AdaCamp day 1: Allies workshop, OPW, The likeability paradox and depression/activism

This is a recap of my first day at AdaCamp SF. My first post in this series was about the opening reception.

Allies Workshop

I started the day with the 2 hour Allies workshop. Valerie Aurora led this session, with the intention to train a number of new people on how to give the workshop. I took a ton of notes, so here goes, without much editing:

The presentation starts with 15 minutes of introductory slides, which are Creative Commons licensed. We answer the question “why is men fighting sexism important?” There’s a visualization at the start of the number of women involved in FOSS (not many – 2%) and Wikipedia (slightly more, but still not many). We got sidetracked on a slide that had a bit of jargon on it – introducing the idea that we don’t have a gender binary, but for the purposes of the discussion today, “man” will mean “cis white male”, as that’s typically who will be participating in the allies workshop.

I failed to take notes on this (probably because I was intensely paying attention!).. There was a part about the purpose of speaking up. When you decide to speak up about sexism, you’re often not doing so to educate someone who has made a mistake, or is being a jerk. You’re helping a group set a boundary and showing everyone listening in what is ok and not ok. Super important point for me!

There’s a reminder to not be scared of the discussions about to happen. They will be uncomfortable possibly awkward, and that’s ok. When men speak out about sexism they do not get the same responses that women do. They are often publicly supported and privately criticized — the opposite of what happens to many women. The workshops will be a 7-minute discussions, followed by summaries and reflections to the group. These discussions are the times to ask questions, even seemingly foolish questions. Val asks that everyone respond authentically (my word, not hers) when questions are asked. This is a safe place for Allies to find the answers to difficult problems.

Then we went into some example scenarios. We did three scenarios that were prebaked and then one that a participant brought up. I’ll save my notes on these discussions for another time. I really enjoyed the time I spent on this, and learned quite a bit from my group.

The Likeability Paradox

In the book Lean In, there’s a section about the difficulty of being liked vs being respected when you are a woman leader. This discussion was by far the best large-group of the day for me, and extremely well-moderated. I wrote down lots of phrases: bossy, “risk theater”, damning with faint praise, competition between women == disdain, acceptable level of emotional discourse, the difference between “earning respect” and “earning like”, likeabliity == emotional catering, gendered insecurity about a woman’s place, the amount of time it takes to earn respect vs first impression likeability, orgs maximize stability by ignoring these kinds of problems.

There was the start of a great discussion about dog whistle adjectives, adverbs and verbs that subtly and not-so-subtly remind women of their role and place. Are there words we can choose to describe “aggressive” behavior, for example, that are less gendered and more fair to both men and women? Example was asking an employee to “be more aggressive”, when what the manager really meant was they wanted more “decisiveness”. Another person said they started using “inspire” instead of “convince” in their activist work.

There was a short discussion asking “what is respectibility” and how do we unpack that term. This brought up some experiences people have had with being questioned consistently about their qualifications — “the veracity of contribution is questioned” and “what has ‘this woman’ ever done for this community?” Another comment was that by speaking less as a manager, and “planting seeds that employees then run with and come to the same conclusion” a woman had found it much easier to get her employees to do what she wanted. There was quite a bit of discussion about how problematic recommending “speak less” is, even if it is an effective tactic. Upon reflection, I think what was problematic was the framing, rather than the management tactic. Men who are managers clearly use this tactic as well, and it is effective.

Later, Sumana tweeted a link to this piece in Politico about Jill Abramson.

Depression and activism

I mostly came to this session for tips from those in attendance. Here’s what I wrote down:

  • Ask for a big chunk of time off to recharge
  • Structure time for fun
  • Only work when you really want to — give yourself permission to relax when you feel like crap!
  • Consider flipping your “alarm” system to management – start talking about how busy you are when you’re at 70% capacity, rather than 150%!
  • Be selfish with your time and energy

Internal strategies:

  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy (there are great books: Mind over mood, Panic attack)
  • Flip negative self talk, going even so far as to rewrite personal stories in the best possible light

IBM had suicide prevention training for new folks working on-call. A hacker training school has a weekly 2-minute “talk about your life” time.

At AdaCamp this weekend – reception & plotting for the imposter syndrome workshop

I flew to San Francisco yesterday to join 200 women and allies at AdaCamp. This is the third Ada Camp I’ve been part of, and it’s been wonderful to see the event evolve, get quite a bit bigger and turn into a place where I meet coworkers and like-minded nerdy women in an unabashedly feminist space.

I stopped by Heroku before heading to the reception, to meet up with @cathynalee and see my buddies at Heroku Postgres. After a round of a hilarious card game where you fight rounds to the death (with dice of course) with strange heros (mine was a Barbarian) and acquire coins to win, I headed off to the Google SF offices for our reception.

I’d never been to the space before. The view was pretty great.


Many, many old friends were there. Having the opportunity to sit and mingle and be silly for a couple hours was great for calming me down, and wonderfully restorative to be able to just relax with friends I work on so many difficult problems with, week after week. I also saw several friends from Portland, who I don’t see often enough at home. I ran into Sarah Sharp, who gave me the stats on her work with the Gnome Outreach Program for Women and the Linux Kernel. In short: In 13 days, 374 patches were submitted, and 137 patches were accepted. Six women were accepted into this round of OPW. Fantastic work on the part of the Linux Kernel contributors and all the women who applied.

I also got to mingle with hackerspace founders from Seattle and San Francisco. I’m just a supporter of hackerspaces, rather than a founder, so I felt a little bit like a fangirl joining their conversations. I also met the creator of Hate Map, a sentiment analysis heat mapping tool.

And, I met a fellow coworker from Mozilla for the first time and we chatted about PyLadies, PyStar and grassroots education efforts for adult, beginner programmers. And then another woman joined us and we veered off and talked about Texas, how insane the advisory system is in high schools that steer women away from tech and science classes “to keep balance” in the girls lives (!!??!?!) and learning to drive as an adult.

As the party wound down, I met with some organizers of an imposter syndrome workshop. My advice to women who feel like they’re frauds: pick some badass skill to acquire and spend a couple days mastering the basics. For me, my eyes were opened to the power of badassness and the confidence that it inspires when we taught PyLadies how to use git. Several of the women who have taken these classes have come back to me with stories of impressing their coworkers, getting jobs and overall just feeling like they belonged in tech circles and discussions because they could confidently talk about git workflows.

Overall, great conversations and I’m looking forward to more amazing ones over the next two days.

I am a feminist hacker: Reflections on the first AdaCamp

I had a wonderful time at the first AdaCamp, held in Melbourne, Australia on January 14, 2012.

I didn’t take notes during most of the sessions, and spent a lot of time listening and thinking.

The two important things I took away from the first AdaCamp were about context – my context, and the camp itself.
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