Two key tips to organise a women inclusive community tech event

IMG_20151128_185858On Nov 28th I attended an event where 50 women gathered together to learn the basics of JavaScript. Huge round of applause for MilanoJS, Girls in Tech and Women@Google that made the event possible. From the many conversations I had with the attendees, I extracted two key tips that should be *always* kept in mind to be more gender-inclusive when communicating about a community tech event. It’s not a guarantee that gender gap will be reduced but, at least, basic misunderstandings will be avoided.

1) Be explicit that you’re caring about women participation, even if it may seem obvious to you. Include in the event description that women are welcome, partner for the communication with a group that is associated with a female context, like Girls in Tech, Rails Girls, Women TechMaker or any other reality of the local ecosystem, use creativity that includes both genders. Fight the language stereotypes: in Italian we use the masculine for referring to the whole category, so use explicitly “sviluppatori / sviluppatrici”, instead than just “sviluppatori”. Remember, you have to communicate that you’re caring about the whole spectrum of your community, all the minorities included.

2) Be explicit about your target audience. Different women I talked with told me they came because they were searching for a beginner training on Javascript, and so the event was advertised, as a beginner training. I argued that it wasn’t the first organised in the Milan area, and they replied that it was the first beginner training on JS, all the others were training on JS, so the target audience wasn’t clear and they feared to be in a class with people already good with Javascript. And I asked if the same applies also for a “Polymer Hack Up” or a “Apps Script Hackathon“, and the reply was yes: hackathon format is perceived as an event for people with already some skills on the topic, not suitable if you know nothing about it. Curious enough, the two mentioned were organised to introduce the technologies to people with zero knowledge on them. So, explicitly mention when the event is for beginners, that you’re welcoming also attendees that haven’t heard anything about the argument.

I have to say that both tips don’t come out totally of the blue: there are different studies on gender inequality in schools and in business, and we all see the world behind the lens of unconscious bias, so the same situations applies also in a community. In addition, once discussed deeper with the attendees, asking the whys and the whats, everything resonates very well together. Happy to provide more details in the comments, if asked.

As final suggestion, if you decide to apply these two simple tips (and you should), please make an additional third step: ask for feedback to the new women at your next event, ask if they come thanks to one of the suggestions you’ve put in practice. I know it can be hard but, as for any hypothesis, it has to be verified.

Those learnings, I think, can be generalised to each event than want to include a minority. Maybe women, maybe any other. Explicitly be inclusive, do not take it for granted. And yes, I’m still generally agains gender-only events, but it had a sense in this particular context.

Converge Hackathon: developers + designers + diversity. Is it even possible?

One of the cool aspect of my current job is the freedom I have to experiment with what I think it’s valuable and important for the developer ecosystem. This time I tried to tackle two aspects, both under the diversity umbrella: expertise mix and gender gap.

In collaboration with frog design (thanks Laura and Alex for the help), we envisioned a platform to experiment and iterate around these topics, so we create the “Converge Hackathon” format. Let’s analyse the main idea and the first implementation, held at Google HQ in Milan, March 7th.

First, why an hackathon?

We all know what an hackathon is: a fixed amount of time for experimenting with new things, get in touch with smart people and have fun with passions. In addition, “Converge Hackathon” aims to improve the collaboration between designers and developers during the whole process of thinking, refining and realizing an idea. Hence the name. And because I viscerally love the hackathon format ;)

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Don’t be shy and… present!

How the collaboration between developers and designers has gone?

Pretty much well, I would say.  This collaboration was one of the more acknowledged strength of the event. Here some of the attendees’ comments:
“Was challenging to work with stranger but at the same time interesting and funny. The best part was the division of the work”
“The collaboration was really good. It was my first time working with developers and I enjoyed a lot. Otherwise, I think it was needed a bit more of integration regarding with how the design and the coding could be merge”
“I’ve meet a lot of interesting people and different points of view on even the simplest thing”
“Good organization, very nice the initiative of mixing designers with developers and give an opportunity to work together”
Although it was challenging:
“I’m a designer. Speaking with Developer is very difficult because they only think in their square area.”
“At the beginning was difficult to know new people and get in touch with the developers”
To summarise: no pain, no gain when you start this kind of collaboration :) But the feedback showed that audience gained a lot, despite some small pain.
We balanced the attendees considering 2/3 of developers and 1/3 of designers, and frog carefully selected the latter viewing their portfolio, their profile, their activities. They wanted to be sure that the right profiles were part of the crowd. For developers, I let them in without any particular control. I trust in natural selection ;)
Another learning point was about the teams creation: such different crowd requires a focused pre-work for mixing the people in a proper way, something that goes beyond the quick ice-breakers we did in the morning, that work generally well in a standard hackathon. Dedicate the right attention to this aspect is crucial.
One final consideration is about the timing: one day only event makes hard to create something meaningful, and the ideation phase, that generally is very short during a normal hackathon because the attendees are eager to “get their hands dirty with code”, this time was fostered, and mostly led, by designers. The result was that final hacks were more elaborated that the average I’ve generally seen, but with the drawback of having prototypes less “working” than the usual. As note for us, organisers, next time we need to keep the ideation process inside a given timeframe, otherwise the risk is that, once the first half of the event has gone, teams are still thinking about what they can realise.

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Diversity? Really not an issue for this team

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