women. Do you think it would help if we offered childcare?”
Me: “Oh, I think it’s great that you guys are making that a priority, but I don’t think it’s that easy. It goes so much deeper than that. You guys should do some outreach to schools; you should have more female speakers; you should make sure female developers feel welcome and important here-“
Guy: “Oh, I wasn’t serious. I just wanted an excuse to come talk to you.”
And you know what? Last night, I brushed this off as a drunk guy attempting to make conversation - I didn’t take it personally - but let’s be honest. I didn’t like that someone talking to me in the context of the conference wasn’t interested in my ideas, or my thoughts on diversity in tech, or even what I do for a living. I was one of a handful of token girls at that event and that’s all he saw. And that is (unintentional) sexism in tech. And those moments add up to - I think mostly unconsciously - why some women don’t want to be in this industry. And it’s a terrible feeling to realize that I’ve been helping this happen by not saying anything. By not even realizing these kinds of interactions were anything but normal.
Brianna talked about how sexism in tech isn’t the Mad Men world that men picture when they think of that word. Men (and women!) don’t notice sexism is happening because they don’t see men groping women, or kicking them out of meetings, or saying outright derogatory slurs, or the other bullshit they see in clearly misogynistic fiction. But it’s there. It’s sometimes subtle, and often unintentional, but it’s constant, and it’s really, really not okay. I no longer want to be a person who says it is okay.
So I want to start talking about this. I want to join Brianna and so many other amazing smart women in fixing this. I don’t want to have to worry about men hitting on me at tech conferences.* I don’t want to have to wonder if I’ll be able to get a job in 10 years, when my greatest perceived asset is not being young or pretty. I don’t want to be interrupted by men every time I talk. I don’t want men to keep making stupid insulting jokes and telling me that I’m the problem if I don’t think they’re funny. I don’t want people to gossip that I got a promotion by flirting. I want my hypothetical future daughter to join a work force that is 50% female, and that is totally happy to make her the boss.
I encourage you all to watch Brianna’s talk, pick up a book, follow some tech women on twitter, include them in your events and your conversations, and think about how you personally can help. Speak up if you see something happen. I know we can do this.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’d like to continue this conversation and talk about what we can do to work on this together (particularly in NYC), feel free to email me.
*EDIT: A (male) friend of mine read this and asked if it’s ever ok to hit on women at tech conferences. I hope this doesn’t come off as a diatribe against flirting at conference-related parties. To be clear, my issue was with the insulting (and, frankly, ironic) nature of the conversation: the implication that diversity in tech is a joke, that I don’t have any important opinions to share, etc. I certainly don’t think I can prevent people from falling in love at tech conferences. Everyone here is great! I hope some people do fall in love! Why not!
EDIT #2: For the record, a representative from AltConf reached out to me after reading this post to apologize for that conversation happening. I didn’t really need an apology, but it was a really nice gesture. They are super serious about including women and have zero tolerance for these kinds of situations. Which is great.
It’s okay to stay (until it’s time to go)
I’ve had the idea for this blog post floating around in my head for a while now. Ever since I hit around the 2 year mark of my career at Aviary, I’ve been getting increasing pressure from the people around me to go do something else. “Wow, 2 years - that’s a crazy long time in the startup world.” “Don’t you want to try something else?” “You’re wasting your time; no one learns anything after 2 years at one company.”
And I kept wishing that someone, somewhere, would tell me that it was okay to stay. Because for me, staying felt right.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when talking to any other company just made me appreciate Aviary more.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when I noticed I was learning something new every single day.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when I was balancing 4 jobs and lots of customers and partners very literally depended on me.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when I laughed my ass off for an hour straight at lunch with my best friends.
But then? One day, I was. I woke up and I realized that it now suddenly felt okay to go. Aviary is doing great and getting better every day. The team is stronger than ever, and has perfected a bunch of smart processes to automate various things and make sure nothing goes wrong. And - while I still felt like I was contributing - I no longer felt like I was the only person in the world who could do my job. For the first time, I felt like I could leave and both I and Aviary would be okay.
So: I just wanted to put the word out there that it is okay to stay. Stay as long as you’re happy. Stay as long as you’re learning. Stay as long as your company needs you and you need them. And the moment will come when you know in your heart that it’s time to do something new (and that your company will still be able to thrive without you).
On that note: while I’m very sad to be leaving the incredible team at Aviary, I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be starting at Betaworks on Monday. I truly believe in their mission, have an insane amount of respect for everyone working there, and can’t wait to help them change the world.