Last weekend I had the pleasure and privilege of attending and speaking at the BlogHer Conference in New York City. You can always rely on this event to include a couple memorable items: the rather high pitched din of the hallway chit chat of over 2,400 women and a bottomless pit of free stuff from vendors and brands that have set this coveted demographic of "Mommy and women Bloggers" firmly in their sites. And I wasn't disappointed.
The Expo Hall was filled with companies of nearly all kinds looking to reach these domestic divas. I said "nearly." For, although there were many consumer brands represented -- from Proctor & Gamble's "Home" booth to Sara Lee's Jimmy Dean brand -- one group of companies was conspicuously absent: technology companies.
I suppose this is a good time to mention that I work for a technology company myself, Intel Corporation. Although personally not an engineer or computer scientist, I'm what you'd call a technology enthusiast--a geek girl, if you will. And granted I was at the conference to discuss how women can stay current with technology and social media tools and platforms.
But I was surprised to see so few of my techie peers at the conference and so few technology brands plugging in to our passion. Last year the presence of tech companies was small but this year it was anemic with fewer companies and a smaller presence by each.
So what gives?
At a conference touting the statistic that women account for 85 percent of consumer purchase decisions, why do there appear to be so few technology brands interested in marketing to women? Is it really that women don't care about technology, and thus the makeup of the companies was accordingly small? Or could it be that tech companies have yet to wise up and see women as serious technical consumers?
If you look at the statistics it appears women are just as geeky as guys. In her look at how the consumer electronics industry designs and markets gadgets to women, Priya Ganapati of Wired Magazine mentions that, despite spending less than men on electronics, women still account for nearly 40 percent of the market. Regardless, electronics geared toward women are still all-too-often "pink and sparkly." (Wired)
This lack of female representation in technology has been discussed and debated by many. Women like Allyson Kapin, founder of Women Who Tech, have tackled the disparate number of women conference speakers at technical or social media conferences (Fast Company). And The National Center for Women and Information Technology states that "Women hold more than half of all professional occupations in the U.S. but fewer than 26 percent of all computing-related occupations." (NCWIT.org)
Of course there are some fantastic women blazing the trail for our fellow females in the tech space. Women like Elaine Fiolet, founder of the awesome tech site Ubergizmo; Beth Blecherman, founder of TechMamas; and even some inspirational women leaders from Intel including Chief Information Officer Diane Bryant, Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Conrad, Executive Vice President Renee James and Intel Fellow (the highest technical track designation at Intel) and Cultural Anthropologist Genevieve Bell. All these women are a testament to the fact that we girls are not all about dazzle and domesticity when it comes to our relationships with technology.
Despite the fact that women made up the majority of speakers and organizers on the BlogHer roster, the topics covered were decidedly non-techie. However, I don't think this is necessarily all about leadership. No, to me this illustrates a glaring gap in the ability of technology vendors to see women as much more than goddesses of gleam or heroines of the hearth.
What would I love to see to better represent the diverse nature of geek girl culture?
I'd like to see all women's conferences consider adding technical content that nurtures the technical -- not just personal -- passions of the women attendees. Women care about the benefits that technology provides and see tech as a valuable tool to make life better. It would be great to see opportunities for women to engage around technical passions (things like a gadget lab, app center, tech tips, and discussions about topics like which headphones block out the most ambient noise or how to maximize battery life on an eReader). I want to see girls getting down with their technology and vendors stepping up to celebrate.