This week, I got an email from a local journalist asking if I wanted to participate in a focus group on writing about women in tech. He writes:
As a starting point, we’d like to put together a small group discussion to talk, off-the-record, about issues affecting women involved in tech and areas we should explore. I know you’ve written on the subject and folks I’m talking to say you’d be an essential voice in this conversation.
It’s a tricky issue in some ways, because a lot of the problems people identify in the workplace are not easily quantified. In other ways, though, it’s obvious what the effects are by looking at the raw numbers around employment, leadership and the like.
What I have in mind is to gather a small group, probably 5 or 6 women, to discuss issues and resources in tech and in Oregon. The goal would be to map out the subject and approaches to reporting it. It’s not pegged to any one incident or individual.
As I say, I’ve talked to a couple folks already who are on board and wanted to gauge your interest in such a conversation. It’s possible, probably likely, that I’d follow up on some of what we discuss and in hopes of gathering some on-the-record input. But mostly I’d be looking for suggestions on how to approach the topic.
I’d love to have your input on this and would love to have you participate. Please let me know if you’d be open to such a conversation and, if you are, I’ll follow up with possible times, places, etc.
Here is the reply I sent:
I’m not interested in participating and there are several reasons why.
First, I’m not interested in talking about ‘women in tech’ for the sake of talking about women in tech. Ada Initiative writes elequently about this problem. So does Kate Losse. So does Snipe. And Cate Huston. And Belle Beth Cooper. And Amelia Greenhall. Julie Pagano has a great primer for what not to do as well as a ton of ‘being a good ally’ resources, if that’s your intent.
Why don’t you try writing about what women in the tech industry are actually doing? If I were a man, maybe you would have asked me about the fact that I’m running a successful bootstrapped tech company that has been profitable since its 8th month. Or my upcoming keynote speech at a well established open source conference. Or my upcoming book.
But you know, I haven’t even done much when it comes down to it. Not like Tiffani Ashley Bell with Detroit Water Project or, if you want to stay closer to home, Deena Pierott’s iUrban Teen. In fact, when I was at the Urban Spark Summit just two days ago, Deena wondered out loud why it is that she’s been invited to the White House (twice!), been recognized and profiled in national organizations such as NPR, Rockefeller Foundation, Ebony Magazine (Power 100 list), Black Enterprise… and yet barely any press right here at home? Maybe you can answer that one for me.
Second, one thing that is certainly quantifiable and not tricky at all is the fact that women get paid less for our work, and get asked to do more unpaid work on top if it, than men. Your request is just another variation with absolutely no trade in value. As cliché as it would have been to offer some sort of ‘exposure’ in return for my time, you didn’t even offer that.
Third, since the subject isn’t about anything I’m actually doing, I wouldn’t want the exposure anyway. In fact, too much exposure, or the wrong type can be dangerous. I am one degree of separation from friends in tech and gaming who live under the daily terrorism of threats and harassment and have even moved to different states to avoid persistent stalking. The mainstream media is happy to publish article after article about them, but they’re sure as hell not around to clean up the aftermath, fix hacked servers, deal with Twitter mentions full of trolls etc.
All of these articles are freely available on the open internet. A google search, or taking the time to really connect with women doing actual work in technology, would have surfaced them. If you need a place to start, try this twitter list I put together ages ago.
I know at least one person who as agreed to talk with you and I wish you the best with this endeavor. But I also suggest you use their time wisely by doing your own homework first.
I have now spent an hour collecting all these resources for you that I should have been spending on my business. I’ll send you an invoice, if you care to pay me for my time.
I sent this message privately to the journalist in question before posting it here. This was his reply:
I knew you would have a thoughtful response. I really appreciate it.
I’d still love to talk if you thought it worth your while. I’m at [phone number].
This response is basically the equivalent of saying, “Hey, let me show you how much I value your time by asking for more of it, for free.”
I did actually send him an invoice. He hasn’t paid it and I’m not holding my breath. I’d be very surprised if he even clicked through and read a single one of those articles.
When I showed the reply to a few people in my circle, they were similarly aghast:
That’s the sort of response I would expect of someone who wouldn’t notice if he was currently on fire.
…. woooooow. welp.
That is some condescending bs.
The good news is, next time this happens it will only take a few seconds to send out this link instead of having to explain over and over.
This is an example of someone who thinks I should trust him to convey my words in a mainstream media publication? No thank you.