Epic brand fail & scantily clad women?

It was interesting to see the Prime Minister weigh into the debate around sporting team’s attitudes to women, especially since there has been so much discussion of issues related to the treatment of women over the past few days:

“It’s very plain that it’s very important for sporting organisations across the country to show leadership in demonstrating proper respect towards women,” Mr Rudd told reporters.

In the light of this comment, and after discussing the (relatively tamely clad) NetRegistry nurses & some gender issues yesterday, I went for a walk with Jonathan Crossfield & Stilgherrian today. I was seeking out the other booths at CeBIT that I’d heard about with so-called “promo girls” who far outclassed the nurses in terms of scantiness of their attire.

The funny thing about this was that it was actually hard to find the booths in question because, while people could remember seeing the “promo girls”, nobody could actually recall the brand they represented nor the location of the booths.

Eventually a security guard was able to direct us to the correct locations. There were four booths that had women dressed in a sexualised fashion, making the nurses quite pale into insignificance. What I saw really did take me back to IT trade shows back in the last century. I had hoped we’d moved on from the objectification of women to promote technology. But clearly I was wrong.

There’s a bit of puzzlement on my part:

  • I’m not sure why an IT exhibition is considered a place for women to dress in this manner?
  • I’m not sure how many people would display images like this of women in the workplace?
  • I really don’t understand how this actually worked as a marketing exercise.
  • The fact that brand recall was so low that I had to ask a security guard indicates that it was not very effective as a marketing exercise.
  • Perhaps the “promo women” encouraged some attendees to take brochures?  I do wonder how was this linked to ROI?

Most of the exhibitors were happy to let their products be assessed on their own merits. Why did these four brands choose to take such an old fashioned approach? Did they think that women are not technology decision makers? Did they think that it was all in good fun? Would it have been in good fun if it had been well oiled young men wearing tight Lycra pants? In fact, why were there no such men in evidence?  At least that would have indicated gender equity!

BTW: this article by Karen Willis from the Rape Crisis Centre is worth a read

Nurses, naughtiness and women in IT

NetRegistry have raised some ire in some parts by having women dressed as nurses on their stand at CeBIT in Sydney.  In some ways this all takes me back to the bad old days when IT was a blokey world and scantily clad women were commonplace at conferences and exhibitions.

I had a chat to Jonathan Crossfield earlier today.  He explained that their booth at CeBIT has a medical theme.   I do not imply any malice, nor any intent to cause offence with this stunt.  It simply looks like the team thought it would be fun to dress up as medical folks while they worked the booth at CeBIT.  Funnily enough one of my first questions was “is the doctor a man?” and he admitted that the person dressed as a doctor was indeed a man. This made me wonder about unconscious sexism in our society.

The unconscious sexism & misogyny that remains prevalent in our society continues to fascinate me.  And I think that the automatic (and probably unselfconscious) assignment of roles in this case is an example.

But let’s consider a few other things …

  • We are currently in the midst of revelations about systemic demeaning behaviour towards women – especially in relation to rugby league.
  • There have been ongoing allegations of demeaning behaviour towards women by male sporting team members.
  • The calendars featuring scantily clad women and similar that used to decorate workplaces have disappeared.
  • Conferences & exhibitions are places of business to which women have free access nowadays.
  • Governments and volunteer organisations have put enormous effort into encouraging women to enter the ICT industry, and to retaining those already there.

I don’t think this kind of marketing exercise is a good idea in general, nor in particular for a conference/exhibition (doesn’t pass the Mum test).  Further, the day after the Four Corners program about the alleged sexual abuse of women it was bad timing (probably unintentionally so).

But, for the record, there were similar poster in the NetRegistry booth at CeBIT – is there a pattern here? It makes me ponder what the outcry would be if this was an equivalent racial depiction?

Social networking & your career

I had the pleasure of speaking, along with Karen Ganschow from Telstra, at the FITT CeBIT lunch today in Sydney.  We had a great turnout and there were even a few men in attendance.

It’s FITT’s 20th anniversary this year – a big milestone for a volunteer based organisation that was working to encourage women into ICT careers before it was trendy.

Here are the slides from the presentation …

Social networking for your career

I’ll be talking about social networking from a career perspective at the FITT lunch on 13 May in Sydney.

This is very topical now with the global financial crisis starting to hit Australia. Our personal & business networks will be critical, not only for staying in touch with people, but also for finding work.

In the past we sat down the Saturday newspaper and circled jobs of interest (or the Tuesday IT section of the Australian for the geeks). Now the job ads have moved online. But there are other avenues for job search, and social networks are a critical component in this shift.

There are also some important issues about boundaries between the personal and public, private and business that need to be considered.

Event details are on the FITT website, but the basics are:

Topic:  How to make the Net work
When:  12:00pm – 2:00pm, Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Where:  Harbours Edge, Level 2, Harbourside Darling Harbour, NSW, Australia

FITT Lunch 13 May

I’ll be speaking at this session together with Karen Ganschow from Telstra. Should be an interesting lunch & good excuse to get out of the office for a while.

Topic:  How to make the Net work

When:  12:00pm – 2:00pm, Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Where:  Harbours Edge, Level 2, Harbourside Darling Harbour, NSW, Australia

More details on the FITT website:

A special value-for-money FITT luncheon on How to make the Net Work that will give you the chance to see just how using social media tools and technologies can really grow your brand, career and your business.

Held around CEBIT Conference & Exhibition (CeBIT has been the unrivalled Australian event for showcasing for IT, telecommunications, software and services), FITT members can attend CEBIT free of charge when attending the FITT event.

So, take a lunch break from CeBIT and join us at the wonderful Harbours Edge venue at Darling Harbour for a contemporary informal social luncheon. With fabulous gourmet finger food, wine and coffee & dessert, we have kept seating theatrette style rather than formal tables to ensure we keep events affordable. This does gives you every opportunity to circulate and network at leisure before our seated presentations.

Bookings here

Women in IT Sunday Brunch May 10

One of the social events that are part of the Connecting Up 09 conference is a Women in IT Brunch at which Jody Mahoney (Vice President, Business Development, at the Anita Borg Foundation) is the guest speaker.

For the uninitiated, the Anita Borg Institute was founded in 1997 by renowned computer scientist Anita Borg, Ph.D. (1949-2003). The Anita Borg Institute seeks to:

  • increase the impact of women on all aspects of technology, and
  • increase the positive impact of technology on the world’s women.

Cost for the brunch is $65 and it is at 10.30 am on  Sunday 10th May 2009 at Brighton Le Sands – registration form is here (opens pdf).  Any queries call : +61 2 9280 3677

Girl Geeks & Opinions

Just back from the first Girl Geek Dinner Sydney for 2009, kindly hosted by Google at their funky new offices down near the water in Pyrmont. Damana – the force of nature who organises these great events – had asked me to do a lightning talk at the event.

Sometimes it is hard to think of a topic for these things, but Damana had shared an article recently that sparked an idea. The article was by Toni Bowers titled Sure she’s a good tech blogger, but what does she look like? This article reminded me of how much the opinions others have about girl geeks can be a barrier we need to overcome.

It made me think about some of the stuff I’ve learned over the years as a women in the business of information technology.

1920px-Bristol.zoo.western.lowland.gorilla.arpThe Problem: The first thing to note is the gorillas in our midst – these are people (and not always men) who have fixed ideas about women, our capabilities, and our place in the world.

Fact: People will have pre-conceptions about us & what we like or want to do. These pre-conceptions can be based on gender, looks, where we come from, or even that we remind them of someone else they dislike. Often these ideas about what we are like or what we could possibly do have no connection with how we really are.

Solutions: It is important to get it clear in your mind what you:

  • Like to do
  • Want to do
  • Can do

This is all about defining your personal values and capabilties so you can:

Get a plan: Find people who are willing help – Work out who is not willing to help – Define action steps

Learn to ignore people who demonstrate that they are part of the problem & not part of the solution.

You can also generalise information to help clarify your thinking. For example, Gilmore’s Law is your friend:

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” – John Gilmore

If you adopt this approach – when you have considered the options, taken advice from trusted parties and there are still obstacles to your goals then you can just route around them.

When you can’t solve a problem by confrontation simply route around it!

But, it is also important to choose your battles wisely, it is always better to win the war than just winning an individual battle.

Desire to be Liked: Another issue that I see a lot is the desire to be liked by everyone. No matter how much we strive not everyone will like us. This is not to say that we should not be friendly or build alliances. However, we do need to be ok if other people don’t like us. This means that we need to be free from the need to be liked by everyone.

Not everyone has to agree with or like you all the time for you to win or be successful.

Here is a support network I prepared earlier (Source: @trib)

Support Networks: It is important to build your support networks (–>here’s one I prepared earlier)

A support network is a group of people who listen, understand, sympathise & have ideas to help – but above all they need to be people who care about you and what happens to you. Support networks can formal, like mentoring programs, or informal like the picture here.

Above all: If you are a woman in IT a lot of people will have opinions about you, and those opinions may or may not be true. I heard it said somewhere:

Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business!

It’s true – one third of the people that read this post will probably think it’s rubbish, the other one third will probably think it’s great, and the remaining third will not care either way. Each valid opinions. But if you lean on the opinions of other people all the time it is like being buffeted by waves on the open sea. To use a canoeing metaphor, it is important to pick a course and then paddle as hard as possible to make it through successfully.

Slides from the talk are over at SlideShare

Small Dead Feminist – time to dismantle organized feminism?

Kate over at smalldeadnimals comments:

“I speak as a woman who has worked in a male work setting for all of my adult life. I can say with some authority that the time has come to dismantle organized feminism.”

She raises some interesting points in her post small dead animals: Small Dead Feminist

Although I must disagree that we should “throw in the towel and accept our inferiority to men”.  Perhaps that was just irony? After all she is Canadian and not American.

Out and about – Robyn Henderson & Gordon Bell

In recent days I have been going out to various ICT industry functions in Sydney. Two of the speakers stood out from the rest. The first was Robyn Henderson who spoke at the FITT networking session, and the second was Gordon Bell who spoke at the AVCAL breakfast.

Each of these speakers is an expert in their field:

Robyn is a networking specialist, who has authored 9 books on networking and business building, self esteem and confidence building. Robyn has spoken in 10 countries, presents over 150 times each year and has never advertised – all of her work comes from networking and referrals and her website.

Gordon is a luminary in the ICT industry who was responsible for, amongst many other things, the PDP6 and VAX, and who is currently working at Microsoft as a researcher and indulging in the occasional angel investment.

Yet, what marked out these people for me was their passion and humility. Both are recognized as leaders in their field and yet each is willing to talk openly with people who share their passion. Each shares their learnings freely, and seeks to generate interest and growth in their area of passion. Most refreshing of all is their enthusiasm for both their area of expertise and for life in general. Perhaps Robyn summed it up best when she advised “Avoid keeping tabs on what you do for others: Give Without Expectations”.


F.Y.I. the host organizations for these events were:

Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications (FITT) is a network of women who have come together to encourage and support women and girls who want to reach their full potential in the information technology and telecommunications (IT&T) industry.

The Australian Venture Capital Association Limited (AVCAL) is the national association that represents the venture capital industry’s participants, promotes the industry and encourages investment in growing business enterprises.