Women working in non-profit technology – are we visible?

A couple of days ago, Beth Kanter put a shout out to help her with a session she’s running at the forthcoming She’s Geeky Conference. Her session will be directed at women who might be working in the corporate or business sector and are thinking of switching to the nonprofit sector. Beth asked a series of questions including:

  • What are the opportunities and challenges of being the techie in a nonprofit organisation?
  • If you’re a techie in the nonprofit sector, how and why did you land in the nonprofit sector?

Head over to Beth’s article to see some interesting responses, you can add your comments there too, and I’d welcome any comments you may have too on my blog. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of the discussions that happen at the conference and hope to see events like this for women in technology over here in the UK one day soon.

Interestingly, the results of Web Design Survey which took place in April 2007. A List Apart and An Event Apart conducted a survey of people who make websites. Close to 33,000 web professionals answered the survey’s 37 questions, providing the first data ever collected on the business of web design and development as practiced in the U.S. and worldwide.

As soon as the results were published I was keen to see the outcomes. I wasn’t surprised to see the low numbers of women responding to the survey, and have seen some great conversations about women in web design and also the nonprofit angle about these results unfolding.

Over on Eric Meyers blog, in his article on Digging into the Data, he ponders on questions raised by a post from Rebekah Ahrens. She saw that women made up 16.1% of respondents, and identified that in the younger the age group categories, there was a smaller percentage of women respondents involved in the web design field.

Web design survey women versus men graph

On Eric’s post he came up with some possible reasons for the low numbers of younger women responding.

“There are any number of reasons why this pattern might exist. I thought of three hypotheses in quick succession, and I’m sure there are many more of equal or greater plausibility.

1. Younger women didn’t hear about the survey, and so didn’t take it.
2. Women are losing interest in the field, instead heading into other career paths, and so those who have stuck with the field longer are more prevalent.
3. Increasing margins of error at the low and high ends of the age spectrum reduces the confidence of the numbers to the point that we can’t draw any conclusions.”

Over on Elaine Nelsons blog response to the survey, she too noticed like myself that the types of organisations that responded that weren’t just for profit design enterprises and freelancers, but also that the ‘others’ including nonprofits, education and government made up large section of respondants too when bulked together.
Linking back to technology in nonprofit organisations, due to funding and capacity, as Elaine mentions too, that smaller organisations often have people doing the web or technical side of their organisation as part of wider job.

I mainly work in the nonprofit sector, and would not have discovered this survey if I wasn’t already following sites like A List Apart and wasn’t so well networked with others outside of the nonprofit sector. So maybe wider advertising of the survey to other sectors may help to reach to others in the future. Another suggestion is that some better terminology of roles with regards to ‘web design’ may have enabled those responsible for websites for their organisations to feel they could take part. A good survey though, and look forward to seeing and comparing these results with future surveys in the future.

An interesting week, surrounding women in technology! Being one of these women myself, I hadn’t really pondered in great detail that I may be a minority, the issue doesn’t really affect me. But it did make me think, and look deeper into the networks I participate in. And yes, possibly there aren’t that many of us there compared to the men! Or are we there, but not visible?

Back in September I did smile at an article in the Independent newspaper weekend’s magazine about QVC the TV shopping channel. The article made a great point of one of the strengths of women’s ability to promote technology to others, I’ll leave you with this quote from the article:

“We used to sell computers by having clued-up computer geeks talking about ‘dual-core technology’, until we realised it meant nothing to the vast majority of people. So we took out the geeks, got more women doing technology and said, ‘Tell us what it’s for, how you’d use it and how it’ll transform your life’.”