An Overall Guide to Organizing a Gender-Minority Focused Hackathon
Hi! My name is Disha Srivastava and I am an alumni of the 2016 GWC Summer Immersion Program at the Twitter HQ in San Francisco, CA. Currently, I am a first-year student at the University of Massachusettes, Amherst studying computer science and economics. Over the past three years, one of my passions has become organizing hackathons focused on empowering gender-minorities. The very first hackathon I was part of organizing was Superposition I & II in San Francisco, California (shoutout to another GWC alumni Areeta Wong for founding this event), and the second one was/is HackHer413 I & II in Amherst, Massachusetts; both hackathons are all-women, non-binary, and trans student inclusive events! :)
In this article, I will share my experiences from organizing Superposition, and more specifically HackHer413 2019 in order to anchor in especially on organizing hackathons for gender minorities. Jumping straight in… When planning any hackathon, there are five main focuses: operations, technology, sponsorship, marketing, and hardware. When planning a gender minority empowering hackathon, another focus is added to the list: safety & inclusion.
Focus #1: Sponsors Companies
A hackathon is not made possible without the support of sponsor companies which enable us financially and contribute to the backbone of the event through mentors, recruiters, and of course company swag!
The first step in securing event sponsorship is making a detailed list of the companies you would want to partner with. When creating this list, be sure to specifically include companies that resonate with the diversity & inclusion values you are promoting at your event. These will be the companies with representatives that will be passionately committed to participating in every minute detail of the hackathon! Note: almost every industry now has some aspect of technology embedded in and reaching out beyond the borders of the tech industry to companies in finance/insurance, consulting, fashion, health-care, etc. broadens the scope of your hackathon. Additionally, when presenting your sponsorship proposal it is important to mention in detail the cause behind your event and the impact you hope it will have on empowering minority groups to pursue a future in technical roles.
The official list of HackHer413 2019 sponsors were: BNY Mellon, UMass College of Information and Computer Sciences, Wayfair, Accenture, Bloomberg, UMass Center for Data Science, MEDITECH, Travelers Insurance, ZipCar, Bose, Google Cloud Platform, Liberty Mutual, Armored Things, Balsamiq, UMass Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, Charles River Development, Facebook, GitHub, MassMutual, MITRE, NeuralFrame, TwoSigma, UMass School of Public Health and Health Sciences, and VistaPrint.
Focus #2: Discussions, Meet-Ups, and Panels
As the event is focused on empowering the minority, a large responsibility is ensuring that every participant has a place of belonging and a community to confide in. At HackHer413, we hosted a series of panels and meet-ups which fostered a discussion about being a minority in the tech industry and provided
participants with a platform to share their experiences. Our panels/discussions included: Coffee with Mentors, “Should I go to Graduate School?”, and “Marginalized Communities in the Workforce Discussion Group”. Each panel included mentors from sponsor companies who shared their lessons learned and answered questions from participants. Coffee with Mentors was especially a success as it gave participants the chance to have a 1 on 1 conversation with a female mentor. Our meet-ups included: Beginner Meet-Up, Women of Color Meet-Up, and LGBTQIA Meet-Up.
Focus #3: Award Categories & Prizes
It is crucial to foster diversity in every aspect of the hackathon, and having a spectrum of award categories and prizes contribute! Along with the typical “Best Beginner Hack”, “Best Hardware Hack”, or “Best Pitch”, including categories geared towards different industries encompasses a variety of areas of interest. A sample of categories we included specifically at HackHer413 were:
“Best Social Good Hack”, “Best Equality Hack”, “Best Hack Outside of the Box”, “Best Almost Hack”, and “Best Healthcare Hack”. Note: adding additional categories does add a significant financial cost as well, so a great pointer is to require your top sponsor companies to sponsor an award category as well and provide the physical prizes for their chosen category.
Focus #4: Organizing Team, Volunteers & Company Representatives
The persona makeup of a hackathon includes the participants, organizing team, volunteers, and company representatives (including mentors and recruiters). The combination of all of these people sets the tone for the environment and atmosphere (or vibe) of the event. Therefore, it is essential that when picking your organizing team only students who are committed to empowering diversity are given the position of power. Also, having a spectrum of students (women of color, LGBTQIA community, undergraduate/graduate students) represented on the organizing team ensures that an array of opinions and perspectives will be represented. This theme is fluid with volunteers, mentors, and recruiters. At HackHer413 we welcomed people of all genders to participate in the event as volunteers, mentors, and recruiters. In fact, a large majority of our volunteers were male and they aided the organizing team in set-up, workshop transitions, food delivery, and much much more. Having an event where people of all colors, genders, and differences come together to empower a minority group is the most inclusive and enriching path to organizing a successful gender-minority focused hackathon.
Overall, these are the four main focuses when planning any minority specific event. Each focus branches off of the common theme: promoting inclusion and providing students with a safe and encouraging platform to explore their interests. If you are looking to organize a gender-minority focused hackathon or event, and have any questions, feel free to reach out to me any time at email@example.com or @dishsrivastava on Twitter! :) Happy Organizing!