We need more moms in web design and development

I’ve noticed that there are very few moms speaking at conferences in our industry. I’d like us to do our little part to make it easier for women to work in technology fields by making web design and development conferences more mom-friendly. This can help all of us, not just the moms.

Last year in one of my conference talks, I mentioned that I have kids. After my talk, a woman came up to me and asked me how I do it. How I have a full-time job and do conferences and write and be a mom. She was interested in this because she was planning to start a family soon and wanted to know how other working moms in our industry manage it.

This got me thinking about moms in web design and development. And I realized that out of the 40-ish conferences I have spoken at over the last 8 years, there has been only one other speaker at a conference with me who was a mom. Maybe two. In both cases, their kids were grown or nearly grown, not babies or little kids that can’t fend for themselves for a couple days while mom is away.

It’s not that I haven’t spoken with lots of great women. I’ve been fortunate that most of the conferences I’ve spoken at have had women well represented in the speaker line-up. But all of these women, bar one or two, are not mothers. I’m sure there are other mom speakers out there like me, but the point is that they’re very rare.

Dad speakers are not rare. There are tons of dad speakers at web design and development conferences. I’d say at least half of the men I speak with are fathers of young children. Lots have babies at home.

Every family is different, of course, but speaking of the larger culture, it’s usually easier for dads in our society to leave the kids for several days to go speak at a conference than it is for mom to leave. It’s also usually easier for dads to just attend the conference. I’m willing to bet that there’s a far higher percentage of dads out of the male attendees than there is of moms out of the female attendees.

Now, I have nothing against all of the lovely kid-free women at conferences that I have had the pleasure to meet. But I think making conferences more mom-friendly—and more diverse in general, in every sense of the word—benefits all women. If we want more women in web design, we have to make it easier for them to stay in web design after they have kids. Much of this comes down to employment practices, of course, but I think we can do our little part by making conferences more accommodating to the needs of moms, and by having mom speakers so that other women can see that it is possible to have kids and still be successful in your field.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do. First, I’m going to mention that I’m a mom in every single conference presentation I do from now on. I don’t usually mention my kids, because I figure most of the attendees don’t care, but I’ve decided that’s OK. They don’t have to care. If it helps that one woman in the audience who was thinking about starting a family and wondering if she could stay in web design afterwards to feel a little more confident that she can do it too, then I’d say the 10 seconds devoted to mentioning my kids in my conference presentation are worth it.

It may also help dispel the stereotype of moms as not being tech-savvy. We’re sometimes told in conferences and blog posts to keep our products so simple that our moms could use them. Moms are a lazy stand-in for non-tech-savvy, novice users. We need to stop framing moms this way. It’s just plain wrong (moms today generally are very tech-savvy) and it hurts the perception of women in our industry.

Me mentioning my kids in a recent conference talk.

Me mentioning my kids in a recent conference talk.

The next thing that I’d like to do is help organize a parent-friendly conference. Not a conference just for parents, of course, but a conference that includes things that will make it easier for parents to attend. I’m thinking of small things like having a room dedicated for breast pumping and breastfeeding. I’m thinking of big things like having childcare available for the little kids and coding classes available for the big kids so they can learn more about what Mom or Dad does all day at work and have their own fun little mini conference to benefit from.

I know that things like this have been done before. I spoke at a conference when my son was a newborn (I flew in and out the same day), and I asked the organizers to provide me a private space to pump during the event. They were happy to do so, and I’m sure would have been happy to let other women pump there too, but this wasn’t an advertised facility of the event and thus no other women took part. I wonder if another mom or two might have bought a ticket and attended the event had she known she wouldn’t have to worry about finding a place to pump during the day? I’ve pumped while sitting on a bathroom floor in an airport. No woman wants to resort to crap like this. Give us a comfy, clean place to pump and tell us about it upfront, and you might just find a couple extra moms at your conference.

I’ve heard of a couple events that have planned for kids to attend with their parents. Last year at OSCON, they held an entire day of workshops for school-aged children to learn about computer programming. It cost just $20 and sold out. Also last year, OpenITP ran a hackathon and provided child care. You can read about how they went about setting it up and some other tech events that also have incorporated child care in the past.

My parent-friendly conference is just an idea right now. I have no idea how to organize a conference. I have no idea if this is even realistic and doable. So what I’d like to do is get your help. Tell me if this will never work, tell me it’s awesome and you want to help, tell me your great idea for what we can do to get more moms in web design and development. And then we’ll go from there.

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8 Responses to “We need more moms in web design and development”

  1. Carmen

    YES~! I just attended Write/Speak/Code and they had childcare. Would love to contribute. Already have something in the works for all NYC area tech meetups. Please feel free to email me to discuss further.

  2. Virginia

    I know it isn’t a tech conference, but BlogHer conferences always plan for mothers. They have hotel rooms for the kids with 2 or 3 adults in charge of care, they have rooms for nursing and all kinds of services aimed at moms. You might check with BlogHer people. I can put you in touch with someone if you want.

  3. Ines van Essen

    I am a WordPress dev and currently (very) pregnant with my second child. Some weeks ago I visited a meetup and it was akward. Not that anyone was unkind, but as I stepped into a room full of techie guys my appearance did get some odd looks. It felt inconvenient to be there whilst pregnant, and I can’t put my finger on why. My mom status has nothing to do with my skills as a developer and as you said, a lot of the men attending these conferences are young dads themselves. I think it’s a good idea to make conferences and meetups more parent friendly and I love the idea of a conference that’s set up to make it easier to attend if you have kids!

  4. Justin Avery

    I’m not a Mum but I did take our little boy along to State of the Browser (browser.londonwebstandards.org) last year. While they didn’t have any facilities to look after Noah they were very accommodating by allowing me to use otherwise block off areas for a better (and more sound proof) vantage point as well as use of the kitchen for bottles.

    You’re absolutely right (in my case at least) that it is easier for me to attend a conference, or speak at a conference, than it is for Laura. I would love it though if I could attend something where I could bring our boy along to free up time for Laura to do her own thing… and this would only encourage more Mums/Dads to do the same.

    I’m keen on the idea and would be happy to help out where ever you may need.

  5. Rachel Lehman

    Thank you for writing about this! Before kids I attended several conferences a year and spoke at one or two as well. Since having kids I’ve only been to a couple. Now I’m a part time freelancer and mostly a SAHM out of necessity, and conferences are basically out of the question because of my kids’ schedule, husband’s (breadwinner’s) travel schedule, and lack of a large corporate training budget. I attended one conference when my first child was a few months old, and it was very different for me. I pumped in the bathroom and couldn’t really participate in much of the socialization opportunities because they were late at night and alcohol-centric (I’m ok with some drinking but I didn’t have much desire to drink then, with my lack of sleep and general exhaustion). Offering reasonably priced childcare would make it totally possible for me to do a conference today! Not just for talks but for social events. And keeping the social events earlier in the day. Long breaks between talks allow time for nursing/pumping and checking in on kids. I love your ideas and appreciate yor drawing attention to these issues.

  6. Rachel Lehman

    I just thought of something else! I tried to attend a conference with my 6mo in a carrier. I didn’t want to disturb anyone else so I left the room whenever she cried or got noisy, so I missed half of it. Having a “crying” room like many churches do where it’s a separate room with an AV feed to allow everyone with babies to care for them there while watching the talk would be amazing!

  7. Natalie

    I think this is a great idea. I’ve actually had more acceptance from complete strangers than from my own employers.

    I’ve been to exactly three conferences since the kids were born. In the first two, my husband got time off to care for the really small ones. The last time I happened to have a relative in the conference city and he kindly watched the kids during the day.

    You don’t even have to have something technical for the kids. I wonder if there could be a partnering with care dot com to provide needed care for whatever kids are going to be going.

    Maybe there could be a statement for including parents like the statement for including women at conferences. There’s some overlap, but not all of it.

    There’s a lot of things to think about: Is this happening during the school year or summer? What happens after the daytime activities? Not a lot of parents will be able to make the cocktail hour if the care is limited.

  8. Brian

    BIG like. Good luck with it. I seriously don’t understand why computers are a boy thing, and think consequently a lot of talented people aren’t involved.


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