Sunday I sat down with a small group at the Government 2.0 Camp LA to pow-wow about how to get more women involved in the movement that has many names: e-government, open government, government transparency, and finally government 2.0. While the conference took on many forms, one of the primary goals laid down by conference founder Alan Silberberg was to make sure women's voices were heard. As a result, we convened a break-out session to brainstorm practical solutions for reaching more women beyond just inclusion in conferences like this one.
Here are some of the main points from that discussion, from a perspective that anyone in government, private sector, media, or advocacy organizations can take to heart and apply to bring greater diversity to e-government and reform movements:
1) Don't just tell women to act more like men; help shift the paradigm so that women can feel comfortable to engage in the e-government aspect of our political process in a variety of ways. It's not all about going to crowd sourcing government websites. It's about engaging on a deeper level in the political process using the power of social media. This creates endless possibilities.
2) Treat women's issues like all issues. Don't just shove them in the "Living" section of the newspaper, for example. Stop assuming that just because someone has a long-haired avatar or a "mom" in her handle that she's therefore less relevant. Look at the content, not the moniker. (You think PunditMom or MOMocrats write about mom stuff? Think again. They may happen to be moms, but they're all about the same issues as everyone else: the economy, health care, the environment.)
3) Recognize the power many women have in the world of social media. Arianna Huffington, Dooce and Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake may be the names most people know, but there are thousands of other powerful women in social media with expertise in a wide range of topics far beyond the few who make it onto the talk shows.
4) Reach out across sectors to women. Don't just engage the women in elected office. They're already busy enough juggling a million projects. Think about the woman in her first job out of college with marketing skills and a lot of energy. She could be extremely valuable to boosting the conversation to the next level, and engaging younger members of the citizenry only helps it grow faster. This goes for the government agencies especially. They have what one of my colleagues described as the "legal and moral framework" to handle this sort of thing. They can engage in outreach like affirmative action programs in order to make sure more women are informed about government innovation.
5) Give women tools that are more collaborative. These could include the most simple of reaching out in communities where the women already are, like iVillage, BlogHer, and Facebook. Or it could go deeper to the design level, providing options on government websites for women -- and anyone else, for that matter -- to configure their user interface to whatever design style they like.
6) Take advantage of identity-neutralizing environments, like Twitter. In these spaces, no one needs to know everything about you. Here, anyone can choose your topic and create a platform. Technology is a neutral tool if it's used that way. Anonymity, neutral images, neutral tone can all create spaces where readers and listeners are forced to only concentrate on the raw content presented. As a result, new ideas can surface and be heard without the filter of gender.
7) Invite men to find ways in which they are most comfortable helping to engage more women. For men active in social media, this could mean adding more women's blogs to their blogrolls or making sure to follow Friday an equal number of women as men on Twitter. For others, it could just mean listening more to women and taking a few minutes every week to think about how to get more women involved in the projects they're working on in government.
8) Amplify the quiet voices. This goes for the men and the women. Millions of people out there have incredible ideas about how to improve government and society if we can find them and listen to them. Giving attention to those with 20 followers as much as 20,000 can remind us all about the fundamentals of democracy and why we're in this movement using social media to reinvent government in the first place.