Eve wasn't invited: Integrating women into the Apple community

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Photo by Serenity Caldwell. Macworld's 2013 WWDC party.

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When I think about tech companies that respect women, I think about Apple. No one else in the industry seems to include women in its messaging like it does. The company doesn’t market its products with testosterone-soaked machismo. It doesn’t send embarrassing tweets about booth babes.

No—when you look at an Apple ad, it makes an effort to include women. Apple and its employees talk to us like human beings, and not girls who know nothing about technology. It’s important to me, and it’s why Apple has my business and (I suspect) the business of countless other women.

But it’s very hard for me to reconcile this consumer-facing Apple with the development company that put no women on stage this year for either the 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference keynote or the more-technical State of the Union. It’s difficult to connect this Apple I know and trust with the endless sea of white, male faces I saw at Yerba Buena Gardens during this year’s WWDC Bash. Women buy Apple products. We develop on Apple hardware. But we’re still not yet well-represented in Apple’s developer community.

Who does the culture serve?

You can tell the health of a community by looking at its culture. Largely, I’d say that the members of Apple’s development community are aware and respectful of women’s issues—but when it comes to implementing change, it’s still a mixed bag. Chances are, if you’re listening to an Apple hobbyist or development podcast, reading a review of a development product, or reading a website about development issues, you are not hearing from women.

An example: One of the most popular podcasts in Apple culture is John Gruber’s The Talk Show; its informative and exciting discussions connect listeners to the community and help set its tone.

Week after week, Gruber invites both his friends and Apple developers on for an illuminating discussion. But who are we hearing from? In its latest incarnation, The Talk Show has had just three women on the show as guests out of 97 total panelists listed in the show’s title. I’m the first to admit that the female portion of our community is small, but we certainly make up more than 3 percent. And it’s not just limited to audio: the majority of external links on Daring Fireball’s website highlight male writers and developers.

Now, I like John Gruber, and I respect his work. It’s clear he understands that women in development face serious challenges with our culture, and when he talks about these issues on his show, you can hear the honest concern in his voice. He, like many of us, wants the situation to change.

It’s not he, or Daring Fireball, or the Talk Show, that’s the problem for women in Mac development. Rather, his show highlights the challenges women face when trying to enter this community. Gruber and the other prominent members of this community can help us by actively working harder to showcase the people who are making a difference.

It’s the opportunity, stupid

Opportunity, connections, networking. Make no mistake: This is the biggest way women are unintentionally discriminated against in the Apple development community. It’s not a Mad Men moment, where guys chomping on cigars joke about how broads are too dumb to code. We’re simply not invited to the party.

I cannot tell you how many development events I’ve attended at night, at a bar, where I’ve been the only woman. If you’re a lady in your 20s or 30s, answer me this: Do you feel like the late-night mixture of alcohol and men is a safe environment for you? It’s a perfect example of networking set up by men, intended for men. There’s no malicious intent behind this, but it can unintentionally exclude women who don’t feel like they can attend alone without putting themselves in a potentially compromising position.

In some ways, I feel like App Camp for Girls has been the biggest equality movement to gain political traction in the Apple community. Male members of our community may feel like they support women’s issues, but it sometimes takes first-hand experience to know how important equality is to our community—say, by having a daughter who’s interested in technology. And I think it’s fantastic that having daughters makes so many men aware of the challenges women are facing today.

But this is just the first step: Getting young girls interested in tech cannot be our only focus. A recent New York Times article revealed that women end up leaving tech in numbers three times greater than our male counterparts. Without also addressing these issues in the workplace for adult women, our girls will simply grow up and leave in similar numbers.

The right way and the wrong way

It’s telling that the two most important events for female developers during WWDC took place outside Apple’s conference: the WWDCGirls lunch that took place at Medium, and the App Camp for Girls fundraiser at New Relic. I met many of the high-profile women in Apple development; I made friends; and I opened opportunities for myself and my company.

These events were fantastic examples of how networking in tech should work. There was a great gender balance. There was no drunken monologuing, or screaming over a crowd. It was just women and men, gathered in small groups, getting to genuinely know one another.

In contrast, Apple’s main event for women took place in a hallway on the third floor of Moscone, on the third day of the conference. While the speakers Apple invited were excellent, having it in the hall made it feel like a disorganized afterthought. Standing in four separate groups, we shouted questions at our presenter over the roaring crowd. I gained insight into the venture capital process, but it wasn’t a format that enabled meaningful connections—and those connections are the lifeblood for a female developer.

What we can do

When I was a teenager in the 90s, I had few female role models to look up to in computer science; it’s simply not acceptable for this to still be the case in 2014. Next year at WWDC, I want to see at least one woman in a public speaking role during the WWDC keynote. There are many bright, smart, well-spoken female Apple engineers; let’s put them on stage and be role models for their peers and our daughters. Or Apple’s Angela Ahrendts, who may not be a developer, but her business savvy and presentation skills seem like they would be well-utilized at next year's keynote. And I want to see more women and minorities at WWDC next year. We’re a small crowd, but we do exist, and having more of us at the conference will emphasize this.

Getting women into entrepreneurial positions is also critical. My own company, Giant Spacekat, has quickly risen as a powerful voice for women in game development. Not only am I in a position of industry credibility, I’m able to speak to my experiences, to hire women and advocate for other women. There need to be more Giant Spacekats in the industry.

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who’s a project manager for New Relic. She was telling me how, as an female introvert, she felt the things she valued also helped her lead a team of introverts—giving people room to talk, keeping the loudest voices in check, and making sure everyone was heard. This is a skill that women are socialized into early, and because New Relic valued it, her entire team benefited.

Change we can believe in

“I’m exhausted talking about women in tech,” A male friend who edits news for a major videogame site recently told me. “It feels like a war!” I totally get it. If you’re tired of reading about it, imagine how tired women are of fighting for it. But we have to keep talking. Because if we don’t, it will be as bad for our daughters as it is for us today.

And because of our talk, the industry is changing for the better. I can point to a thousand kind moments I’ve personally seen from men in the Mac development community—men that back up their beliefs in equality with action.

On 5by5, Dan Benjamin gave female gamers a voice by greenlighting Isometric, a podcast I host, which has a panel of three women and one man—a gender mix unheard of in the videogame industry. The folks behind ATP are also wonderful: John Siracusa has come to PAX panels I’ve done on female representation in games. I’ve emailed multiple times with Casey Liss to chat about issues women face. Marco Arment realized he needed more female writers at The Magazine, and gave me a shot to write about my experiences being a woman in tech.

Elsewhere in the community, Glenn Fleishman has given me career advice on more occasions than I can count. Rene Ritchie and Guy English have invited me on podcasts repeatedly to talk about what women face in tech. And Jason Snell has invited me on The Incomparable repeatedly to share my views as a female geek.

I’m sure for each of them, it was a small thing. They may not have even thought much about it—but each of these moments meant a lot to me. It’s easy to say you believe in an idea, but it’s another matter entirely to act on it; to open up a seat at the table to someone who might not otherwise get the chance to sit. Actions like these make me proud to be part of our community, and give me the energy to keep fighting and pushing forward.

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