Where’s Mum?

The Turing Festival is being held in Edinburgh, 23rd-25th August, to celebrate the centenary year of Alan Turing, “father of modern computing”:

Turing is a non profit festival that brings together the digital technology and the web into the world’s largest arts and creative gathering in a celebration of digital culture and creativity. Named in honour of Alan Turing, father of modern computing, the festival moves beyond traditional tech conferences to explore the ways in which technology is affecting all aspects of culture and society.

The keynote speaker is Steve Wozniak. Okay, cool.

On Friday 24th August, at Our Dynamic Earth, the Interactive Scotland@Turing “Connected World” Day Conference will be held, which:

aims to capture the hearts and minds of developers, business leaders and digital technology champions from across Europe. Run as part of the internationally renowned Edinburgh Festival, InteractiveScotland@Turing is the main digital conference of the Turing Festival.

This year’s conference theme is “Our Connected World” where you will hear from a line-up of international speakers who will address the opportunities and key issues facing businesses across a range of areas including the future of platforms, data analytics, the social graph and the emergence of developer tools.


That line-up of international speakers, nine of them? All of them are men.

Plus two men are hosting The Big Turing Debate, on Friday afternoon:

How can lean principles be applied to the role of Product Management in enterprise class software development?

The other panels? Five of them are all men:

  • Aligning interests: Entrepreneurs & Investors: Five men.
  • Big Data Scotland: two men
  • Billion Dollar Babies: three men
  • CERN: Big Questions, Big Science, Big Technology: Four men.
  • Gaming Futures: Five men.

One of them even achieves balance, more or less:

  • Education and the Web: Three men, two women.

Then there’s six more panels:

  • Cultural Enterprise Office: The Digital Publishing Landscape: Four men, one woman.
  • Discovery Mission – BBC Mashup: Three men, one woman.
  • Future Medicine: Four men, one woman.
  • National Geographic Citizen Science: Three men, one woman.
  • National Geographic Explorers: Three men, one woman.
  • Security and Freedom: Three men, one woman.

You know, when you see a line-up like this in 2012? The only thing I can think is: Guys, you just weren’t even trying, were you?

Promoting the idea that “girls need more self-esteem” is cheap and sets the blame squarely on girls and their parents and educators.

But the scientific research actually disproves that view. Instead the chief factors would seem to be disproportionate numbers of men at events making them look unwelcoming to women; unconscious sexist selection bias at all sorts of levels where the candidate’s gender is known; and, overwhelmingly, the plain fact that the structure in academia and in the computer industry particularly is geared to prefer for promotion people who will work long hours for their employer without regard for any family responsibilities.

Update, 28th August

This blog post by Athene Donald has a focus on male scientists in academia (physicists and biologists) but the implications of the research would apply well beyond the narrow focus:

If you are a woman wanting a career, make sure your partner understands and will support you in this role, even at the crunch time of child-rearing. But even that, I suspect, isn’t always enough once push comes to shove. An earlier report from the Institute for Gender Research at Stanford, looking at dual career academic couples, had some rather disturbing statistics. Looking at responses to the question ‘whose career is primary?’ where the couple were both academics, showed that 59% of women and only 45% of men answered ‘both careers are equal’

She notes that about one-third of the sample saw their partners as equals, but

Some (just under a quarter, largely and disappointingly graduate students) had working wives, but believed that it was the women’s responsibility to take care of home matters. They seemed to believe that this was what the women wanted, that it was their ‘choice’. According to the study

  • [I]t appears that men overemphasize their wife’s decision as a ‘choice,’ when in reality their wife’s choice to care for the children is constrained by her husband’s schema of children as primarily ‘her issue,’

Some of the commenters didn’t like this attitude, complaining the authors had preconceived ideas that they set out to confirm and implicitly saying, their wives had opted out of their own free will so why couldn’t the authors believe this happened in general. They obviously haven’t read the literature on ‘choicism’, which supports the view that many women want to believe they’ve given up promising careers freely, either completely or by cutting back their efforts and settling for less than their potential might predict, because they don’t want to admit discrimination or being worn down by partners into putting their careers on the backburner.

One of the ways in which one partner’s career starts looking more important than the other partner’s career isn’t just pay, it’s public recognition. In the comments, Ian Mackay notes that at the Connected World conference

“Including all panel members, speakers and facilitators, 23 men and no women appeared on the stage.”

I wonder how many of those 23 men were married, had children, and who was looking after their children while they were at the conference? Did TuringFest provide a creche for conference-goers families or any childcare support for speakers?

Above all – why did they think this skewing was acceptable?

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2 Comments

Filed under Education, Scottish Culture, Women

2 responses to “Where’s Mum?

  1. I attended the Connected World conference. The lack of women on the speaking roster & panels was raised with the organisers, and the response was along the lines of “well, there were a few women booked to speak as well, but they dropped out.”

    Including all panel members, speakers and facilitators, 23 men and no women appeared on the stage.

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