Women, part II

Interesting that the same topic I wrote about at the end of last year (Who/Where are the Women?) is resurfacing. Well, actually, it’s always a topic, but one that seems to be getting hot again:

For what it’s worth, yes, I am the same person who asked “Where are the Women?” last December. (Note that I didn’t ask “WHY don’t I know more of them?”) And I’m also the one who selected individuals to help design the Blogger templates. If you fill in a few more blanks, those two may seem in opposition to each other. But they’re not.

The issue still exists for me. (I’ll avoid calling it a problem for now, as some are offended that the topic is raised in the first place.) The majority of people I know in the standards-aware design space are still mostly male. I selected the team I did because I knew them, and knew their work. Not because they were male. I didn’t know very many female designers (personally) at the time, and I still don’t. But I’m expanding the circle of those whose work I know. When I say (or said) standards-aware designers, I specifically mean (meant) visual designers who spend a majority of their professional time designing, and are also actively using CSS beyond fonts and colors.

It doesn’t matter to me whether someone is male, female, black, white, older, younger, straight, gay, asian, jewish, buddhist, sight-impaired, wears funny glasses, enjoys regular piercing, or anything else. A designer is a designer, and they should be able to stand on the merit of their talent alone, not based on whether they fit into a particular census category.

However, that said, I’d still like to know a more diverse set of designers who bring to the table different perspectives on life, culture, sex, religion, and politics. Since I posted that original entry asking the question, I’m slowly meeting and becoming familiar with a broader spectrum of designers. Not only those who are female, but also designers from Russia, Brazil, Japan, Germany, and designers who don’t even speak the same language as I do. That’s cool.

At the time I asked the question and wrote that entry, designers who happen to be female were just one of the things I noticed was missing from the sites I frequently read and linked to, and the circle of designers I would get to see and interact with at conferences and events. It’s not that I wanted to single any designers out just because of gender. But I did want to expand my circle of awareness and influence, and I missed the different perspectives that female designers sometimes bring.

As anyone can note when in a room or a place where it’s suddenly noticed that it’s filled with mostly (or all) men, there’s something strange about it. Something missing. It can become stuffy and boring. And it smells funky too. The same can be said when one realizes the sites and places one goes are mostly dominated by males. It becomes redundant, and the same things are said over and over again. In those situations, I end up craving the perspectives that diversity can bring. While, socially, I’m not very good at seeking out those who are different from me, I enjoy getting to know someone different once I’ve been introduced by whatever means.

When I was working at HotWired, the company seemed to be about a 50/50 split in gender. (Well, ok, maybe a 49/49 split with ~2% going to gender-neutral.) I enjoyed that environment. It felt balanced and right, and no one sex or race or background dominated through any of the hierarchy. (The acquisition by Lycos later on changed that, but that’s a different topic.)

So all this to say, a designer shouldn’t be singled out because of a certain characteristic or societal category. But a designer shouldn’t be overlooked because of the same criteria either. I knew there were a lot more female designers out there, and I wanted to find them. Whether they wanted to be found or not is a different issue. Hopefully (as is slowly happening) I’ll continue to have more and more opportunities to meet them and become familiar with their work and thinking.

I wish I hadn’t needed to close off the comments on the original entry so early. No one who reads this site during the week even got a chance to leave a comment. Links to a lot of great resources were quickly building up. But I was getting tired of deleting chauvinistic comments that strayed too far off topic. The signal to noise ratio was dying too rapidly. Perhaps, if I leave the comments open here, a more civil conversation might ensue this time.

As for those who accused me of being sexist, or choosing from a “boys club” for the Blogger template designs. Those criticisms were surprising, and they were hard to read. It was frustrating to see comments like that build up. Because as anyone who knows me and has worked with me, that’s the furthest from who I am.

I wrote that post (Who/Where are the Women?) in December 2003. And I sent out an email asking for help on the Blogger templates in January 2004. That’s only one month later. The circle of people that I know well doesn’t expand that quickly. Sure, after writing the Where are the Women post in December, I had URLs to a lot more sites than I had before. But a nicely designed site doesn’t tell me much about a person when I’m in a pinch, and need to pull in designers quickly. I had a limited budget from Google to design and produce the templates, and a short amount of time. So I went straight to those that I knew, and to those I knew could turn around a template design (and code it on their own with XHTML/CSS) within a limited period of time.

If, when on deadline, going to those that I know to help me on a project, and those few that I quickly choose just happen to be male… if this solely is what constitutes a boys club, then I can’t win, and am guilty as charged. I thought a boys club is one that favors men over women, and one that actively dismisses (or looks down upon) involvement from women because of their sex. If my Blogger team selection conveyed that, the team being all-male certainly wasn’t an intentional factor.

I will take the blame and fault that, at the time, I didn’t know as many female designers who create strong, standards-based design. But I’ve been trying to change that. I’m actively seeking other types of designers. The post last December is just one piece of evidence. I’m certainly getting to know more work from female designers in a virtual way. But in terms of knowing them well, and talking with them face to face? Who knows? When it comes to social situations, maybe it’s my shyness and the fact that I’m still single that inhibits me from getting to know more females, period — let alone female designers. Or it could have something to do with Joe Clark’s opinion. Either way, I still wish I knew more of them.

Ok, this went on entirely too long, and probably should have been kept as an entry in some sort of personal diary or blog. But I react emotionally when I see accusations of being sexist. Either I must not be as transparent as I think I am, or some people are just too quick to make judgments about those they don’t know or understand all the circumstances in which they operate. Regardless, I thought a public post in response might be a good thing for people to read.