Friday, March 23, 2012

Kicking Butt and Taking Names: why no Booth Babes this year #spstcdc

Women in SharePoint as an organization was formed by several of us emailing after a tweet by American Association of University Women regarding the high number of women speakers during SharePoint Saturday DC Federal in December 2009. All of us on the thread were women speakers but hadn't noticed since we were so busy, well, prepping VMs, demos, slides and well, speaking.

It was the spark that ignited a fire, however, and we kept up the email thread until the following SharePoint Saturday DC in 2010 (the first mega event in Annandale) where we organized a booth, a mailing list, and a theme around "No Booth Babes."

Our email discussions focused on the changing roles of women and how ridiculous companies who put scantily clad "booth babes" in tech conference exhibit halls were. I mean, get with the program.
It's one thing to objectify women as sales collateral to sell your hokey software in overwhelmingly male enclaves (tacky), it's quite another to do so when those enclaves are no longer overwhelmingly male (stupid). Marketing 101, people.

Our idea to counteract this was to turn the tables (or booth, so to speak) by having male speakers wear shirts stating "Booth Babe" to poke fun at the gender categories. We asked each speaker with a shirt to comment on our newly formed Women in SharePoint organization and provide their support for women in technology before their session. The shirts generated a lot of buzz - that was the point.

[Dux Sy and Fabian Williams at SPSDC 2010 by Kenneth Lo)
  However, even more importantly, we conducted a series of interviews on women in technology with several of the speakers. All humor aside, the insights and testimony here were the heart of our message.

With SharePoint Saturday DC 2010, a few stickers, a few tee shirts, a few emails and several women RUNNING the booth, a grassroots Women in SharePoint group took root. Janis Hall and I took the ball and ran with it and Women in SharePoint DC had its official launch at SharePoint Saturday DC Federal 2010 a few months later.

We thought about revisiting the Booth Babe meme at this year's #spstcdc but decided against it.

1) Several recent articles in the technosphere have either pointed out that booth babes are verboten at tech conferences or is (surprisingly) open to debate:
No offense, but we developed this meme over one year ago.
Been there, done that. Got the tee shirt. Made men wear the shirts.
Wrote out own story and turned objectification on its head. [YAWN]

2) We made our point very publicly in the Washington DC tech community at two major events in full support of all attendees, speakers and sponsors. No need to reinvent the wheel.

3) Actions speak louder than words. Since our launch in October 2010:
  • we successfully created a highly rated regional technology user group with over 200 members, 11 events (technical and networking) and 6 corporate sponsors
  • we were community sponsors at three national technology conferences and live blogged two national technology conferences (SharePoint Conference.ORG, SPTechCon Boston, Best Practices Conference La Jolla)
  • we provided two scholarships to a national conference (SPTechCon)
  • we completed a merger with FEDSPUG including all management, operational and logistical functions, to become the largest SharePoint User Group in North America this fall (over 800 members) and have three women on our board
  • we have witnessed the creation of several other Women in SharePoint groups around the nation: New York, Colorado, Los Angeles, Pacific Northwest thanks to Kathryn Birstein and Nedra Allmond
  • we have coordinated with national Women in SharePoint members led by Becky Isserman to provide best practices in organizing women in technology groups based on the "WSPDC Model"
  • we are hosting a panel on SharePoint recruiting and staffing at this year's SharePoint Saturday The Conference DC with area leaders LaBrina Loving, David Berry and Shadeed Eleazer
  • we have increased user group attendance in the DC metro area by on average 100% by simply partnering with them. Do the math: working with women in technology is a numbers game. For data driven examples of diversity at work by analysis of user group attendance numbers see my presentation at FEDSPUG in February 2011.
We clearly have a seat at the table that we earned ourselves.

Thank you to our founding members: Janis Hall, Christina Wheeler, Rima Reyes and to our founding corporate sponsors i3solutions, BroadPoint Technologies, L-3 Stratis, O'Reilly Media, and Actionet. Most importantly, thank you to all our members - you are why we do what we do.

Ironically, perhaps our most important achievement was when a male speaker noted at a technical meeting in front of audience of women IT professionals earlier this year "Wow, it feels strange to be standing up here in front of a room full of women."


I responded: "Now you know how we feel."

Thanks for letting us kick butt and take names. No booths required.

Marie-Michelle Strah, PhD
President, Women in SharePoint DC

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