When I heard the news that I’d been accepted as a lightning round speaker at IxDA’s Interaction ’11 conference, I was delighted and just a bit terrified. I’m very passionate about the subject, but had no idea whether it would resonate in a sea of interesting design theories and case studies. In short, my theory is that the direct social benefit we perform in our careers as user experience professionals is the perfect antidote to antiquated technology curriculums that have scared off women (and some men) in droves. (If you didn’t get a chance to see the talk, embeds are at the bottom of this post.)
Needless to say, I was excited and relieved after the presentation (and I didn’t go over time!!). But the outpouring afterwards was humbling and energizing at the same time. I had women come up to me, thanking me, saying “Now I understand why I love this career so much!” Fathers came forward to tell me of their own experiences and struggles with their daughters, and several said they’d be watching the eventual video with their girls – what a wonderful thought! Others came forward expressing interest in the sorts of volunteering efforts I do as a board member for IGNITE in Seattle. I was nearly overwhelmed by the sudden wave of possibilities, and loved hearing people’s perspectives on the subject.
There was also quite a bit of discourse with the inimitable Alan Cooper – as excited as I was to just have him at the talk, our discussion during the public Q&A and private followup was even more exciting, as well as a clarifying moment for me. Lots of thinking out loud and new realizations along the way.
We come at the problem from two different angles – while we are both equally passionate about the subject, Alan believes strongly that the debate should not be framed by gender or other distinguishing factors. My philosophy was best summarized by a line from Brenda Laurel’s keynote just a few hours after I spoke. “To create social change, you have to meet people where they are – not where you want them to be.” While I agree with Alan that there are benefits to be gained by both genders from my proposals, I have visited schools and talked to young girls and they are truly laboring under a set of societal pressures and perceptions unique to girls of that age. My short-term goal is to reach out to these girls and, slowly but surely, provide them with the evidence that they can find fulfillment in science and technology careers. I’m glad that there are also folks like Alan in the world, working from a top-down approach to complement our more bottom-up approach – both are needed. To read more about Alan’s perspective on the issue, check out his blog entry on the subjects raised in my talk.
Now that the video of my talk is available, I’ve been getting some interesting questions from coworkers and passionate folks about my perspective, and I intend to elaborate more in future posts. For now, if you haven’t yet been able to view my talk, the Slideshare and Vimeo (slides + audio) versions are embedded below