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Today there was a meeting on my campus for the World Wide Women In Computing Conference. The W3C2 is a fake name, but the meeting was real. Since it's on my campus, I volunteered to help out: driving a shuttle bus, fielding questions about ATM locations, and taking meeting notes. I try to be a good hostess, which generally involves keeping my cynical mouth shut.
Fifteen minutes before today's meeting, I approached the W3C2 representative to let him know I would be taking notes.
I said, "I was sent down here to be your scribe."
He replied, "Oh great! I'll assume that you don't know what we're doing."
I said, "I'm a graduate student in computer science, I think I'll be okay."
He said, "Well, you may not know that W3C2 is ..."
I stopped him, firmly, "I'm very familiar with your institution."
And then he explained their topic of conversation, which is where I wished he had started. He never bothered to learn my name.
I was very mad. Shaking hands mad. Here is a representative for an institution trying to get more women in computing, and he did the very thing that makes me feel invalidated and invisible. He assumed I didn't know.
Of course, I took beautiful notes. I know the area of diversity in computing quite well, so it wasn't hard to keep up with the conversation. I've also seen many of the attendees at other conferences, so it wasn't hard to add names to the things that were said. But all the time I felt like I needed to swat this guy gently on the nose.
After the meeting he came up to me to arrange to have the notes sent to him. After I got his e-mail:
I said, "I hope you've learned your lesson."
He asked, "What's that?"
I said, "When a woman is standing in front of you, don't assume she's a secretary."
He stammered, "I didn't assume that...I...I just assumed that you didn't know what we were doing."
I said, "Given that you are in W3C2, it's very important for you not to make these kinds of assumptions."
He stammered, "Yes, I'm learning that
I said, smiling, "Have a safe trip home."
At least he faked being receptive to his lesson. Let's hope he learned.