I believe that to make real changes we need to provide both the safe spaces for people to learn and ask questions without being judged, as well as events that are intended to push us out of our comfort zone. That way we can take what we learned in the safe space and use it with confidence in places we feel less safe.
I believe however, that when someone builds the courage to go to an event they felt would be a safe space, in this case a “Women Learn to Code” event, it is imperative that we ensure it is the safe space they expect.
In the above case, I believe it would have been absolutely ok for the male mentors to be interspersed throughout the crowd and approach the attendees in a friendly manner. Perhaps asking questions such as:
- Is there anything you would like some help with?
- What have you got so far? Are you stuck with anything?
- Did you have any questions I could help with?
Instead, they chatted at the back of the room in a closed group. They didn’t go around and help the attendees learn. They were just there to say I support women, but not actually do the work to do it.
Is it all their fault? Perhaps not. The organizers could have approached them and explained that they could help best by actually working directly with the attendees instead of socializing in the back like they were too cool for school.
Male allies are extremely important and the only way things will change in tech. Many of them have good hearts, and want to do what is best, but sometimes they need guidance. In this case guidance might have helped both achieve their goals.