On Diversity in Tech Communities

One of the advantages of working from home is that I can do more interesting things with my lunch break that simply eat lunch. So, every week for three years I took my daughters to a local sing-a-long group. Now as you can imagine, this group was primarily made up of mothers and their children. The people who run the sessions are women. On the odd occasion another father would turn up, but it was mostly just me and thirty women and their children. No-one ever implied that I shouldn't be there. No-one ever made jokes about men being useless. People didn't try to have "Cosmo" type conversations with me that would make me blush. No-one even made any comment implying it was un-manly for me to sing along with nursery rhymes like all the other parents did. All in all you could say it was great. I'd never accuse anyone at any of these events of being sexist. But then again, every so often the group would sing a song about Bobby Shaftoe. For those of you not familar the lyrics go:

Bobby Shaftoe went to sea, Silver buckles on his knee. He'll come back and marry me, Pretty Bobby Shaftoe.

I never - in three years - spoke up about how uncomfortable these lyrics are for a straight man to sing. In the end I just stopped singing them. Did this really bother me that much? Not really, otherwise I would have said something. But it let me experience in the tiniest possible little way what it's like to be suddenly reminded that you're different to everyone else in the group and to find out that you can't join in what everyone else is doing because it's not designed for you. So, with this in mind I wish that people would understand that when I'm suggesting a code of conduct for a tech community my primary objective is not to suggest a list of things you can and can't do. Nor am I suggesting that people are deliberately being nasty. I'm just trying to encourage everyone to think a little wider about the other people in their community that aren't just like them - because even the best of us sometimes can have a blind spot. You know, it's not always about the big things. Sometimes I just don't want community member to have to sing songs about their desire to marry a sailorman. And if they do find themselves in a situation where someone is asking them to declare their desire for silver buckled knee wearers that they feel like they can politely point out that they shouldn't have to. That is all.

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