Cloaking device

Any number of authors and TV shows have utilised the human capacity to ignore what their brains tell them makes no sense, but this week I got to see that in action. Cisco Live! (formerly, and probably forever known as Networkers) had 4,400-odd delegates at the Melbourne Exhibition & Convention centre. 400 of them were women, and I’m guessing exhibitor staff and press people were somewhat over-represented in that number.

The moment I arrived, unbeknownst to me, my cloaking device had been deployed. I stood waiting to register, and when a position was free, the bloke on it gestured to the man who had arrived after me. I just wasn’t there. Some women could see through it – the woman on the merchandise stand remarked on my unlikely existence. However, a woman I approached at a cocktail meet and greet looked straight through me and turned to a man at her left.

I spoke to a guy in a long coffee queue to point out there was another, unused machine 3 feet away, and even bearing news of speedy caffeine, and wearing a bright red dress, I was apparently invisible.

A woman at a tech event, unaccompanied by any men, is just too unlikely to be believed. I knew one person at the event, but we had very different missions there, so our paths didn’t cross much. However, when I was with him, I was back in the land of the plausible. People looked to me expecting to be introduced.

The only exception to the slightly bizarre week was a lunch for networking women. Suddenly I was solid again. I’m pleased Cisco have decided to support women and their connections with each other, because I’ve never been so clearly reminded how necessary it is. A Fairfax journo asked the panel of 4 women, led by Jane Caro, if they were in favour of quotas for women on boards. Janet Ramey, VP of technical services for Cisco, responded first, discussing the importance of supporting girls and young women into tech areas, but ultimately talking about meritocracy and the best candidate for the job. I suppose while representing your company at one of their largest regional events, you can’t say “Yeah, the current system is completely unfair”*. However, the other three panelists all supported quotas, or at least hard targets.

When women are so rare, they are invisible. Quotas may be what is required to remove the cloaking devices and give women any chance of competing fairly in male dominated industries.

 

*I should point out that Cisco is not as bad as many in the gender equality department, heaps of the women I saw there were actually Cisco staff, and they have more senior executive women than many other companies. But still, 400 out of 4,400.



Categories: gender & feminism, Life, social justice

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8 replies

  1. I have to ask – did you try the “Gaspode the Wonder Dog” trick of repeating to people the things you want their conscience to say to them when they ignore you? Stuff like “Who’s a right sexist bastard? I am, aren’t I? What am I? I’m a right sexist bastard. I should be ashamed of myself.” It’d be interesting to find out whether the trick worked.
    (Gaspode is a dog on the Discworld who can talk. But everyone knows dogs can’t talk, so when Gaspode talks in front of them, people’s brains tend to discard the evidence as a statistical anomaly, and parse the speech as part of their internal monologue. Gaspode has learned to parley this into a neat trick for getting the results he wants, by saying things like “throw the doggy a biscuit” and such.)

  2. I didn’t, but I totally considered it. :) Unfortunately I can’t run as fast as Gaspode if it had turned out I found the one person who could see me.

  3. Megpie – BWAhahahaha! XD
    You disappoint me, shonias!

  4. As further evidence, I went through the list of speakers this morning. Of 234 speakers, 7 were women, 4 of whom were technical, although one of those 4 is now in marketing. 3% of their speakers were women.

  5. Megpie, that is the BEST idea.
    shonias – ah, but if they see you, you can then assume a surprised air and either start talking like nothing had happened, or ask why it’s only then (ie. post-Gaspode) that they’re responding to you.
    Just make sure you have some coffee from that unused machine to splash on their shoes if you do need to make a run for it.

  6. A Fairfax journo asked the panel of 4 women, led by Jane Caro, if they were in favour of quotas for women on boards. Janet Ramey, VP of technical services for Cisco, responded first, discussing the importance of supporting girls and young women into tech areas, but ultimately talking about meritocracy and the best candidate for the job.

    Do you remember where the other women on the panel were from? Eg were they from tech companies?

    should point out that Cisco is not as bad as many in the gender equality department, heaps of the women I saw there were actually Cisco staff, and they have more senior executive women than many other companies.

    If they’re like other large tech companies I’ve seen, then they probably strongly encourage women from the technical fields to move into management. I can sort of understand why they do it but it also has the side effect of even further depleting the number of women in the highly technical roles and perpetuates the stereotype.

  7. Do you remember where the other women on the panel were from? Eg were they from tech companies?

    One was from the parent company of a bunch of telco resellers originally, now in NFP space. The other had a varied background, technically savvy but not tech industry.

    If they’re like other large tech companies I’ve seen, then they probably strongly encourage women from the technical fields to move into management. I can sort of understand why they do it but it also has the side effect of even further depleting the number of women in the highly technical roles and perpetuates the stereotype.

    Yeah, there is a bit of that, but there’s probably more at the middle management level than the executive level. I also don’t think there’s enough people in management to account for the 3% representation in speakers.
    Also, in terms of representation at the conference, the people attending and speaking were a mix of high-range tech and management folks, so it probably wouldn’t have all that much impact on the numbers at the conference itself.

  8. Yeah, there is a bit of that, but there’s probably more at the middle management level than the executive level. I also don’t think there’s enough people in management to account for the 3% representation in speakers.

    True, and managers tend to speak a lot at these sorts of conferences. Sadly I wouldn’t be surprised if there is less than 3% of women in technical roles at a lot of network companies (especially if you exclude documentation and project management related roles).

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