Community

Empowering Women in WordPress

When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, “What will I be?”

I used to think that the only jobs for women included only nursing, teaching, or being a mother. I had no clue that there would be something called the Internet, and that I would be making websites for it and teaching others how to code. Since its inception, the technology fields have always been under-represented by women, and there is a lack of positive female role models in the computer and IT Industry as a whole. One place where the balance is more equal is within the WordPress Community.

kim-wcsf

The WordPress Community is comprised of many different people across all backgrounds who also happen to be positive role models for their work with WP. One such woman was Kim Parsell, who was actively contributing to and involved with multiple WordPress efforts, including the documentation team. Unfortunately, we were robbed of Kim’s contributions too soon as she recently passed away unexpectedly.

I created the wpmom.org website to remember her and her contributions to the community. Along with the many individual posts by many members in the WordPress community, she has received public recognition from the WordPress.org Foundation in the form of a yearly travel scholarship given in her name. Thanks to that scholarship, each year, one woman has the opportunity to participate in the largest WordCamp in the United States. Kim was very passionate about involving women in WordPress, so this scholarship was set up to pay tribute to her by encouraging more women to participate in the community.

Overall, the WordPress community is one of the most women-friendly tech communities around. WordPress meetups and WordCamps are usually at least 30-40% women, and I’ve not found that to be the case at any other tech conference or meetup. Outside the WordPress community, I attended a dev conference once with 200 attendees, 5 of whom were women. It’s not at all uncommon for me to be the only woman in attendance at tech meetups.

Natalie MacLees, founder and principal of Purple Pen Productions

natalie-speaking

Natalie MacLees is also another very inspirational woman in the WordPress Community. In addition to running her own WordPress development agency, she is also founder of the Girl Develop It! Los Angeles Chapter, whose mission is, “Empowering women of diverse backgrounds from around the world to learn how to develop software.” Natalie has also been the main organizer for the last two annual Los Angeles WordCamps, and she has run the largest WordPress Meetup group in Los Angeles, SoCal WordPress, for nearly six years. She is a frequent speaker at WordPress and jQuery events, and she has also authored two editions of the popular book, jQuery for Designers.

According to Natalie, “Empowerment means feeling capable and confident in your own skills and ability to get things done and achieve goals. It means feeling that you control your own destiny.”

She also feels that there are both internal and external barriers to making women feel more empowered in the WordPress Community:

Internally, women need help owning their accomplishments and speaking about them without diminishing them or apologizing for them. That’s something we can all work on. Personally, I’ve stopped saying ‘sorry’ when I haven’t done anything wrong, and have forbidden myself from using the words like ‘but’, ‘just’, or ‘only’ when speaking about my own accomplishments. When you say things like ‘It was just a simple plugin,’ or ‘It was only a beginner’s book,’ you belittle your achievement in your own mind and in the mind of whomever you’re speaking to.

Externally, we need to be aware of discrimination. The WordPress community as a whole is very open and welcoming, and there is a Code of Conduct for WordCamps, but there are occasional incidents victimizing both men and women.

Even something that seems small or minor can have a big impact on an individual. If a speaker is discriminated against or harassed on their first or second attempt at presenting, they may never attempt to present again. 

We need to have open ears and open minds to hear about these things and the impact they can have. It’s not uncommon for women to be dismissed or discredited when they speak out about incidents where they felt uncomfortable or humiliated. We need to stop doing that and really listen and look at where we can make changes.

Natalie went on to say, “We should be sure that there are women in leadership positions and in speaker roles throughout the community. When other women see that, they are encouraged and think that it’s something they can do, too. I think the relatively high proportion of women is a really positive reflection on the WordPress community. We’re not perfect, but we’re so far ahead of other tech and dev communities. In that regard, the WordPress community is a leader and other tech/dev communities should be looking to us to figure out how they can be more welcoming and get more women involved.”

It is important that as a community, we continue to reach out to women to involve them and one way that this can be done is through education in offering beginning WordPress and coding classes to women to help them get a leg up on the latest web technologies.

suzette-teaching

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to teach an Introduction to WordPress class to group of seventeen young women. It was a three hour workshop put on by Girl Develop It! at Kleverdog Coworking in Chinatown. Girl Develop It! is a national organization that specializes in teaching affordable technology courses for women, and they even have a scholarship/financial assistance available for those in need. All are welcome to attend classes as long as they abide by the Girl Develop It Code of Conduct.

I started by giving an overview about posts and pages, plugins, themes, settings, maintenance, and backups. We went over the difference between .com and .org, which is a source of confusion for many beginners. The intention of this class was to introduce the WordPress concepts to class participants in hopes of getting them more involved in the community and, of course, to come back and take more advanced classes and get into WordPress web development and, eventually, contribution.

Organizations like Girl Develop It! are targeted at teaching women the skills they need to be competitive in today’s job market, and more classes in WordPress are becoming available as the demand for these courses increases. The WordPress Foundation has stepped up to provide scholarships for women and I hope that other organizations follow suit. WordCamps and conferences are always looking for great women speakers, and the more women speak, the more visible we will be to young women wanting to break into the web technology field.

If you are interested in becoming more empowered (or know a woman in your life who would love to learn!), check out my next class, Intro to PHP and MySQL with Girl Develop It!, which starts February 14th and runs four consecutive weeks in Los Angeles. The following month (on March 14th), I will be teaching Intro to HTML and CSS, which is one of my favorite topics to teach about as it opens so many possibilities to beginners. Join us!

13 thoughts on “Empowering Women in WordPress

  1. Wonderful post, Suzette. Let’s keep it up. Started a twitter account for such a thing a couple of years ago at WordCamp Toronto, but haven’t done much with it. Let me know how I can help from the other side of the border. Will spread the good word. Keep up the good work.

  2. Love it!! Natalie was one of the first people I met in the WordPress community, quite a few years ago now, and she has been an inspiration ever since!! Likewise Suzette you always go out of your way to champion & support others in the community. Love to see you both succeeding! And as you say, the community isn’t perfect, but I’ve absolutely found it to be a supportive and empowering environment.

  3. Awesome post, Suzette! I think about how fortunate I am to know so many talented people in our community here. When I sit and think of all the stuff that you’ve done to educate and help people it’s really amazing. If I could be like Suzette! =)

  4. Always happy to see us working to give other women opportunities… teaching that class is a great example. I’m really hoping this is the year that the community around us (not just us women) does more than merely applaud these efforts, but also joins in.

    I’d love to see all the podcasts and blogs and camps and events proactively seek out women and minorities, not to “equal the score”, but because there are tons of amazing voices out there that aren’t being heard because they’re not publically asking to be.

    1. “I’m really hoping this is the year that the community around us (not just us women) does more than merely applaud these efforts, but also joins in.”
      ^ That bit right there is awesome.

      Marginalization is everyone’s responsibility to address. I don’t know what it’s like to be marginalized but I know how it limits opportunities and is damaging… I know that I wouldn’t want my loved ones feeling like they couldn’t do whatever it is they dreamed of doing because of how they are different.

      Now, about getting women to participate and share; I’d like to see more discussion there. Because do we specifically say “Hey, if you’re a woman we want to hear from you?” My thought is we say “Hey, if you have something awesome to share, we want to hear from you!” If I’m looking specifically at WordCamps the latter is being done already.

      1. I don’t believe “Hey, if you have something awesome to share, we want to hear from you” is different from “Hey, if you’re a woman, we want to hear from you” or is different from what is already being said, which is basically, “hey, if you want to tell people about yourself be loud and someone will listen”.

        I think there needs to be a fundamental shift in appreciating that because of our experiences and cultures, different people behave differently, and one is not better or correct. Instead of putting it on the marginalized groups by saying “here I am, waiting for you, but you need to speak up, because speaking up is the right way”, be proactive and go FIND those people and invite them, personally.

        When you inherently believe people aren’t going to listen to you (which is often the truth for maginalized groups) you stop putting yourself out there, because putting yourself out there is hard.

  5. My personal inspiration was the amazing Karen McGrane at *ahem* DrupalCon in Portland. Her keynote on adaptive content(et al) truly inspired me – not just because she was talking about things I personally was passionate about, but her knowledge, confidence and delivery up on that stage inspired everything I went on to do with WordPress and structured content in general. For me it took just ONE amazing encounter and I was forever inspired. What keeps me moving is that someday, I may be someone else’s Karen Mcgrane. Keep payin it forward 🙂

  6. Nice post Suzette. Yes as a little girl I did not dream of a field in technology because it was not a predominate field for women way back when 🙂 A friend suggested many years ago that I learn how to program computers. That skill served me well. Over the years building upon that foundation of intimate knowledge of how computers work and all things associated. WordPress is a great way to start (especially the way you teach it!) to get familiar with the inner workings in a kind and gentle way. My hat is off to you for carrying that banner. I do love WordPress and have telling all my tech friends about it!

  7. Last year on Woman’s Day, I have written a post on Women In WordPress at Cloudways blog (You were there). I received massive response and it made the team to make another list which we named as Everlasting List of Women in WordPress. Lets plan something together for this year together?

    Long story short, I encourage the idea of empowering women and I second Natalie on this: “Empowerment means feeling capable and confident in your own skills and ability to get things done and achieve goals. It means feeling that you control your own destiny.” Well said.

    Yes, women are made to stand aside by men in every field. Here, our WordPress community comprises of so many amazing ladies including the one we all miss, our very own Kim Parsell famous as WPmom. Thank you Suzette for making the website. Kim’s contributions to the WP documentation is a great virtue.

    Everyone is contributing somehow in the community. But, contributions of amazing women in WordPress is remarkable. I would love to see when tech meetups have more women than men. Ending up on Young’s following quote.

    Brigham Young — ‘You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.’

  8. Thanks for this great article! Personally, I’m currently not so sure that the WordPress community is all that open and inviting to women. The recent debate about the HeroPress name and opening line-up was a bit demoralizing. It showed just how many men don’t realize the importance of making a point of prioritizing diversity. It was really disheartening to see some men argue that promoting gender equality means that those who are more deserving are passed by, because this implies both that women are not deserving, and that none of those who are deserving are women. Incidents like this perfectly prove Natalie’s message in the article above, where external barriers are described…

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