Can Omaha really become the best city in the U.S. for women in tech?

The Project 18 movement as a catalyst for change and progress in the Midwest

Perhaps I was a bit naive when I boldly stated on Twitter a few months ago that I was putting together a working group to establish Omaha as the #1 city in the United States for women in technology. But, the unlikelihood of this vision is my favorite thing about Project 18… that regular people like me can step up, refuse mediocrity, and actively create the future we want for our little Midwestern city.

Since late 2017, Project 18 has hosted several meetups and engaged over 200 people in a conversation about what it will take to reach our goal. We launched Project 18 like a monthly meetup, but that’s not how we will continue. Project 18 isn’t a meetup… it’s a movement.

In this post, I’ll present you with a new vision and direction for Project 18 and provide some ideas on how you can help make our shared vision a reality.

Why is Project 18 important for Omaha?

Omaha needs to better support women and femme-identified individuals in technology because:

  1. It’s the right thing to do. Women are leaving the tech field because they are often treated unfairly, underpaid, less likely to be fast-tracked than their male colleagues, and unable to advance. In Omaha, we believe it is our ethical and moral responsibility to create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to be happy and successful.
  2. It’s better for business. Diverse teams perform better than monoculture teams because they challenge each other to think differently. We know that our ability to create innovative technology in Omaha is directly influenced by our ability to build environments which harness the power of different perspectives.
  3. It gives Omaha a competitive advantage. Silicon Valley and other tech centers in the United States have created volatile environments for women. Let’s learn from their mistakes and show women technologists, at home and across the country, that Omaha is dedicated to becoming the most women-friendly tech community in the nation.

What is Project 18?

Project 18 is a network of people in the Omaha area who take action to establish Omaha as the best city for women in tech. We’re called Project 18 because a Smart Asset study in 2017 established Omaha as the #18th best city for women in tech, and we don’t think that’s good enough.

We believe that many small actions lead to powerful change. We know that taking action from within our businesses, schools, and organizations is one of the hardest, and most powerful ways we can promote gender equity in Omaha’s tech and business communities.

Advocates of the Project 18 vision are empowered to take action and make decisions independently while relying on the Project 18 network for support. As a movement, a network, an idea… Project 18 does not rely on any particular person or organization and therefore cannot easily fade out or be shut down.

Project 18 is not a women’s group. Indeed, we know our efforts will fail unless people of all genders and gender identities are at the table. Men are not only welcome, but encouraged to take an active role in leading the movement.

We recognize that race, class, age, sexual orientation, disability, and gender are interconnected and we know that true diversity in Omaha’s tech industry must go further than simply increasing the number of women who work in technical roles. Also, we don’t tolerate jerks — see our Code of Conduct (CoC).

What does Project 18 do?

Over time, it’s our hope that Project 18 will do all the things, but to get started:

  1. We make the noise and lead the conversation about gender equity in the technology community in Omaha.
  2. We provide learning resources from local and national sources on our website (in development, contact me to help) to give Omahans a starting point to educate themselves about these issues.
  3. We measure our progress in partnership with local organizations to better understand what’s working, and what’s not. Surveys will measure culture, attitudes, opportunities, and policies within our businesses and organizations. Right now we’re working with the incredible team at Quantum Workplace who have stepped up to assist in building a community survey to pull in the first ever local dataset on this topic. Stay tuned.

How can I get involved?

There are hundreds of ways to support the Project 18 vision — here are just a few that popped in my head as I wrote this post. What if hundreds of Omahans took action on the first four items?

Smaller time commitment

  1. Join our network. We have three methods of communication: our Facebook group, our Slack community (email for an invite at p18omaha@gmail.com) and occasional email updates via TinyLetter.
  2. Build the Project 18 community. Get to know each other on FB or Slack by introducing yourself, sharing ideas, concerns, interesting articles, etc. Use social media to talk to people about why you’re an advocate of Project 18 and inspire others to take action. Remember: engaged communities are powerful communities.
  3. Talk to your colleagues and manager. Let the people around you know that diversity and gender equity in the workplace is important to you. Share articles and ask them for their thoughts. If you’re not sure how to start a conversation with your manager or colleagues, ask questions and listen. This is an easy way to engage people in a conversation if you’re not quite sure what to say, or not sure how they will react.
  4. Volunteer to lead a conversation about gender equity and diversity in the workplace at your next staff meeting.

Bigger time commitment

  1. Host a Project 18 meetup or hack night at your school or workplace, which could be open to the public or closed to your specific audience, depending on need.
  2. Organize a training for your staff or colleagues.
  3. Host a women in tech awards ceremony. Why not?
  4. Hire or dedicate part of an employee’s time to working on Project 18.
  5. Build an online platform that helps shed light on the accomplishments of Omaha’s women in tech.
  6. Interview a local woman in tech and write up your own medium post or article about her experiences.
  7. Research projects which have been successful in other cities and bring those projects to Omaha. Kansas City is #2 in the nation for women in tech. What ideas can we steal from them?
  8. Engage local leaders on this topic and ask them what actions they take to support gender equity in Omaha.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

What are you doing to help establish Omaha as a leading tech hub for women?

Share your actions — no matter how small — on FB or Slack with the rest of our network so we can support each other as we do this vital work.