The Invitation Effect: How we are using Facebook to get more women in tech

I am obsessed with virtual and augmented reality. Last year, my co founder Jenn Duong and I started a Facebook group called Women in VR. We started the group because we were disheartened by the lack of women working in the industry and we wanted to change the numbers. The group has since grown to over 5000 members who range from executives at major VR companies to students just beginning to dabble in computer science.

VR/AR, like any emerging tech, has a major gender problem. We found that the number one reason why women don’t get involved in tech is because they do not feel “invited” to be a part of it. People don’t pursue opportunities where they can’t see themselves. Race and gender, whether we like it or not, are a huge factor in whether or not people can “see themselves” in an opportunity. Jenn and I started calling this the “Invitation Effect.”

The Women in VR group is “closed,” meaning we have to individually vet every member who requests to join the group. We do this because we want to make sure that our members are (A) passionate about actively cultivating a diverse and equal industry and (B) passionate about creating dope things in AR, VR, MR, animation, Hollywood, gaming, etc.

From the get go, we knew we didn’t want the group to be all women. We believe men are an integral part of feminism. So we decided to keep the gender ratio of the group at 80% women to 20% men.

A member of our community recently asked us: why not aim for 50% men and 50% women? This is a fair question given that the only requirements for joining the group are (A) and (B) listed above, neither of which are gender -exclusive.

The reason we shoot for 80:20 is because of the Invitation Effect.

We knew the Facebook group had to be a place where what is experienced inside tech companies is REVERSED — a place where women feel an OVERWHELMING sense of welcome. We needed to make women pretty much feel like they are being handed a diamond-encrusted golden invitation to join the VR/AR industry.

So, we have two strategies: (1) connect all the women currently working in the industry and (2) bring in women who are interested but not yet formally involved in the industry. We hope that the women in (1) will inspire the women in (2) in the same way that the Invitation Effect has shown to be effective: women will come to the group and see many other women just like themselves kicking ass in VR/AR. This will empower them to pursue opportunities within the industry.

So why not shoot for a 50/50 male to female breakdown?

First, the higher the percentage of women in the group, the stronger the Invitation Effect. In order to combat how shitty the VR/AR industry currently is, we need to do everything in our power to bring more women in.

Second, we actually receive a fairly equal number of membership requests from men and women. If we were to pursue a 50/50 ratio, we would end up with the “Male Half” being made up almost entirely of men who are in Group (1) — men who are already working within the industry. This is simply because the VR/AR industry is already overwhelmingly male. The “Female Half” would be a mix of women who are in Group (1) and Group (2). Again, this is simply due to the reality of the industry as it is. This type of situation is not an effective way to utilize the Invitation Effect. Women who join the group will find themselves in a group titled “Women in VR” but wherein the most established industry voices are men.

Third, it is also worth noting that no matter how morally committed a person is to diversity, he or she cannot fully understand what it’s like to be born into a gender or race that puts him or her in a place of less privilege. That said, another bonus to having an 80/20 ratio is that it provides our male members with a semblance of understanding of what it’s like to feel like a minority voice. Views that may fly in other big FB groups will not fly in ours because of the high percentage of female voices. In the same vein, views that women may not feel comfortable expressing in other FB groups will be welcome in ours. We have seen a lot of really positive results come from this.

So far, we have found this strategy to be extraordinarily effective. Women have told us they wouldn’t be working in VR/AR if it weren’t for the group. Men have told us that the group has changed their perspectives on technology and on life in general.

I wanted to share our experiences because the Invitation Effect applies to so much more than just our Women in VR Facebook Group: education, healthcare, politics, travel, etc…. the list goes on and on. It’s an incredibly powerful and pervasive phenomenon; we need to share our experiences with it so that we can understand it.