Why I Told a Dude to Go to a Women’s Conference

This week is the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and my friend and coworker Matt Wallaert is presenting. Because I told him to apply. Yes, that’s right: I sent a dude to a women’s conference.

Grace Hopper

I’ve worked in tech for 18 years. I started out as a PM at the SeattleTimes.com, founded Seattle’s chapters of Webgrrls and Linuxchix, worked at a small B2B startup with a female leadership team, and later came to Microsoft where I launched employee blogging sites at MSDN and TechNet, Live QnA, and the Xbox indie games platform. At Bing I’ve kept my hand in technical projects and social media outreach experiments, and I’ve gotten to see startup communities across the country.

So I feel confident in saying there are not as many women in the technology industry as there should be. Even Microsoft, which dedicates tremendous resources to supporting diversity recruiting and encouraging women to pursue technology as a career, doesn’t have the magic bullet for a problem this big. It’s going to be everyone working together that will close this gap, starting from what girls study in schools to how they are coached to assume leadership positions.

Closing that gap is going to take 3 things – creating a community of technical women who can help each other (who understand things from the inside), creating a network of allies who can help close the gap, and creating resources that give women a boost. That’s where Grace Hopper and Matt come in.

On Webgrrls, I got a lot of feedback from women on and off the email list about how important it was to find other women like them, to have a safe place to ask questions and get support. This year’s Grace Hopper conference, which expects over 4,500 attendees to attend, is a great opportunity to experience that community and connect with other women.

And just as it’s important to create that safe place of understanding, it’s critical to create a network of allies. As a woman in tech, it’s been important for me to have allies of the opposite gender. For one thing, men are legion and statistically speaking if you are going to make friends in the industry, a dude is likely to be among them. In some instances, he’ll be holding a position of power and possess greater experience. Power and experience on your side is always helpful.

But the key thing about male allies is this: they make it possible for men who are not allies to see the benefits of supporting women. Those who sponsor and mentor women in tech demonstrate to other men that it is not only great for the company, but that encouraging women in tech is good for the industry and therefore in their best interest. Moving from exception to rule requires allies.

So even in a crowd of women, a gentleman who is willing to be an ally is useful. And that’s why I suggested Matt apply to speak. Not only does he mentor and invest in a number of female-founded companies, but he and a team created GetRaised.com, a completely free site that helps women find out if they are underpaid and do something about it.

Matt W

First, GetRaised uses data (yours and some from the Department of Labor Statistics) to help you figure out if you are underpaid. Then, if you are, it asks a few simple questions and then generates a letter that you can give to your boss, requesting a raise. And then the site follows on to make sure you have that meeting, come prepared with good strategies, and get your raise.

Matt is a data guy, so he has some crazy statistics from GetRaised, like 70% of women who turn in a letter get a raise and the average raise is around $6,500. By providing easy access to information, GetRaised does at a specific level what Bing seeks to do at a general level: empower people with access to information. So “get a raise”, learn about Grace Hopper and Anita Borg, and spend a little time thinking about the gender wage gap. And say hi to Mattwhen you see him; he’s on your side.

– Betsy Aoki,Senior Program Manager Bing

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