Somehow I’ve made it a pastime of pointing out how many times women are passed up for recognition while men are promoted around them. Its not that the men were identified as better or worse than women, but just about how heavily we scrutinize and limit women while everyone else passes them by. Now I’m going to ask the Oracle folks to not take this personally, but hopefully take it as a call to arms, but I know how we love to shoot the messenger. Hopefully you already know that I will have no qualms about deleting abusive or threatening comments to this post, so please think twice before doing and really think on what I’m posting here.
As my technical work spans a number of communities, I have a broad range of experiences when it comes to how diversity is approached in different technical industries and its surprising how different each do approach it. It’s a complex challenge and of all the communities, (no matter if we talk Database, Big Data, DevOps, Testing, etc.) I have to give a lot of credit to the Microsoft SQL Server community on how they approach theirs as the most successful when it comes to women in the space. As with most community efforts, it’s driven by the people involved and the focus on the SQL community being one of family and treating each other with honesty and respect. It’s been an eye opener to me, just as it was when I adopted much of what I experienced in my limited involvement with them back in 2011 into my WIT mentoring initiative.
The SQL Server community has a healthy involvement of women in their MVP program, the peer recognition program awarded yearly on community and technical contributions. If you question the validity of this, just look at my twitter followers and count the number of women from the SQL Server community that are active and realize this: I have less than 20% followers that are women and I’ve only been speaking at SQL Saturdays for six months. I’ve been part of the Oracle community for 7 years and is one of the main women identified with women in technology when discussing Oracle. The difference in quantity of active women from the SQL Server community vs. Oracle is evident and it’s not just about being users or Twitter.
This brings me to this week, when the ACE Program, the comparable program from Oracle, published the official ACE Director photo:
My first thought was, “Where are all the women?” There’s never been a huge group of women that have been able to meet the demands of the ACE program and I knew there were a few obviously missing from the program photo, but I was alarmed and decided to go to the website to see if the photo was just a misrepresentation of reality.
Now, the “find an ACE” webiste doesn’t have a gender filter for searches, so I had to do the best I could, going by name and by any photos if I was unsure. I knew what the numbers were when I was previously involved in the program from WIT presentations, so I used this as a comparison to the current program.
The current counts per the website are:
384 active ACEs, 25 women in the program
When I was part of the program, there were:
485 ACEs, 35 women in the program
The ACE Director Program is doing a bit better:
Directors total: 106, 8 women
When I was part of the program, the percentage of women directors was higher too, though:
112 ACE Directors, 11 women
With all the women in tech initiatives and programs since 2014, the numbers shouldn’t have gone down. I want to assure you, the ACE program is only one small area of Oracle and the program should be recognized for taking steps to bring more women in- I see them doing WIT luncheons and trying to get more activity around the women in the community. The photo from Oracle Open World WIT ACE’s event demonstrates they’re really trying:
The reality we have to face- this is an event with what? 35,000 attendees and this is how many women recognized and in attendance? I see ad after ad for Oracle Open World and among the shining faces beaming back, there are a significant percentage of women in each one, but when it comes to those contributing, speaking and in attendance, (I’m not talking about in the booths, sales or marketing, but at the deeper, technical level) we’re still missing. At this time, we should be past just luncheons and recognize that we need more than some food to fix what’s broke.
The simple truth is, we have a significant problem dealing with women’s ambition.
You Want Too Much
I have watched us fail the women of the community over and over again. We make excuses and scrutinize their contributions to a level that while they are wasting their time trying to convince everyone they are worthy, those around them, even those that may only be mediocre, are passing them by. After consistent roadblock to achieving the same as their male peers, they finally give up and decide that what contributions they make that are accepted are going to have to be enough.
We are responsible for this, me included. I’ve been advised not to back women’s inclusion in the ACE program, telling me that if I do, it will just come off as me backing the candidate because she’s a woman. I’ve been told excuse after excuse of why a woman isn’t qualified and then I’m left pondering as men, with fewer qualifications, are awarded tiers above and beyond the “lofty goals she aspires to”.
After Oracle, I aspired to have my ACE Director reinstated. I was asked multiple times “Why do you need to have your ACED back, Kellyn?” I was told, numerous variations of, “you shouldn’t just think you deserve to have it reinstated.” I just brushed it off, but the comments I received were incredibly alien to many of my male mentors. They couldn’t figure out why anyone would question my ambition to succeed or have something reinstated that I was so obviously still accomplishing. The bias that was shown to me by these individuals was beyond them and they called it as they saw it. I also knew that other women would be hearing similar statements when they attempted to accomplish what they saw their male peers doing.
Think Before We Advise
Before we offer advice on a female peer’s advancement opportunity or make a decision that could impact the opportunity, please consider the following:
- Am I offering honest and unbiased scrutiny of the female candidate?
- Even if I think I’m unbiased, am I experiencing any nagging feelings about the situation that I need to think through before I speak? This hesitation may be more about my own cultural upbringing on women’s ambition and not the candidate’s qualifications.
- Are their male peers to compare against and identify any bias that I may not have been first aware of?
So many are surprised when they take a bias test and find out just how much culture can impact us when making decisions and offering advice. There are a significant amount of tiers of bias that we have to face around women’s ambition and if we don’t, we will continually fail the women in the Oracle community.
As I researched the numbers, I noted who had ascended to ACE Director status and I had no issue with them achieving the tier they had. I have always been for an open community- one that welcomes and promotes contribution, but forgive me as I say this, I was left noting that there are women still not ACE Directors that should have been a very long time ago and I’m going to discuss two of them here.
Michelle Kolbe requires no introduction. She holds two board positions, both on a regional and an independent user group board. She speaks at events, contributes content and has offered an incredible amount of her time to the Oracle community. I’ve watched excuse after excuse not to make her an ACE Director and [apologies to her, she deserves better than this…] it needs to simply be corrected. She is the epitome of what you desire in the Oracle community, yet to officially recognize this seems beyond us as a community.
Another one is Janis Griffin. I speak with her at both Oracle as well as SQL Server events. She has provided content, community support and valuable introduction to Oracle to those outside of our community. She’s been part of the community for decades, serving with user groups from the very beginning, yet she still isn’t an ACE Director. This is another failure for us to support, sponsor and lift up the women in our community.
Both of these women have been held stagnant at a status of ACE for too long and if you question it, compare them to their male ACED counterparts and think again. We are simply too comfortable reaching for our token women of the community and seem to be satisfied.
It’s an incredible group and I completely understand why people reach out to us. Included with me are Debra Lilley, Heli Helskyaho, Edelweiss Kammermann, Maria Colgan, Michelle Malcher and a few others. If you were to try to list the main male speakers in the circuit, the list would vary greatly from person to person, but to name the women, it often comes back to the ones listed here when someone is searching for a woman to be included in an Oracle conference, webinar, book or interview. How do I know this? As I started out the paragraph, I’m one of this group.
In hindsight, I recognize that I created my mentoring groups and sponsored women with the plethora of opportunities that I was presented with as one of the “default” token women people reached out to. Our women in the community are rock stars, but we need to band together and start to help lift up those who aren’t recognized like we are. We need to help build them up, as they are invisible so often to the community as a whole.
Make a Change
I want to be clear on this- it falls to all of us to make this change. We women have a lot of power to do this for the community, but everyone is essential if you don’t wish to continue to see the numbers decrease. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Tim Gorman stepping up a very long time ago and telling me what I was capable of accomplishing. I wouldn’t have the career I have now if it wasn’t for Alex Gorbachev and Kerry Osborne saying, “come work for me.” I wouldn’t have received my first book deal if Jonathan Gennick hadn’t asked me to write on a SQL Server book. I wouldn’t have done as well with my time at Oracle if Mary Melgaard and a few others hadn’t gone through my offers and guided me to make the best decisions. Women need mentors and sponsors, along with representation. The community, especially we women in the more recognized group, should be reaching out to other women, offering to mentor and sponsor them.
We women need to stop thinking the only women we can mentor or sponsor are those that share our ideals. We have to stop letting people peg us against each other and follow their recommendations, (I’m at fault for this, too!) and if a woman is doing the job, making the contributions, we should then make a professional decision to back her. This is professional, not personal and we need to learn to separate the two, because right now, most of us are failing at this.
There is more than one seat at the table and the only way to address the “reverse quota”, (i.e. “we already have a female speaker” or “We already have a woman on the panel”) is to add more women representing Oracle. The more of us that there are, the more we shift from the “token woman” to being viewed as another tech expert.
I’m constantly told that there aren’t women to speak at events, contribute written content or to take on initiatives. I say that’s BS and to make it easier for everyone, I’ve collected a list of those women I can think of right off the top of my head, along with links to their twitter profiles.
Ann-Sofie Vikstrom Often
If you know of a woman I’ve missed from this list, please email me at dbakevlar at gmail and I will update this post regularly.
I’m through with what I’ve observed for the last 1 ½ years and no amount of excuses are going to fix it. Oracle, we’re better than this. We can do better than this.