One of my proudest achievements as Mayor of Appsterdam is the diversity of the ecosystem we’ve built. Not only has that led to a technology festival founded by a woman, we regularly have 40-60% female attendance at our events. That means in an industry that struggles to attract its fair share of women, we’ve experienced female majority.
We’ve grown past simply scratching our heads and wondering where the women are. We’ve learned from the people who’ve tried simply lunging at women, or using reverse discrimination to solve this problem. We’ve come up with a methodology that is not only easy on the soul, but provably effective. It boils down to the same trick we use to make great products: provide a great experience for everyone.
Put yourself in the shoes of a young woman interested in programming. She walks into the computer science club and is greeted by a pack of sweaty, staring males with less than average social graces. Can you blame her for turning tail and never looking back?
The first problem we have to solve is breaking up that pack of sweating, misbehaving males, which still exists, except now the clubhouse is a bar. And the thing is, the girls are trying to get in, if only on account of how much whining we do that there are no women around, but they’re still being turned around.
If every other person in the bar was a woman, women would immediately feel more comfortable. When people bring their significant others to technology events, we have a much more diverse crowd, and women instantly feel more comfortable. I hate to say it, but this also keeps the men in line, as their girls will smack them if they start acting out.
I no longer agree to speak at events that aren’t willing to buy two coach tickets. Encouraging your speakers and attendees to bring their partners improves the diversity of your conference. It can be the crucial element in the community building that makes a great conference.
It’s as simple as letting people bring their partners for free. Most of them will only show up for the parties and do something else during the day. If you want to be super cool, you can organize some fun stuff for the non-techies to do in town while the nerds get their nerd on. The best way to a nerd’s heart is through their partner.
Welcoming partners to your conference not only makes for a better show, it makes it easier to show up in the first place. There are a lot of shows happening these days, and having to leave your partner behind is a major reason not to go to yet another tech conference.
One other thing: if we want to make women feel welcome, we need to stop discriminating. Nobody I know in the industry considers themselves sexist, but they still discriminate against women for things other than being a woman. Prime example: we tend to look down on people in marketing. Guess where all the women went who were turned away from computer science? Marketing is like 90% female.
By welcoming all people, by seeking to find something in common with everyone, we improve the experience for everyone. The end result is not just a gimmick, but evidence of a larger phenomenon, a rich diversity perfect for training a new generation of entrepreneurs, independents, and employees, all thinking on a global scale. That’s just good business.