"Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess." – Donna Haraway

10 fellowships for women to attend the Open Hardware Summit, applications close August 18th | The Ada Initiative.

Deadline to apply is end of the day on August 18th.

The summit has quite a few speakers on topics related to my interests though I do find myself hesitating. It is frustrating that there are no speaker bios or images. As I was looking through the names of the speakers, I noticed that while there are some women among the speakers, the numbers are far from gender-balanced. Also, of the names with which I am familiar, they were all white women.

So I did some digging. I am going to tell you right up front: this is far from perfect or definitive. I am going off appearances in photos, which can be misleading and personal identification of racial identity is a tricky thing. Not to mention all of the problems with defining whiteness.

Based on an admittedly imperfect methodology, I found:

2013 Conference

44 speakers

8 women (18%)

0 women of color. (0 %)

Yikes! Zero women of color is hugely problematic. But as I said, my methods are imperfect and so it is possible that this number is too low (though I tried to err on the side of generosity). And really 18% participation by women is nothing to get excited about.

An image of infant Ada Lovelace looking forlorn.

I invented a new meme: Sad Ada Lovelace. Thanks to http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/PictDisplay/Lovelace.html for the image.

So again, trying to engage in the generous reading, I decided to look at the conference archives, thinking that maybe the gender numbers were an improvement over past years. Turns out, the rate of women speakers is actually the lowest since the conference started, which is weird given that this is the largest speaker pool yet. In the four years of the summit this is also pretty typical in terms of the ratio of women of color. (side note: seriously, what is with not linking to speaker bios? This would be somewhat less imperfect if I knew for certain that I were counting the correct person with the common anglicized name!)

2010 15 speakers

4 women (26%); 0 women of color

2011 24 speakers

(I did not count the “arduino team” among the speakers as it is unclear who might have participated in the presentation. The founders of arduino are men, so that may make the statistics worse)

6 women (25%); 1 woman of color (16% of the women)

2012 41 speakers

15 women (36%); 4 women of color (27% of the women).

2012 was better! Not sure why this reversion back to less than 20% women and no women of color? One plausible explanation is that the organizers are not being mindful of their speaker makeup, which is a shame.

The Ada Initiative is sponsoring some pretty sweet fellowships (5 with travel funds and 5 for registration only) and I applaud them for supporting the women who are speaking and for offering solutions to increase the number of women who can attend (also for the great “are you a woman or significantly female-identified?” question on the fellowship application).

There are many who would boycott this conference based on the lack of gender balance alone. When you add the lack of women of color to the mix, I have to say that I would have reservations about going, even if it were on a free fellowship. I was going to apply but when I started looking more closely, I decided the summit is not for me. If the organizers aren’t committed to creating a diverse and inclusive space through their speaker selection, there is a good chance that the vibe among the attendees will be similar. I can’t imagine myself into this space without great anxiety, so I cannot even fathom what it would be like to be a woman of color thinking about going.

That said, this could be a powerful learning experience and the strategy of boycotting conferences only works if male allies are doing the same. Otherwise we may be perpetuating the cycle. It’s a personal decision. What do you think? Will you apply? Why or why not?

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