Image from Photoloft.sk for Rails Girls Bratislava 2016
With women in tech events starting up all over the world, there's never been a better time to address the lack of gender diversity in tech, but throughout the coding workshops, women in tech breakfasts and HR discussions I've attended, I've found that one ingredient key has been missing: engaged men.
Now's the time to change this and I have some suggestions on how we can.
Spotlight on women
At Rails Girls we aim to provide a space in which all self-identifying women feel welcome to attend our free workshops, develop new skills, and discover the fun in coding, regardless of age, gender identity, ethnicity or beliefs.
In many cases the women who attend would not fit the mould of the young, predominantly white and male, tech start-up employee. At our last Rails Girls event we had a mum in her 50s from Latin America, who may well have faced discrimination if entering a tech workplace, but had come with an incredible enthusiasm to learn to code.
In this circumstance, and countless more, it's essential that attendees feel able to speak up, understanding that no question or experience is invalid. I've always been able to speak my mind in a workplace and I think that's helped a great deal in not feeling discriminated against whilst working as a female developer.
However this isn't always the case and women-only, or at least women-focused, events go a huge way in supporting the women who might shy away from attending a less welcoming and supportive event - women which the tech sector hugely needs.
So what's the problem?
Amongst the women in tech events I've attended, including our own Rails Girls events, there's been a distinct lack of men.
As a sector, male tech CEOs are often those with the power to hire women and ensure that workplaces are free from discrimination. Without being engaged in the women in tech discussion, male tech leaders are unable to see the fantastic work showcased by female organisers, and case studies shared on how HR policies can ensure that workplaces are welcoming and positive places for all employees.
Similarly, having both men and women in attendance would go a long way in breaking down the image that men working in tech feel nonchalantly about the barriers which continue to face women.
Getting men on board
Supporting women in tech events isn't a one-way street. Companies with women in management positions outperform those which don't so funding a training programme for a group of enthusiastic women, who could potentially be your next junior developers, is a worthwhile cause.
My company MeisterLabs sponsors Rails Girls and will promote our events, increasing awareness, as well as our financial capabilities to fund workshops. This is a reciprocal relationship as they're then able to hire from a bright cohort of coders, whilst gaining positive coverage.
How to convert sponsorship into active engagement
An HR policy which encourages male (and female) employees to attend local women in tech events would go a long way in promoting equality and diversity within a company, and further afield. Watching talks given by women doing great things in tech, and listening to case studies of how workplace discrimination can affect women, would provide employees with the understanding to become advocates for diversity, and the tools to call out discrimination when they see it occur.
Events which allow women and men already working in tech to collaborate should be encouraged too. Hackathon teams which are comprised of men and women enable attendees to experience the advantages of collaborating across genders.
Equally, at conferences we should be encouraging women to speak. By asking female employees to give a speech about their company, tech CEOs gain good exposure for their business and help to increase female representation.
While trying to get men to not only be in attendance at women in tech events, but actively involved in the discussion, we can't forget our aim - to create welcoming spaces where women can develop skills to enter the tech sector.
In order to achieve this, events must continue to hold the spotlight on women, showcasing women's contributions in tech, aiming to have predominantly female coaches and ensuring events are welcoming and safe, with a comprehensive code of conduct.
The women in tech movement has a role to play in this by organising events which men can attend and engage with, but of course HR teams, and ultimately tech CEOs and managers, need to be on board to make real change happen.
If you'd like to start by getting involved with a Rails Girls event, details of our upcoming workshops are available on our website. Whatever your gender, we hope to see some of you there.