Brianna Wu: 9 ways to help (not hurt) women in technology

Brianna Wu needs little introduction to those familiar with the Internet or video gaming. Her experiences in the last year range from supportive to downright scary, all because she dared express her experiences as a woman and a creator of code.

As a developer—and founder of a female-friendly game development company—Brianna has not let threats and nastiness discourage her. She has kept going, focusing on the positive results of all that controversy: an even bigger platform to share her story. Her experience is familiar for many women, in technology and beyond.

She came to DevNation to share a talk she’s been refining since before GamerGate. And, at the start, she warns us: It’s not a psychological study, and it’s not a polemic. This talk is based on what she’s experienced and the experiences shared with her. It is personal, but also practical. And we might find it uncomfortable, these changes we have to make.

With that warning, here’s what Brianna shared with us: 9 ways to stop hurting women in tech–and start reshaping our communities for the progressive diversity that is sure to come.

1 – This isn’t a topic for casual debate
Sexism is not a controversial topic that’s fun to discuss.
STOP discussing it as though it’s a TV show or existential philosophical debate.
START showing emotional sensitivity. For many women, this is a deeply personal and sometimes painful subject.

2 – Believe women’s experiences
Listen when women tell you about things that happen to them.
STOP trying to reframe or reinterpret the situation.
START respecting our lived experiences. They may not be empirically true–but how they feel is genuine.

3 – This isn’t about men
When we talk about opportunities for women, the first consideration is often the impact on men.
STOP reiterating your already-well-known experiences. The technology industry was made for men, by men.
START listening. Let women speak and think freely.

4 – Help women with children stay in tech
Women leave technology jobs at certain stress points, and motherhood is a big one.
STOP assuming that women leaving the technology industry are doing so because they want to.
START finding ways to support and respect women—and parents—so they can stay. How do you know what those things are? Ask.

5 – Include women in your network
It’s not enough to believe that women should be included. This requires action.
STOP hosting events that exclude women. A bar crawl far from the hotel might not feel as safe (or fun) for a lone female programmer in a crowd of strangers.
START hosting events that welcome women, and actively seek out experiences that are inviting and and fear-free.

6 – Don’t be a “nice guy”
If you have to tell people that you’re a nice guy, odds are you’re not.
STOP pretending you never make mistakes. We are all part of the problem.
START listening to yourself. Instead of getting defensive, hear (and act on) the constructive feedback of others.

7 – Understand the subtlety of sexism
Most of the unpleasant encounters women have are not blatantly sexist.
STOP thinking that sexism is the sort of stuff you’d see on Mad Men. It’s unlikely it’ll be as clear as “women belong in the kitchen.”
START thinking about the subtle, daily microaggressions that tell women they’re unwelcome.

8 – Privilege is not permanent
The absence of privilege is not oppression.
STOP complaining that diversity is going to take a culture where you “fit in” and change it.
START accepting that the environment needs to be open to everyone and that it’s to your advantage to welcome them in.

9 – Women can’t do it alone
This is a problem we all share.
STOP thinking that women should solve these problems (a) on their own or (b) by acting more like men. Neither of these things are likely.
START having the conversations, making the invitations, and improving how you interact.

These rules are not absolute, and they’re not complete. They’re based on one person’s experience and assume that the audience is men. Brianna acknowledged, during the Q&A, that sometimes the most limiting and hurtful behaviors come from other women. These rules are for them, too. They’re for everyone. We could all listen more, be more compassionate people, and improve our relationships with other humans–whether they’re like us or different.

Event: DevNation 2015
Date: Tue, June 23, 2015
Type: Keynote
Title: 9 ways to stop hurting and and start helping women in tech
Speaker: Brianna Wu, founder and CEO, Giant Spacekat