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Women Who Tech: When estrogen and technology merge

Anne Champlin, interactive account director
Courtesy of Anne Champlin
Anne Champlin, interactive account director

Being a woman in the tech industry can be lonely. Just ask Anne Champlin, 36, of Minneapolis, who’s worked in the field her entire career. She was the only woman employee at the entire location of a D.C.-based Internet consulting firm in 2001. “I had my own bathroom,” she said.

If there was a waiting line at the major tech conferences she attended, it was for the men’s room. “It was just the reality,” said Champlin, who works as an interactive account director for the Minneapolis ad agency Olson. “It seemed like technology was very dominated by men. It still is, but a lot of that is changing.”

Case in point: Registration for today’s telesummit Women Who Tech filled up in 51 hours. That’s no Hannah Montana rate, but it’s impressive given the subject and the number of available slots: 650. There’s even a waiting list, which means techies like Champlin, a conference panelist, have made definite progress.

She still recalls tech conferences of the ’90s, when the only women present were occupying “bouste positions” at “silly booths … jumping on trampolines” and such.

No wonder Women Who Tech filled up so fast. “Women have been so significantly under-represented at other major tech conferences and by the mainstream media that they’ve been waiting for something like this,” said conference founder Allyson Kapin, who works as a partner at D.C.-based Rad Campaign.

The virtual conference will be conducted via conference call and webinar. (The number of participants had to be capped because all the phone lines are being sponsored in order to spare the women phone bills.)

Camaraderie at last
The dream of women-oriented tech gatherings is slowly becoming a reality. For starters, there’s BlogHer, a network of women bloggers who regularly host conferences. Champlin attended a BlogHer conference last year. “Having attended tech conferences for about 15 years, and suddenly being at this place with women speakers talking about tech, was incredibly invigorating,” she said.

Then there’s She’s Geeky, an open-space site for information-swapping and networking. The site’s slogan: “No, this is not my boyfriend’s computer.”

Women techies celebrate such successes as Meg Whitman, who steps down from her post of president and CEO of eBay today, and Wisconsin native Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of search product and user experience.

When women techies gather, bonding happens readily, Champlin said. “The experiences are shared. You definitely know what the other women have gone through.”

Some vent about the challenges they face. “You have to work very hard to establish credibility in the technology industry.” But they don’t spend much time “stewing,” Champlin said. They get to business, sharing cutting-edge information and advice.

Champlin will be speaking in an afternoon panel called “Everything You Wanted to Know About Tech But Were Afraid to Ask (a Man).” She expects to answer questions about RSS, Facebook and strategies for building a web presence, among other issues.

A few big names will join the conversation. Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post and Joan Blades of and MomsRising are the two panelists for a session called “Women and Social Capital.” The panel description: “Networking, schmetworking … why is it that women are statistically more ‘social’ than men, but have statistically less powerful business networks than men? This panel will explore how  the women who have entered boys clubs and built powerful Social Capital have done it and give ideas to women on how to build their networks.”

Proud, not pink
When it comes to drawing women to traditionally male-dominated fields, attempts to appeal often demean. My biggest beef: the image and slogan used for a program of The White House Project, a well-intentioned New York-based organization aimed at bolstering women’s presence in politics.

First of all, the word “girl,” according to the AP Style Book, applies to those who are 17 and younger. Once you’re 18 – that is, voting age – it becomes “woman.” And as to the strange, flag-imbued lips, they conjure images of Monica Lewinski, not Hillary Clinton.

Mercifully, the above-mentioned tech sites haven’t succumbed to degrading imagery. I like the high-heeled, bespectacled silhouette that appears in Women Who Tech’s masthead. It suggests brainy and feminine without compromising either.

Another relief: The sites aren’t drenched in pink. Women Who Tech and BlogHer are green, while She’s Geeky is a sophisticated grey, black and maroon. There are a few rough edges on BlogHer, including a typo and a poorly placed picture on the conference page, but overall, the sites are smart signs of progress. 

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Aaron Landry on 04/01/2008 - 07:48 am.

    I was at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ Technology Conference last week and while I didn’t do a formal count, it sure seemed like the gender balance was about 50/50… if anything it seemed to lean towards more women than men.

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