The first Girl Geek Dinner, Sydney was held on Thursday, at Chinta Ria. For those of you who haven’t heard of this: women working in computing/IT get together, have dinner, discuss technical topics and generally network. Damana has been organising this over the last month and a half or so. While the events are intended for women, each woman can escort one man. I was there as Damana’s escort, acting in a supporting role. But, I will pause and make very clear here that independently of any personal connections in this particular instance, I fully support this idea. It’s a great idea and I’d like to see more of this sort of thing.

So, as a guy at a Girl Geek Dinner, what did I think of it? To be completely honest, it was unusual. There are few enough gatherings of outgoing geeks and when there are the demographics are depressingly predictable. The Girl Geek Dinner was different but not dramatically. The overall mood and atmosphere of the group was what you’d expect from a crowd of people who don’t know each other but share an interest. There was a lot of loud, friendly talking. People generally moved around and talked to others they hadn’t met. Just like a bunch of strangers socialising.

But there were still differences. Differences that only exhibited on individual scales. Ultimately, this is an issue of gender, oppression and hostile environments. Please bear with me. Try to take this in the spirit that it is intended and above all remember that I am a major proponent of diversity in all its forms in all environments. I don’t subscribe to any ‘fundamentally different’ hypotheses; in my view we’re all the largely the same after individual and cultural differences are accounted for.

Onto the differences. Firstly, the women seemed significantly more relaxed in a work-type social setting than I have seen before. There was a lot of very loud talking, joking, laughing; a lot of alcohol was drunk (thanks Google!), the food was enjoyed (thanks ThoughtWorks!) and there were no more moments of self-conscious reflection than you’d expect when there are introverts around. This was particularly noticeable later in the night when some sleazy sales guy from another group tried to attach himself to us. It was a pretty clear reminder of what normally confronts women when they socialise together.

But that’s all external observation; me theorising about motivations and feelings in a group to which I do not belong. I can be more certain about my own feelings. Several times, early in the night I mentally gave a start and felt that I had to move seats. I didn’t though when I realised where that sense was coming from. I was one guy sitting at a table, laughing and talking with a bunch of women. And in Australia, at least, you just don’t do that. I can’t be certain where this was coming from. Either, it is not appropriate for a guy to be showing that much attention to a group of women (cf. sleazy sales guy), without also talking to some men occasionally; or, that men would regard other men who spend all night talking only to women poorly. So, was it fear of a negative reaction from men or fear of a negative reaction from women? Because I can say that it was not an inability to relate, not a lack of common interests: once I identified and ignored the feeling, it quickly disappeared, and I had a great night. Either way, this is the sort of thing that needs to be identified and disposed of before the inherent sexism in computing can be fixed.

But, apart form all that serious discussion of gender interaction, I had a great night and it seemed that so did pretty much everyone else. Thank you very much to Damana for organising this, ThoughtWorks for paying for the food and Google for providing the drinks. It was very interesting to get a real chance to talk to women in computing and about computing when I was the minority and I hope these sorts of events can do something to make computing a more balanced, realistic and enjoyable environment. Any geek guys out there, I’d recommend trying to get a date to the next one!