Empowering Women in WordPress

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 Parsell

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 MacLees

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 Franck

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!