How can we get more women involved in ham radio?

So, a couple of days ago there was a bit of a flap over on Reddit.

A club called FBOM International which specializes in digital modes created a ham radio promotional video (embedded above) and it was posted (and stickied) to the /r/AmateurRadio subreddit.

Then came a reply from Yvette Cendes, KB3HTS, a student at the University of Amsterdam working on a Ph.D in Astronomy. Here is a portion of her post:

…Let me explain why I find it offensive that this video is now being touted as the ad for our subreddit: it objectifies women and relies on gender stereotypes that would make no woman feel welcome here. We are currently dealing with a hobby that is only 15% women that keeps fretting about getting more people involved in it, so why do we allow things that would drive half the population away? I don’t pretend to have all the answers on a complex issue, but I do know this stickied post is far from what we should want to represent the community. And it goes to show that if we ever have a crack at attracting more women into this hobby we have a long way to go.

I believe the folks who made this video did so with good intentions and without any ill intent whatsoever. In fact, I’m glad they posted it — because it gave Yvette a chance to show that what seemed perfectly fine to some people can offend others looking at it from a different perspective.

Her reply gives us the opportunity to think about why we’re not attracting more women to ham radio and to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields in general. This is a big deal and regardless of whether you agree with her position or feel she overreacted, it’s a discussion worth having.

I’m middle-aged and male. If we’re trying to attract more old guys like me to this hobby, then maybe we can just keep on doing what we’re doing. But if we hope to add more folks outside of this demographic, then we may need to rethink our promotional strategy a little bit.

What are your thoughts?

Matt Thomas, W1MST, is the managing editor of Contact him at [email protected].

12 Responses to “How can we get more women involved in ham radio?”

  • Charlie G4EST:

    I find that her response is offensive as it discriminates against young females who are well dressed and speak well as persons unable to deliver a message. The women in the advert are active participants and not ‘window dressing’ which COULD have justified her response if that was the case.
    I am a short and average looking older guy and I could just as easily complain against adverts using male models advertising products as stereotyping and objectifying the human male body to gain an advantage but I do not have that inclination to do so as I do not have an inferiority complex or a chip on my shoulder.

  • Matt W1MST:

    Thanks for the reply, Charlie.

    The “two” (they’re actually shots of the same woman dressed a little differently) actresses aren’t involved in ham radio at all. I think that was one of the issues Yvette had with the video.

    Although the actress is actively speaking in the video — and does a better job with the technical pronounciations than most “real” hams — I think Yvette would argue that there was a reason the actress was chosen over a balding, middle-aged fat guy….

  • Ke6anm:

    I have been a ham for 23 years, a male, 56 yrs old and I don’t like hanging around with most hams either. I find the majority of hams to be angry, old white men, usually slightly to overtly racist. They are Usually very conservative, and many suffer from “MALE ANSWER SYNDROME”. I have been around hams when a female shows up, and its embarrassing to say the least. Many don’t realize the sexist things they say, having been raised in an era where these traits were common place. My guess is, things will improve, when the passing of the current generation, of baby boomers occurs.
    I tried to get my young engineer daughter involved in amateur radio, but she mentioned all of the above, plus the Creepy old dude vibe.
    The millennial generation is so different from the boomer generation, the differences are shocking. The most glaring items, are ultra conservatism, sexism, and rigid ideas about gender, and rascism.
    That’s why I don’t enjoy the company of many hams. And I would think, many women, would feel this way too.

  • Matt W1MST:

    Good points. We should be careful, however, conflating conservatism with racism and sexism. I know many conservatives that are neither.

  • Joe KB3PHL:

    I would have liked to been a fly on the wall listening in when these two ladies (or if it was one lady in different outfit as someone pointed out)finished making this video. They both probably looked at each other completely confused wondering what Ham radio is and what was all of that weird jargon they just read on a teleprompter. I don’t blame Yvette for being annoyed with this video. It kind of portrays woman as clueless bimbo’s. This is definitely not the way to promote or recruit woman into Ham radio.

  • jeff n1kdo:

    Ms. Cendes’ response to the video is more than a bit over the top. She drops the F-bomb three times in her reddit reply. Really? Sorry, if you cannot make your argument without resorting to bad language, you’ve already lost.

    The video does not “objectify women” in any way, nor does it rely on any “gender stereotypes” — rather the opposite.

    I think the question you should be asking, Matt, is how can we get more diversity in general into our hobby. If you go to any hamfest, you will see (mostly) a bunch of fat old white guys. Few women, few kids, few minorities to speak of.

  • Chris KQ2RP:

    I agree with Yvette (the comments posted here, I did not read the reddit). The video is silly in that it uses a model instead of someone who actually participates in the hobby. Why? Is it that hard to find a female ham to relate the info? The person in the video comes off as disingenuous, and I think that is what would turn off many of us – male or female.

    Obviously the focus of the video was not to attract females to the hobby, and I’m sure those who produced it were going for a more attractive visual to help ‘sell’ their cause. That said, we need to work harder at finding ‘real’ amateur spokespeople who are well-spoken and with personality who women and youth can relate to. Not video models cheesing it up.

  • Mark KJ4NXX:

    Seriously? Sleeveless black dress, bright red lipstick, very visible breasts – this video would absolutely NOT attract women to amateur radio. I would be embarrassed to show this to my daughters as an invitation to get involved.

  • Goody K3NG:

    I think this is much ado about nothing. The intended audience is existing amateurs, citing those who are fed up with “QRM” in other forums. (I can identify with that.) It’s targeting existing amateurs, most of which are male. However, what is wrong with a beautiful well-dressed woman who speaks wells and talks like she actually understands all the lingo and acronyms she’s using? It’s certainly more pleasing than having some old five o’clock shadow sporting retiree wearing an “I’m the NRA and I Vote” tee short and a body mass index large enough to be expressed in scientific notation.

    If I was attempting to get my daughter into amateur radio, I wouldn’t show her this video to begin with. I would take her to Field Day or hiking with radios. This video I would show to my friends. It’s all about the audience.

  • David:

    Not one item in that video excludes women from Amateur Radio. If you studied various activities you would find that all of them attract a definitive type of person of either sex with various interests. It all depends on the subject matter at hand. It is the way our DNA was put together. Go to a scrap booking trade show, 99% women. WHY ? Women love scrap booking, Men don’t in general. This is NOT stereotyping folks, its personal preference.
    Women have every opportunity to be active in Amateur Radio, they are not interested and you know what? I ain’t Scrap Booking !!

  • matt kc4ylv:

    i actually left /r/amateurradio over this and was told ‘dont let the door hit you in the ass’. So that’s cool. I call a truce, i’ll hang out over in my corner of the Internet and respect women while I DIY projects and have fun, and the “FBOM” crew can continue to pay money to convince college girls to coo about “radio aids” for joke youtubes, and we’ll see who’s got the healthier hobby in 20 years.

    My favorite response was when the woman that has the literal #2 most upvoted post on /r/amateurradio, who is an actual Face Of Ham Radio, piped up to say “guys this may not be the best thing” and all these dudes turned around and hissed “attention whore, this isnt about youuuuuuuuu”

  • Gary KN4AQ:

    The thing I like most about this thread it that it got people responding! Anyone who’s watch my knows I’m a pretty harsh media critic. This ‘spot’ is not too different from the average bad local car dealer commercial. But it’s rare that ham radio media ‘comes up to’ that level, so there’s that.

    The actress clearly has NO idea what she’s saying, but was pretty well coached to get most of the pronunciations and inflections right. Compare that to the ads for Gigaparts and ICOM where the announcer has no clue (the produced ads, not W5JDX’s on Amateur Logic or Ham Nation). So another plus 0.5 here.

    Reddit is aimed at a younger crowd, probably well below the average age of hams (but I’d guess still well above the typical Redditer). And overwhelmingly male. So they know their audience pretty well.

    The ad may catch the attention of young men enough to make them think once about hamradio. It does little to advance the goal of interesting young women, though I’d guess that some are so inured to this kind of advertising that they look beyond it automatically. I do think it will (has) been received better than another boring monologue from a ‘typical’ ham about how much fun we have.

    The issue of misogyny in tech is real and serious. This kind of media will always be with us. The question is, what ELSE can we produce that sends a better message and will still actually be seen?

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