Tampon Club at Tech City IWD 2015

It’s International Women’s Day (IWD) 2015 and Alex D-S, Ana Bradley, and Becky Stewart organised a fun evening event on Friday at the Digital Catapult Centre on Euston Road, London.

Tampon Club founder, Alice Bartlett, was unable to attend and asked me, as Tampon Club heiress, if I could stand in.

“Tampon Club is just a bunch of women leaving tampons and sanitary towels in their workplace toilets, so that they’re available when required. No more walking back to your locker to get out a tampon, no more sneaking one up your sleeve; tampons in the loo when you need one. Simple as that.” —tampon.club

So that’s how I came to be here:

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“Tampon Club is a remarkably slick example of community self organization. Founded and maintained by ‘a shadowy cabal of menstruating women’” —core77

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(Thanks to Chris for taking the photo of me.)

I think the stand turned out to be a pretty good approximation of the sketch Alice sent to me beforehand:

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Conversations at Tech City IWD 2015

Talking about tampons and periods is a bit embarrassing for many people (including us!). So there were lots of slightly sheepish half-smiles as visitors approached the stand and asked about Tampon Club. The more succinct my explanation got as the evening went on, the more quickly the sheepishness developed into full-on enthusiasm for the idea.

As well as questions about what Tampon Club is (see above) and isn’t (an organisation or promoting any particular form of sanitary product over any other; the name is just catchy and amusing), several women shared their own stories and ideas. Most empathised with the situation of being ‘caught out’ at work and the embarrassment, awkwardness, and inconvenience that can ensue.

Others wondered about what could be done in the same vein in other contexts. For example, one woman mentioned that one of the most difficult things for homeless women is dealing with their periods. Another woman talked about how she and her sister had gone to stay with relatives in a small town in India when they were teenagers and had been shocked by how women there had to make their own sanitary towels from collected old rags bound around cotton.

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We also talked a little about the community aspect of Tampon Club. For example, after May and I created the Second Ever Tampon Club in our office last October, some other women in the office contributed a posh soap dispenser and moisturiser alongside. That made me feel so warm and fuzzy about it all that I very nearly bought a pot plant to put in there too!

Alex highlighted the ‘open source’ aspect of setting up Tampon Clubs. It isn’t really a ‘club’ in the conventional sense; it’s more of a ‘thing’ or a ‘movement’. The important thing, though, is that anyone is welcome to set one up using these handy guidelines. If you send in a photo of your Tampon Club, you might get some stickers in return. And that’s it really. It’s pretty straightforward.

Who else was at Tech City IWD 2015?

Between chats with people on the Tampon Club stand, I managed to sneak off to see a few of the other stands. Either side of me were Naomi from Trans*Code promoting their upcoming first UK hackday, and Leillah who co-founded No Scrunchie which is a kind of TripAdvisor site of hairdressers who style hair that isn’t straight Caucasian hair.

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I caught up with Claire Rowland and one of her co-authors, Martin Charlier, who were promoting their new O’Reilly book, Designing Connected Things. I also got to chat briefly with Lauren at Zealify where you can get and share reviews of what it’s really like to work at a given company, and with the women behind Articulate Network, a directory of women speakers. Like Tampon Club, all simple ideas addressing a particular problem.

And, finally…

One woman who visited the Tampon Club stand pointed me to this video of 15-year-old Artemis Irvine speaking about Menstruation, Misogyny, and Caitlin Moran in her winning entry for the Jack Petchey’s “Speak Out” Challenge Grand Final July 2014. It seemed rather appropriate to include here:

Monki Gras 2015

Monki Gras happened again! Though, in its Monki Gras 2015 incarnation, it acquired a heavy metal umlaut and a ‘slashed zero’ in its typeface; an allusion to its Nordic nature: Mönki Gras 2Ø15

What is Monki Gras?

Well…

And Ricardo makes a good point, explaining why I, and others, just keep going back:

There’s a single track of talks so you are saved the effort of making decisions about what to see and you can just focus on listening. The speakers entertain as well as inform, which, I really like.

While it is a tech conference, there’s little code because it’s about making technology happen rather than the details of the technology itself. So there are talks on developer culture, design, and data, as well as slightly more off-the-wall things to keep our brains oiled.

In James’ very own distinctive words:

Why go all Nordic this year?

All the speakers this year were Scandinavian in some way. It was probably the most rigorously applied conference theme I’ve ever seen (mostly, conferences come up with a ‘theme’ for marketing purposes which usually gets mostly forgotten about by the time of the conference itself).

James talks a bit more about this on the Monkigras blog. A surprising amount of tech we know and love comes out of the relatively sparsely populated Scandinavian countries. For example:

And, apparently, Finland leads the EU in enterprise cloud computing:

Are the Nordics really that different from anywhere else?

Well, this graph seems to say they are, if only for their taste in music:

Which suggests there is at least something different about Nordic cultures from the rest of Europe, let alone the world.

So several of the speakers delved into why they thought this led to success in technology innovation and development. For example, there’s the attitude to recognising when you’re failing and giving up so that you can be successful by doing it another way:

A Swedish concept, lagom, which means ‘just the right amount’ was credited with the popularity of the cloud in the Nordics. And, indeed, with pretty much anything we could think of throughout the rest of the event.

Similarly, you could argue that lagom is why Docker is popular among developers:

One fascinating talk, by a Swedish speaker based in Silicon Valley, was about the difference between startups in the Nordics and Silicon Valley. For example, the inescapable differences between their welfare systems were credited as being responsible for different priorities regarding making money. (Hopefully, videos of the talks will be put online and I’ll add a link to it.)

Obviously, all this talk about culture can, and did, drift into stereotyping. I did get slightly weary of the repeated comparisons between cultures, though interesting and, often, humorous.

Developer culture

One of the things I’m most interested in is hearing what other companies have learnt about developer culture and community. For example:

There’s more about this talk on Techworld. And Spotify have blogged some funky videos about the developer culture they aspire to (part 1 and part 2), which are well worth watching if you work in software development.

Something that I’m working on at IBM is increasing the openness of our development teams so, again, I’m always interested in new ways to do this. This is something that Sweden (yes, the country!) has adopted to a surprising extent:

Innovation and inefficiencies

One important message that came across at Monki Gras 2015 was that you have to allow time for innovation to happen. It’s when things seem inefficient and time is not allocated to a specific activity that innovation often occurs.

A nice example of this is the BrewPi project. At Monki Gras 2013, Elco Jacobs talked about his open source project of brewing beer and using a Raspberry Pi to monitor it:

I bumped into him this year and what had been a project now occupies him full-time as a small business selling the technology to brewers around the world. A pause in his education when he had nothing better to do had enabled him to get on with his BrewPi project and, after graduation, turn it into a business.

Data journalism

There’s a lot talked about open data and how we should be able to access tax-funded data about things that affect our lives. The Guardian is taking a lead with data journalism and Helena Bengtsson gave a talk about how knowing how to navigate large data sets to find meaning was vital to finding stories in the Wikileaks data.

She started out in data journalism in Sweden where, in one case, she acquired and mapped large data sets that revealed water pollution problems around the country, which triggered a several stories.

It’s not just having the data that matters but the interpretation of the data. That’s what data journalism gives us over just ‘big data':

Also, I found out a fascinating fact:

Anyway, that’s about as much as I can cram in. We also found out random things about Scandinavian knitwear and the fact that Sweden has its own official typeface, Sweden Sans. And we ate lots of Nordic foods, drank Nordic beer and (some of us) drank Akvavit. And, most importantly, we talked to each other lots.

The thing I really value about Monki Gras (on top of the great talks, food, drink, and fun atmosphere) is the small size of the event and all the interesting people to talk to. That’s why I keep going back.

P.S. A good write-up of the talks

Tampon Club at Hursley

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you might have seen me use the hashtag #TamponClub*. It began sometime after a few of us ‘Women In Tech’ went to a tech evening event at the awesome new HQ of Twitter UK.

As well as the funky food, the tech talks, and (obvs) the dalek in the foyer, we were impressed by the presence of free sanitary products in the women’s toilets.

Free tampons?!?

Free tampons wasn’t something I’d ever thought about before. Sure, I agree that putting tax on tampons (my shorthand for all sanitary products because, well, it reads funnier) is ridiculous but the idea of justifying giving them away for free just hadn’t crossed my mind.

Then the brilliant Alice Bartlett wrote about how seeing the tampons-in-the-toilet prompted her to do the same at her own workplace. She basically supplied free tampons and towels in the women’s toilets for both her own convenience and for anyone else who needed them.

It’s a great post – everyone should read it (tl;dr imagine if you had to supply your own toilet roll at work…and sometimes you forgot…).

Her post (really, go read it now, I’ll wait for you to get back) sparked a brief conversation on Twitter. Other women loved the idea and proposed starting community Tampon Clubs in their own workplaces.

@maygg and I decided to start a Tampon Club in the nearest toilets to our desks (DE3, for anyone au fait with the IBM Hursley site).

Tampon Club at IBM Hursley

It took longer than it should’ve but, as of this Wednesday: ta-da!

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If you use the DE3 women’s toilets, let us know what you think. Please use the supplies and feel free to contribute if you want to.

If you use other women’s toilets around Hursley and you want to do the same, let us know!

Tampon Club response

As it’s only our first week, we have no idea how it’ll go. But we’ve had a few positive comments already, including (I hope they don’t mind me quoting them anonymously):

“great idea in the ladies!…had a box in my drawer so I’ve added it to the collection”

“thanks for the new additions to the ladies loos – really great idea – I don’t know how many times I have come in having been caught out and don’t want to carry a big box in full view from the canteen!!”

We’re keeping tabs on cost and stock so I’ll report back after a few weeks.


*The girl who tweeted a #TamponClub photo of herself with a bunch of tampons stuffed in her mouth is nothing to do with us. :)