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WebDU

Disclaimer: I did not pay for the tickets: I won them through BuilderAU.

I think it is important, that I as a female in the IT world, blog about my experiences at WebDU, particularly after the discussions of late concerning women in conferences, both attending and presenting.

I turned up to Web Essentials/Directions (Essential Directions?) in 2005 and 2006, both were really seriously cool. But they were cooler than I actually realised: I felt as though these conferences was occurring in a safe and happy environment, and I'm sorry to the fantastic team behind Web Directions that I sort of took it for granted. I realised how I took that for granted at WebDU.

I did experience behaviours that I felt were unacceptable at that conference. And it wasn't from the audience; it was from the speakers. Though admittedly, not from the Adobe/Macromedia sales team. Though the behaviour has coloured my perception of that corporation.

a. They opened up the conference with a cartoon depiction of a housewife beheading, exploding and poisoning her family. It is in serious bad taste for numerous reasons: one, it's an inauspicious start, two, it shows that Aussie men still think of women as being housewives and not professionals (all of the other characters were male). Males thought that was funny; I don't think many women did. I certainly didn't. Nearly all depictions of developers or IT people in these cartoons were male.

b. Ian Henshaw from Sitening decided to use a picture of a busty bikini model as part of his slideshow with the explanation "he didn't expect so many women". I was shocked. I felt like an outsider simply because of my gender. You know what? I don't care if you know you are giving that presentation only to men, that slide is still not OK.

c. In the WebJam, there were pictorial representations of sex. I might be a prude, but still when it has become acceptable to display those sorts of charicatures at a professional setting? And yes, WebDU is a professional setting. You have invited people, from all backgrounds, all places, all ages, all genders, to come. For a lone female from another state, that's quite a brave thing to do. You have to ensure that they all feel safe and welcome. You wouldn't see this behaviour anywhere else.

d. In the WebJam again. Someone was showing us some characters he had made (or had found, for a game or online reality) that he called Hef (a cross between Hugh Hefner and a cow) and his 'playgirl' performing in just a bikini. Does anyone think that would make me feel welcome?

e. In the Web Jam, Ian Henshaw decided to show a website for 'honey-dos' where wives could email requests to their husbands online, and husbands would receive an email that their partner had done this. Ian Henshaw went on to explain that when husbands visited the site for themselves to pick up these messages, they would be bombarded with messages informing them that they weren't real men, they were 'pussies' and their lives were miserable. I do realise it is not clear from my description that this is supposed to be funny. However I didn't view it that way. Women were depicted as being demanding life-ruining bitches. How is this supposed to make me feel safe and welcome?

This was all on the very first day. I think either complaints had been made or the female side of the organising crew gave out strong words (or the main offenders were all hung over), because it was much better the next day. It is clear to me that when organising a conference, you cannot trust your speakers. You need to give them a description of acceptable professional conduct, and ensure they stick to it. That, or you get people you already know are professionals and know how to behave accordingly.

There were a few things that I learnt that were interesting. Sadly, my remembered experience was not these things. I was quite angry at the end of that day. I would have hoped we were all past this.

I can well understand that women do not attend these events if that is the expected behaviour level.
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February 2011

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