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Getting more women to your meet-up
7 May 2012
I get this question a lot. Like, once a week.
I've puzzled over it, because whenever I start to answer it, I sound a bit rambly. There's a reason for that, though: women take up half of this planet. A population that big isn't easy to target (in spite what advertisers would have you believe).
See, there's so many reasons why women might not be coming to your meet-up or hacker space. Maybe it's a bit guy heavy (I know, catch-22, right?). Maybe they're already booked. Maybe they have obligations at home. Maybe they just don't know about your event. Maybe they think they won't get anything from it. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear:
You can't use just one strategy if you want more women to show up at your tech event.
So, what are some strategies you can use?
No, don't just put 'Ladies welcome' on your flyer. Invite specific women to your event. A word of warning, though: there's a right way to do this, and a wrong way to do this. The wrong way:
Hey! We're trying to encourage more women to show up at our tech event, and I was wondering if you'd like to come?
Sounds pretty tame, right? It's polite, it's sleaze-free... and it makes it sound like the only reason you're inviting this person is because she's a woman. This does not make me want to come to your event, which is what you're aiming for, right? What if you drop the 'encourage women attendance' bit?
Hey! I run a meet-up on Thursdays! You should come!
That's fine, but there's lots of meet-ups this person could be going to. Also, if this worked well, you wouldn't be in the situation you're in right now, would you? What do you do? Well, here's an example that worked on me:
Hey! I read your roguelike posts, and loved them! Do you think you could do a talk about them at my meet-up once you're done?
I couldn't clear my calendar fast enough. I was flattered (and I felt the invite was genuine), and I felt like I had something I could add to this group. Even if he'd added that they were trying to attract more women (which came up later), I was still happy to attend.
But what if you don't know any women in your area who are active bloggers, or who actively commit to open source projects that you can use as conversation starters?
Do an alternate night now and then
Childcare isn't an issue for all women, but man, once it's on the table, it's a big issue. It's different for every parent, but often, it's easier to get alternative child care on one night rather than an other. For me, weekday events are almost impossible for me to get to, but weekend ones are a snap. Other women I know can get away during the week more easily than they can on the weekend.
So... should you get day care of your own at your meet-up? No, probably not. Legal and money issues aside, there's a simpler solution: move the date once a month.
I bet your meet-up is on the same day of the week every week, and at the same time. If the women in your area happen to be in the group that can't attend on that night, moving it once a month would enable them to attend. As a side benefit, anyone who can't attend due to work hours or other obligations can suddenly show up.
Advertise somewhere new
As everyone should be aware by now, the tech industry is having a hard time recruiting and holding on to women. This means that the women you would traditionally consider inviting to your meet-up are already pretty rare. What do you do?
At a recent PyLadies gathering, we had women from the following industries:
- Non-profit advocacy
Counting heads, I realized that almost half of the women present did not call themselves a 'developer,' and yet, they were interested in learning more about Python. So... why are you still advertising only on Planet Python?
Reach out to non-traditional venues that can take advantage of whatever your meet-up is about. Teachers benefit from pretty much anything that's free and can be used in the classroom, or to make their lives easier outside of it. Journalists are being asked to know more about the platforms their careers depend upon. If someone is working in an office that's cash-strapped, it benefits everyone if even the non-developers know about how to code, even if it's only to work with templates, and be able to read the code the devs checked in.
So, come up with a pitch about how your meet-up could benefit someone that isn't a developer, and see if you can push it somewhere new. Does someone in the group have kids? See if they can talk to the teachers at the kid's school.
Have a clear harassment policy, and enforce it
Yeah, this one has been an issue in the past for me.
Back in college, I went to the *nix meet-up at our school. There was a guy there that was, well, less than pleasant to anyone female that walked in the door. He would talk over us, deride anything we had to say, and if we had a question, he'd made snide comments. He was sometimes a jerk to the guys in the group, but he was batting 1.000 for the women.
The three women in the meet-up brought it up to the head of the group.
"Oh, just ignore him."
There was no harassment policy in place, and even if there had been, I wonder if anyone would have been willing to do anything.
The thing is, we had a choice as to what we could do with our Thursday nights. We didn't have to go to this group. There were other tech meet-ups in the area. We left.
Have a policy. Enforce it. It'll ensure the women that do show up actually stay.
This is far from an exhaustive list. They're simply the handful ideas I had when examining why I didn't go to more meet-ups (or issues that other women had shared with me). If you have more ideas, please, leave them in the comments.