Women ETC brings national speakers and mixed feelings to Richmond

Women ETC is RVA’s very own women in tech conference and, yes, I’ll be there, mixed feelings and all.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve lost track of the number of people who’ve asked me if I’ll be attending the upcoming Women ETC conference at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Organized by RichTech’s Women in Technology Forum, Women ETC targets women who work in technology or technology-centric businesses, and aims “to provide professional development, education, and collaboration amongst its participants…by bringing premier speakers from across the nation.” It’s our very own women in tech conference and, yes, I’ll be there, mixed feelings and all.

I’m proud to be a woman with a career in technology. I’m a fan of technology conferences, and I want to find new and better ways to attract women into our industry. But I have trouble with the idea that women need our own conferences to talk about geeky things; it seems to imply that we can’t hang with the guys at “regular” conferences–which isn’t true at all, or that technology conferences organized by men shouldn’t have to be inclusive to women and our interests–also not true. Newsflash: women in technology care about the same things men in technology do, and you don’t have to dumb anything down for us–although you wouldn’t know it from looking at the planned topics for Women ETC.

The schedule reads like a technology conference created by the editors of Cosmopolitan magazine, with breakout sessions that include “Emerging Technology Trends that you Need to Know,” “How to Protect Yourself: Next Generation Cyber Security,” and “So you want to start your own business?”

This is a typical, tried-and-true editorial slant for media targeted to women: the world is a scary place and you lack the knowledge you need to dress yourself, please your man in bed, or be successful in your technology career. It’s condescending, it plays on women’s insecurities, and frankly, it pisses me off. We’re better than this–the speakers, the organizers, and Richmond women who work in technology. I’m already an effective technologist, thank you very much, and Women ETC should be offering content that affirms that instead of content that assumes I’m behind the curve.

But the speaker list is promising. In addition to Arianna Huffington’s keynote presentation, Women ETC will also feature a plenary from former Under Secretary of Energy Dr. Kristina Johnson, as well as talks from accomplished startup veterans like Liz Crawford, the CTO of Birchbox. With tracks devoted to Education, Technology, and Careers, it’s clear the organizers are trying to reach a very broad audience, and the chance to see Huffington in particular is sure to appeal to many people–including, of course, men.

Which raises an interesting question: can men attend Women ETC too? I don’t see why not. While the conference may be “aimed at” women, there’s no reason to assume that men are banned from the premises. Anyone with $100 and a desire to hear Arianna Huffington share her wisdom on “The Brave New World of New Media” should plan to attend–and to stick around for the entire day.

Because when you get down to it, this is an extremely accomplished lineup of speakers coming to Richmond, not just for a conference for women, but for a conference, period. I applaud RichTech for the effort they’ve put into creating this event, though I hope to see them expand the content and the audience in future years. There’s no reason to confine such talented businesswomen to low-level topics like “How to keep your technical skills current when technology keeps changing,” or to limit their audience to women.

Women in technology have lots of wisdom and experience to share with everyone, not just each other. The sooner we embrace that, the sooner we’ll belong to an industry that our sisters and daughters will be thrilled to join.

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Wren Lanier

Wren Lanier likes making trouble and eating bagels, not necessarily in that order. You can follow her wildly inappropriate comments on Twitter.

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