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.