My final stint at the Summit Blogger's Table(tm) is for the annual WIT luncheon. I do appreciate the honor that PASS conferred on me by inviting me to the "table" for the event, it's been a lot of fun (even if there were some moments that weren't.)
Newly-elected board member Wendy Pastrick is the MC for this year's luncheon, and the panel consists of Stefanie Higgins, Denise McInerny, Kevin Kline, Jen Stirrup and Kendra Little. I'm pleased to say that I know each one of them except Stefanie Higgins, and I'll try to rectify that soon.
Bill Graziano welcomes the crowd and points out that at the 2004 PASS Summit in Orlando Denise had invited Bill to attend the luncheon and he found he was the only male in the room, so he beat a hasty retreat. He's attended every one since then.
Wendy introduced this year's topic, "Where Have We Been, and Where Are We Going?"
Stefanie Higgins starts off, as a former board member and the founder of the WIT luncheon, and addressed how amazed she is at the growth of the luncheon since its inception. It was started based on her experiences as a woman in a technology dominated by men. When she took certification classes in the late 90s she had an instructor who wouldn't acknowledge her presence in the room. She's thrilled with how far we've come supporting women in technology, and acknowledges that we have quite a ways yet to go.
Denise McInerny says that at her first Summit in 2002 she had to work to find another woman to talk to. At the 2003 Summit she saw the WIT luncheon and that confirmed her confidence that PASS supports women and has been an active volunteer since. By having these events an environment exists to have the kind of conversations that encourage more women to participate and helps the community get stronger. Not coincidentally we've encouraged women to take a bigger role in the organization, as volunteers and as speakers. In 2011 15% of the attendees were women, and that'll be the base metric for how it grows into the future.
The concerning statistic is that women leave the techology industry at twice the rate of men. Women are the users and consumers of technology, but they're not taking part in creating that technology. Studies show that diverse groups produce better results. It's important to encourage more women in the technology fields. The rest of the world is starting to recognize this and take steps to correct it, but there's a long way to go. Denise identified a number of organizations that have programs to counter the trend, and some academic institutions are addressing it, but not in sufficient numbers at this point.
Kevin Kline told two stories - one from the past, and one about the future. When PASS was formed they realized they didn't have the kind of resources that other organizations had, They found that while they didn't have the money other large conferences had, but could make it a warm, friendly place to be. What we had to say is "Welcome, come on in, sit next to me and let's talk about things." Kevin is the father of one son, and six daughters (not as the result of any smart decisions, by the way.) Men turn a group into a hierarchy and a power game, where are women are more interested in how the other person feels. It's hard to get girls to understand that being interested in technology is ok, even if their friends aren't interested.
Jen Stirrup is the new PASSion Award Winner for 2012, and has been instrumental in opening up the European market to WIT. IT is 5% of Europe's GDP, but only 25% of jobs in science in technology are women and only 17% of IT jobs are held by women. Women are becoming more disengaged from IT and more disengaged from data. The government of Scotland is putting together programs to reverse this growth but more needs to be done. PASS allows women to support and encourage each other. Every person who attended the SQL Saturday in Portugal attended the WIT lunch, and this trend is continuing in Europe. Having homogenous groups working on problems tends to promote "group think", which isn't very effective at solving problems, where diverse groups tend to not fall into that trap.
Finally Kendra Little talked about what's changed in the last ten years and how that affected her. She always liked working with data and tried to find her way, but always saw herself as "an employee". Over the years she found opportunities to find the jobs that help her grow, but it still wasn't the whole picture. PASS, and SQL Saturday, gave her opportunities to talk and be a mentor and a leader, and the people that came up to her and told her how that helped them taught her that she could be that leader, consultant and entrepeneur. The opportunities PASS provides provides that level of confidence that wouldn't otherwise exist.
Wendy points out to all the women that they are role models, and they can help young people make good decisions about their future. She then opened up the floor for questions.
This is always a great event and continues to grow each year.
Allen White is a consultant and mentor for Upsearch Technology Services in Northeast Ohio. He has worked as a Database Administrator, Architect and Developer for over 30 years, supporting both the Sybase and Microsoft SQL Server platforms over that period.