October 10th, 2010


organizations for women in tech - things to keep in mind

When I was in college, I caused a little controversy by becoming the president of my Society of Women Engineers (SWE) section and announcing that we would not be holding our annual fundraising bake sale. First, we didn't really need funds, we weren't going to conference that year. Second, it's a BAKE SALE. And we're women engineers! I mean I knew plenty of men who saw the unfortunate irony in that... I know that anyone can bake, and I agree that baking does not make you less of an engineer or an empowered woman, but seriously can't we step it up a tiny bit? Call me freaky, but I think that an organization whose purpose is to support women in non-traditional roles should not be parading tradition around on billboards. No bake sales! And for the record, I told my section ladies, I was also against setting up a booth in the engineering lobby to iron guys pants for them.

We did sell some pink plastic keychains in the shape of our school mascot that the gals in the plastics department injection-molded. They were pink, so yeah girly, but there was enough "we did something technical" in them that it was cool. And that's what women in engineering is about, I think... the mix.

Flash forward to 2010... this week I've sent e-mails to people in charge of two separate organizations because their websites had huge obvious flaws. I think if you're running a technical organization, you need to have a good website! And at the very least one that works... your user-contributed content should not be overrun by spam bots! No huge broken links off the main page! Your "webmaster@" e-mail that you tell people to contact should not bounce back. The look & feel should not give people nasty flashbacks to 1996.

And one more thing I'll say that not everyone might agree with... if you're running an organization about women in technology, your website should be done by women. Not some member's son who just went to frontpage camp. Not some random guy who hired by closing your eyes and pointing at a phonebook page. It's just one of those positions in the organization that I think is important. The president of the NAACP is not a white person. The webmaster of a women in tech organization should not be a man. It just looks weird, okay?

If you're in charge of one of these organizations and not web-savvy, here's what I'd recommend doing:
  1. Ask all your members for feedback on the website, and contributions if they're able
  2. Keep it simple. If the only thing you know how to do is answer e-mail, don't launch a website with a blog, chatroom, forum, calendar, twitter, facebook, sharepoint, zoo, mall, outlet mall, hospital, aquarium, etc.
  3. Watch for rot. If you do feel ambitious enough for a blog, but six months later it hasn't been updated, get rid of it! It's making you look bad. Likewise if you're going to have a forum, post in there yourself a lot to keep the conversation going. And don't have sub-forums that aren't generating discussion.

And really, if that confuses you, just drop me an e-mail. Seriously ladies. Spacefem@spacefem.com. I'm not perfect... my website certainly isn't. In addition to that I'm busy, I don't make websites anymore. But I can at least point you in some better directions and give pointers. I'd rather take some time to be involved than see organizations for women in technology with bad websites. It hurts my brain.