By Wendy Widom
CHICAGO (CBS) — What do you do when you discover that Microsoft Ignite – hosted in Chicago, attended by 23,000 people and billed by Microsoft as its “largest and most comprehensive technology event” – had only about 12 percent women speakers?READ MORE: 'An Important Time For Us': Chicagoans Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month
First, if you’re like me, you get frustrated and angry. You want to tell the world, but you don’t want to be that woman, the one that makes people roll their eyes and think you’re annoying. You choose to stay silent, because you don’t want to be labeled a loudmouth or troublemaker.
You get intimidated. You’re just a gal in Chicago with a 5-year-old laptop. Gender inequality in tech is a seemingly intractable problem. What words could you possibly pull out of your head that would make a dent in an industry that talks the talk but proposes few tangible solutions?
You also get tired of the crumbs thrown at you by the tech industry. Sometimes those crumbs are offered in the form of a breakfast, which was the case at Microsoft Ignite. I don’t want an egg sandwich. I want equality for women in technology.
When you discover that only about 12 percent of the more than 1000 speakers at Microsoft Ignite were women, you’re tempted to bury your head in the sand. I’m happy and fulfilled at work. Why get myself worked up?
As I’ve brooded over this for the last week or so, I’ve discovered something about myself. No matter how frustrated or intimidated I become, I refuse to quietly step aside. Indifference and silence, when it comes to this issue, is too destructive.READ MORE: Downtown Chicago Roadblocks Quell Mexican Independence Day Street Celebrations
As companies like Microsoft flail in their meager attempts to create more inclusive environments, here are some recommendations for women in tech to keep you sane:
Seek out mentors. Some will mentor you at quick coffee dates or with quick texts telling you to ignore the self-doubt that creeps in as a result of looking, sounding and feeling different. Others you may never meet but simply celebrate from afar.
Follow and support initiatives like Women You Should Know, VProud, Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media and A Mighty Girl. Drink in content about real women who look and sound just as optimistic, frustrated and smart as you.
Connect with women, regardless of profession, you admire, women who calmly assess the gender boundaries and then smash them to smithereens.
Elevate other women whenever you can. Too often, we hold each other back. We fear that one woman’s success comes at the cost of our own. Ask yourself: what have I done to help another woman succeed this week? This month?
When you learn that Microsoft had only about 12 percent women speakers at its “largest and most comprehensive technology event,” take a little time to feel angry, frustrated and intimidated.MORE NEWS: 'We're Back': Store Owner Reopens Chicago Sports On Michigan Avenue After 2020 Unrest
Then speak up. There is much work to be done before the technology industry is no longer a boy’s club. Each time we take a stand about inequality, we move forward, no matter how imperceptible that step may be. Complacency is not an option.