Regardless of the specific sector you work in or the kind of technology you may be interested in, it’s likely you’ve seen blog posts, tweets, or other coverage of some incredibly tough experiences by a few women working in the tech industry. Peter Campbell, a long-time member of the nonprofit tech community, collected some of the links in a recent post. I had already read the various articles before seeing his post. What really gripped me, though, was what he included at the very end of the post:

Postnote: The nonprofit tech sector is a quite different ballpark when it comes to equity among the sexes.  Which is not to say that it’s perfect, but it’s much better, and certainly less vicious.

I do the work I do because I believe that technology in general, and the Internet specifically, have the potential for making the biggest impact on social justice, access, equity, and democracy here in the U.S. and everywhere. With access can come so much. For individuals and for those working to tackle some of the toughest issues in our communities and around the world. I’m often leading trainings for nonprofit groups who work in locations, towards missions, or with communities of people that make the Internet seem like a scary place. I’ve talked to incredibly smart people – from scientists to activists – who openly admit that they personally want nothing to do with the Internet for fear of the comments, the responses, the people that will emerge.

As a supporter and member of various “women in tech” events and groups, as a member of the nonprofit tech community, as a human, I believe that we need a free and open Web that includes all of us and only if all of us are there will it truly be free and open. So how do we balance that with the level of harassment, the level of fear, the level of hate that exists?

And, is it really so different in the #nptech sector?

I’m a realist (though appreciate the consistency in which others call me an idealist). I don’t actually think that I, or even any small number of us, could change the entire tech sector. But, even thinking about the corner of the sector, the corner of the Web where we spend our time, over here at #nptech, I’m not sure things are very different. I appreciate that Peter admits our sector isn’t perfect. And I want to believe that we have an entirely different stadium in an entirely different town for the ballpark we play in. I don’t have to try very hard, though, to think of a long list of examples (even if they aren’t those currently linked in Peter’s blog post) that remind me we have a lot to change.

How do we tackle digital inclusion – something that is part of NTEN’s core mission but also something that every nonprofit needs to tackle in order to fully serve their communities, communicate with their members, understand the constantly changing needs of their constituents – when we know that we have all, like it or not, cocreated a Web that isn’t necessarily as free, open, and safe as we’d like to believe? How do we encourage more participation when these examples that justify people’s fears of the Internet are so prevalent? How do we continue to engage, start to make the change, and bring others along in the process?

I very much want to be part of cocreating a different story about the Internet.

Update: 10/13/14 

After posting this yesterday, I knew there was much more to say but prioritized timeliness over thoroughness. I appreciated finding that Peter posted the link on Facebook and it prompted some discussion. Unfortunately, that discussion made clear that engaging in comments on a public blog was, as a default, already an unsafe place to participate. The idea that my own blog (a woman working in this space) could be seen as unsafe by default because it exists on the Web is already incredibly disheartening for me. I think any conversation we have about moving forward needs to recognize how very far back we are coming from.

I also wanted to highlight here (“for the record”, if you will) a bit more about why I brought up those questions related to the nonprofit angle of this conversation. In addition to all of the same issues the recent personal stories from women in the tech sector have surfaced, the nonprofit sector piles on top the issues we seem to perpetuate, create, or at least be blocked by: lower salaries than for-profit industries, assumption that we do the work only because we want to do good at the sacrifice of anything and everything else in our individual lives, assumed credibility issues to begin with because of the nature of asking for money to do our work, and the misconception that our sector “gets it” when it comes to women in leadership roles (take a look at the data, it isn’t true – for example, “In 2009, women made up nearly 75% of the nonprofit workforce, but held only 45% of CEO positions.” – U of Denver).

I don’t bring this up to make the case that the mountain is too high to climb. But, like I said above, I think it is critical that we put everything on the table so we can have a full, valuable, and forward-moving conversation.

#NPTech, Digital Inclusion, and the Web we are cocreating
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  • Peter Campbell

    Thanks, Amy, it’s really heartening whenever a blog post turns into a conversation, and this is an important one for us to have. I want to frame my assertion that “it’s much better.” That’s my impression because, if we have incidents in our community that are at all reminiscent of the vitriol coming from the gaming community against the women in my post, I have never seen or heard about it, and I think I would have (although I could be wrong). But that’s a pretty low bar for us to climb over.

    The good thing about nptech is that we are, largely, a gender-balanced community. The threat of women edging into the playground is not a threat; that battle has been won. But the nonprofit community is one where everyone gets comparatively lousy pay, and there’s no doubt that there’s some correlation between the prevalence of women in leadership positions and the less-than-stellar salaries. Also, I’d be surprised to learn that, even in our industry, women aren’t paid less than men. I’ve never seen a report on that metric, but I see no reason to be optimistic that we are much better than the rest of the world. Put plainly, women might have more leadership positions here because they are willing to take the lower pay — they’d likely get paid less outside of the sector as well.

    Also, working for larger nonprofits, I’ve had the task of gender-balancing my staff at every job I’ve had. I started from scratch at Goodwill, but the all-male staff before me had quit en masse. I had four employees when I got to Earthjustice, one woman, but we were up to six staff, three women when I left. And I came to LSC with eight employees, two women. I’ve downsized by one, so we’re six/two today, and I have an open position that gives me an opportunity to improve that metric. I hire the best person for a job, but, if two candidates are equal, I lean towards racial and gender diversity, because my experience has always been that diversity strengthens our ability to support the organization.

    I’ve also had great luck in recruiting awesome women who were doing incredible things for a pitiful salary at other nonprofits. Yes, I raid them, with the lure of our awesome mission, a learning environment, and fair pay. Am I a bad person for doing that? 🙂

    So I’m pretty sold that there is pay discrimination in our sector. What I don’t know is how misogyny might also be rearing it’s head here. My plan for the follow-up post is to seek input on that, not just guess about it.

    • Thank you, Peter! I really appreciate you continuing to engage here.

      I agree that by and large those in the nonprofit sector get paid less, so we are all in that general boat together. But, as you reference, that doesn’t mean are not still under paid from their male counterparts. And yes, we have women in leadership roles, but as the link above notes (lots of data on this elsewhere, too) we have disproportionate numbers of women in the sector versus those in leadership positions. I wouldn’t say that tech in the nonprofit space is gender balanced at all – at least from my experience and the data I’ve seen around women in tech roles in nonprofits.

      As you note, even if we are above the general tech sector in some of those data points, it is a very low bar.

      I don’t think, though, that it is a matter of employment that will address or in any way solve these issues. Further, as long as these issues persist or worsen, hiring women in those roles will be difficult.

  • David Geilhufe

    I think the fact that Peter & I spoke in response to this post is at the heart of understanding the gender issue. And why our part of the sector could be considered no different than the rest of the tech sector.

    I hire and work with very strong women at (almost) all levels in our organization (this statement in itself is problematic from a power perspective & the concept I need/have justification to contribute to the conversation).

    Every day I engage in the behaviors that got our society to where it is today… I speak, I push my agenda, I process other people’s language and behavior in a outcomes-based model. I wonder why the women around me don’t “seize the moment,” “lean in” or whatever other trite phrase you prefer. I may not be contributing to the “unsafety” but I am certainly have the behaviors that pave the way for others to get to the “unsafe”place.

    And I vacillate between conforming to that which is fundamentally different from my natural state– the world view & behaviors I would have that would contribute to an inclusive society– and simply being me and being open to anyone’s data-driven, fact-based arguments for what I/we should do.

    “I very much want to be part of cocreating a different story about the Internet.”

    For folks like me with a world view that got us here in the first place, I feel I need a clear roadmap of that co-creation. But then it wouldn’t be co-creation and it would require others to settle into my world view.

    Confronted with that conundrum, I settle into listen more, show respect, be open & be present. And I struggle every time I post something… since that is fundamentally not listening more.

    • David – thank you so much for your comment. My delay in replying is because I had hoped to ping other women in tech to encourage them to participate and engage here. I’m saddened that even on my own blog friends and colleagues indicated they didn’t feel safe jumping in.

      I very much appreciate your candor and earnestness in trying to balance the eagerness to participate and create a shared space while recognizing that even that ability to be the created or sharer of the space demonstrates still the unbalanced nature of the situation.

      I’m also confronted with a conundrum: having the ability and opportunity to engage privately with women in tech as a friend and peer, hearing about firsthand experiences, and understanding the self-censorship and decisions to limit engagement but then having the value of colleagues like you and Peter who are allies very honestly trying to understand the most effective way to help. And in the middle we have silence because even in a a conversation with allies, if that conversation is to be in public, those who have voices of experience and perspective and suggestions for change do not feel safe to participate.

    • Guest

      Hi Amy, David and Peter:

      As soon as I saw this discussion come up (I think it was when I saw Peter’s original post go up), I knew I wanted to chime in. I wish I could have gotten to it sooner, particularly when I saw Amy express concern about the lack of comfort some of women in nptech feel with commenting publicly on this topic. I’m very glad to have read all of your perspectives on the issue and it means a lot to me as a woman in tech that this conversation is happening, so thank you.

      In order to have a vision of how we can co-create this space in a better way, it’s important to have a sense of what the issues are. That’s hard to do if so few women feel safe voicing their perspectives. I have my own experiences to bring to the table and I’m for the most part comfortable doing so, but I know that my experiences are not necessarily representative of other women in nptech, and I think it’s crucial to have as many perspectives as possible for a discussion of this importance.

      During the session Tracy Kronzak, Dahna Goldstein and I led on female technologists in nptech at this year’s NTC, I heard several firsthand accounts of women being talked over and completely ignored when male colleagues were present, passed over for promotions, treated with disrespect, and feeling voiceless at their places of work. The sexism they are dealing with is far greater than I expected to hear, and I heard a fair amount of anger and resentment (justified, in my opinion) in their voices as they recounted their experiences. We also heard from women of color in nptech who said they deal with a compound plate of both racial and gender bias which is even harder still to navigate.

      For me, the issue of sexism in nptech is hard to separate out. There’s what happens in nptech, there’s what happens in nonprofits, and then there’s what we female nonprofit technologists encounter when we interface with the for-profit realm. I view those as spheres as distinct because the gender bias I have encountered has varied significantly between them. The worst experiences have been, not surprisingly, on the occasions that I dealt with sexist for-profit vendors who clearly did not know to professionally interact with female technologists in positions of authority. But I also encountered gender bias in my nonprofit life, and I witnessed plenty of it as well.

      I think the most comfortable space for me personally has been with nptech colleagues, both male and female, in venues like NTEN. But I would not assume this has been the case for others. In fact, I think that it might be a little easy for us all (myself included) to want to declare nptech “ok” in that regard when I don’t think any of us can say with certainty that it is. The fact that Amy has heard from women who feel they cannot share their views on this in public really concerns me. It tells me definitively that there is in fact a problem, and that it is serious.

      One of the things I came to realize later in my career was that gender was far more of an issue than I had ever wanted to believe that it was, and that some people at times really were treating me disrespectfully simply because I am a woman. And I also realized the extent to which I had been socialized, as a woman, not to speak up and not to push back when someone had behaved inappropriately towards me. So when we talk about the question of sexism in nptech, I think it’s a spectrum of issues from the obvious questions of equal pay and career opportunities to the more complex individual and personal questions of how each woman can assert her leadership of self (and others, if she’s in a leadership position) in a way that is true to who she is without facing the threat of being disliked, discounted, or disregarded–because let’s face it, all of those things have real professional and emotional consequences.

      Some of the issues that come to my mind, when I contemplate the question of sexism in nptech, are:

      – Lack of women in nonprofit IT leadership roles (I think I can still count with just a few fingers all of the other female nonprofit IT directors who I personally know)

      – Limited discussion within the community about issues women in nptech face. We do have a great community of practice at NTEN at http://my.nten.org/nptechwomen, where Amy posted about this question and I hope would be considered a safe space by some of the women who don’t feel comfortable posting on social media.

      – Female accidental techies — this is, I think, somewhat unique to the nonprofit sector. Many women get their start in nptech because they are savvy with technology and great problem-solvers, but they have difficulty getting professional acknowledgment, career opportunities, or professional respect in their new technical role

      – No doubt, equal pay and opportunities for advancement

      Finally, I’ll say that one reason I sometimes hesitate to post or write about this is that I’m experiencing misogyny fatigue. It’s not fun to wake up every morning, fire up Twitter, and read about rape and death threats being lobbed at Anita Sarkeesian for calling out the blatant and deep misogyny in gaming. With the barrage of stories that have come out including #gamergate and Nadella’s recent gaffe, which showed just how much in denial execs are over this issue (I think you’re absolutely right about that, Peter), it’s depressing to read about the hatred and venom that are directed at women who are simply demanding basic respect as human beings. I also get angry when I realize how sexism has impacted my life and the lives of people I care about, particularly women close to me who see themselves as “less than”–less worthy, less intelligent, less capable. It upsets me because I had hoped that we had come further than this.

      I do, however, feel glad when I see male allies pipe up about how abhorrent this behavior is. It’s good to know there are men who get just as angry about it as I do and I think it’s absolutely crucial that they speak out too because this conversation has to involve both women and men. So thank you to Peter and David for being a part of this conversation and sharing your thoughts on how we can make the nonprofit space more equal and just.

      One positive aspect of having so much media coverage and social media discussion on this issue is that it’s no longer as likely to be limited to the private arena as it was, say, in my mother’s or grandmother’s generation. And, at least in Silicon Valley, there is attention to data on diversity in hiring or the lack thereof (until recently most of the major companies had refused to release this data, which says a lot). I can’t say that I’ve seen a lot of conversations about sexism in the nonprofit sphere let alone much data about it. I can only surmise that there might be a temptation, with such heavy female representation in the sector as a whole (although not necessarily in positions of leadership, as Amy pointed out), to make the blanket assumption that because the nonprofit world appears to be female-dominated that everything’s ok. That dynamic, plus perhaps the perception that we all share the same progressive and egalitarian values and are therefore all on the same page, probably inhibits a broader conversation on the topic in my opinion.

      I hope these thoughts are helpful in adding to the conversation. I’m happy to continue it in any venue where people feel comfortable sharing their perspectives.

      Rose

  • Rose de Fremery

    Hi Amy, David and Peter:

    As soon as I saw this discussion come up (I think it was when I saw Peter’s original post go up), I knew I wanted to chime in. I wish I could have gotten to it sooner, particularly when I saw Amy express concern about the lack of comfort some of women in nptech feel with commenting publicly on this topic. I’m very glad to have read all of your perspectives on the issue and it means a lot to me as a woman in tech that this conversation is happening, so thank you…

    In order to have a vision of how we can co-create this space in a better way, it’s important to have a sense of what the issues are. That’s hard to do if so few women feel safe voicing their perspectives. I have my own experiences to bring to the table and I’m for the most part comfortable doing so, but I know that my experiences are not necessarily representative of other women in nptech, and I think it’s crucial to have as many perspectives as possible for a discussion of this importance.

    During the session Tracy Kronzak, Dahna Goldstein and I led on female technologists in nptech at this year’s NTC, I heard several firsthand accounts of women being talked over and completely ignored when male colleagues were present, passed over for promotions, treated with disrespect, and feeling voiceless at their places of work. The sexism they are dealing with is far greater than I expected to hear, and I heard a fair amount of anger and resentment (justified, in my opinion) in their voices as they recounted their experiences. We also heard from women of color in nptech who said they deal with a compound plate of both racial and gender bias which is even harder still to navigate.

    For me, the issue of sexism in nptech is hard to separate out. There’s what happens in nptech, there’s what happens in nonprofits, and then there’s what we female nonprofit technologists encounter when we interface with the for-profit realm. I view those as spheres as distinct because the gender bias I have encountered has varied significantly between them. The worst experiences have been, not surprisingly, on the occasions that I dealt with sexist for-profit vendors who clearly did not know to professionally interact with female technologists in positions of authority. But I also encountered gender bias in my nonprofit life, and I witnessed plenty of it as well.

    I think the most comfortable space for me personally has been with nptech colleagues, both male and female, in venues like NTEN. But I would not assume this has been the case for others. In fact, I think that it might be a little easy for us all (myself included) to want to declare nptech “ok” in that regard when I don’t think any of us can say with certainty that it is. The fact that Amy has heard from women who feel they cannot share their views on this in public really concerns me. It tells me definitively that there is in fact a problem, and that it is serious.

    One of the things I came to realize later in my career was that gender was far more of an issue than I had ever wanted to believe that it was, and that some people at times really were treating me disrespectfully simply because I am a woman. And I also realized the extent to which I had been socialized, as a woman, not to speak up and not to push back when someone had behaved inappropriately towards me. So when we talk about the question of sexism in nptech, I think it’s a spectrum of issues from the obvious questions of equal pay and career opportunities to the more complex individual and personal questions of how each woman can assert her leadership of self (and others, if she’s in a leadership position) in a way that is true to who she is without facing the threat of being disliked, discounted, or disregarded–because let’s face it, all of those things have real professional and emotional consequences.

    Some of the issues that come to my mind, when I contemplate the question of sexism in nptech, are:

    – Lack of women in nonprofit IT leadership roles (I think I can still count with just a few fingers all of the other female nonprofit IT directors who I personally know)

    – Limited discussion within the community about issues women in nptech face. We do have a great community of practice at NTEN at http://my.nten.org/nptechwomen, where Amy posted about this question and I hope would be considered a safe space by some of the women who don’t feel comfortable posting on social media.

    – Female accidental techies — this is, I think, somewhat unique to the nonprofit sector. Many women get their start in nptech because they are savvy with technology and great problem-solvers, but they have difficulty getting professional acknowledgment, career opportunities, or professional respect in their new technical role

    – No doubt, equal pay and opportunities for advancement

    Finally, I’ll say that one reason I sometimes hesitate to post or write about this is that I’m experiencing misogyny fatigue. It’s not fun to wake up every morning, fire up Twitter, and read about rape and death threats being lobbed at Anita Sarkeesian for calling out the blatant and deep misogyny in gaming. With the barrage of stories that have come out including #gamergate and Nadella’s recent gaffe, which showed just how much in denial execs are over this issue (I think you’re absolutely right about that, Peter), it’s depressing to read about the hatred and venom that are directed at women who are simply demanding basic respect as human beings. I also get angry when I realize how sexism has impacted my life and the lives of people I care about, particularly women close to me who see themselves as “less than”–less worthy, less intelligent, less capable. It upsets me because I had hoped that we had come further than this.

    I do, however, feel glad when I see male allies pipe up about how abhorrent this behavior is. It’s good to know there are men who get just as angry about it as I do and I think it’s absolutely crucial that they speak out too because this conversation has to involve both women and men. So thank you to Peter and David for being a part of this conversation and sharing your thoughts on how we can make the nonprofit space more equal and just.

    One positive aspect of having so much media coverage and social media discussion on this issue is that it’s no longer as likely to be limited to the private arena as it was, say, in my mother’s or grandmother’s generation. And, at least in Silicon Valley, there is attention to data on diversity in hiring or the lack thereof (until recently most of the major companies had refused to release this data, which says a lot). I can’t say that I’ve seen a lot of conversations about sexism in the nonprofit sphere let alone much data about it. I can only surmise that there might be a temptation, with such heavy female representation in the sector as a whole (although not necessarily in positions of leadership, as Amy pointed out), to make the blanket assumption that because the nonprofit world appears to be female-dominated that everything’s ok. That dynamic, plus perhaps the perception that we all share the same progressive and egalitarian values and are therefore all on the same page, probably inhibits a broader conversation on the topic in my opinion.

    I hope these thoughts are helpful in adding to the conversation. I’m happy to continue it in any venue where people feel comfortable sharing their perspectives.

    Rose