Zero to Shero: Findings on Womxn’s Hackathons

Lizzie Siegle
Sep 8, 2017 · 5 min read

This post is based off of a HackCon talk I gave a few weeks ago.

First off…

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Some feedback from Spectra

I had a poll regarding women’s hackathons going around (thank you to friends like Connie for sharing!), shared it on Ladies Storm Hackathons, Hackathon Hackers, LinkedIn, Twitter, with some women’s hackathon organizers and attendees, and some other outlets. The poll got a variety of responders, as shown below.

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The poll asked some questions, which included one to help gauge some emotions hackers could feel or experience when attending any and every hackathon.

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The full options are below:
  • More experienced hackers
  • Workshops that seem tough
  • You feel like a “beginner”
  • You feel like your hack isn’t “difficult”
  • mentors/workshop leaders/sponsors
  • The length of the event
  • Seeing/hearing people on Slack/FB before event
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Badly chosen teams
  • As a girl who has entered a lot of hackathons…hit on and made uncomfortable a lot
  • Lack of accommodations
  • I feel that sometimes hackers will think im a beginner bc I’m a girl
  • Harassment, flirty
  • The sexism on women’s hackathons
  • Literally all of these
  • The option NO is missing…our hackathon has plenty of good women with great ideas and work
  • Not having a nice enough laptop

It also wanted to know…

Is there a difference between women’s and coed ones?

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Why did responders think women’s hackathons exist?

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Where there are “…”, the rest of the options are:
  • “You take more risks”
  • “Again, i’ve been harassed, so a safe space”
  • “They aren’t. They are sexist”
  • “We still believe coed are the way it is-due to our experience”

What hackathon workshops or sessions would hackers be interested in?

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Again, the full options include:
  1. Imposter Syndrome
  2. Confidence is Key: Negotiating
  3. Anything with sponsor APIs
  4. Product Management
  5. Tech Jobs that aren’t SWE
  6. Community as a career
  7. Art in tech
  8. Scum, introduction in used APIs
  9. An Idea is a Dumb Stupid Baby that Can’t Do Anything: How to take an idea all the way to product

What do these responses mean? What’s the so what?

Ultimately, women’s hackathons are about inclusion and making hackers of all backgrounds and skill levels feel welcome.

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To be more inclusive, what can you do?

  1. Measure and set goals. How many hackers attend, but then don’t demo? How many attend workshops? Get feedback on which workshops and talks were most popular, what attendees expected going in to a workshop or talk, and then what attendees thought of at the end of a workshop or talk.
  2. Know your community. Some women may not be able to stay the night due to cultural reasons.
  3. Encourage diverse teams. Encourage each team to have a mentor, or for one teammember to be a veteran hacker or a senior.
  4. Include food that’s not just pizza or sandwiches.
  5. Utilize affinity groups to publicize the event. With their support (and thus seal of approval), more diverse groups will feel included and want to attend.
  6. Emphasize creativity. Hacking is creative. Hacking is building. Hacking is innovative. These appeal to all, and the word hacking itself is not very welcoming and inclusive. **SIDE NOTE: watch out for gendered language, which may include a word like “hacking”, “rockstar”, or “ninja.”
  7. Center team-formations around ideas. If someone likes someone’s idea, they should work together since they’re both passionate about what to build.
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Diversity was a hot topic at HackCon. A lot of attendees asked how to attract a diverse group of hackers. It’s important to remember that diversity is not just male and female, and there aren’t just two genders. Men are allies, and money should not be an issue.

How can every hackathon have a diverse range of attendees? One way to appeal to different people is to have diverse panels, speakers, workshops. Make this info public ahead of time!

Now, how can your hackathon-organizing team get diverse panels, speakers, workshops? Have a diverse organizing team.

It should not all be from the same friend group, and you should appeal to different tech groups (WiC, NCWIT, etc)…LSH to find different organizers as well as hackers. These different people have different ideas that will consider different edge cases that you need to make your hackathon the best it can be.

Marketing and Branding

One way to appeal to a diverse group is through your hackathon’s marketing and branding. Be careful about the words you use, as they could be gendered. “Rockstar”, “hacking”, and “ninja” are words that appeal more to men than women.

Less Intense

Another way to appeal to more beginner hackers is by making your hackathon less intense.

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Non-hacking events you can include? Board games, yoga, scavenger hunt, jeopardy, slideshow karaoke, Wii, Star Wars marathon, ice skating (budget + space-dependent), egyptian war, poker, etc

These events help build community and provide a much-needed break. Other ways to make hackathons less intimidating.

  • Less hacking time. Cut back on hours. No overnight potentially.
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What are some simple ways to make hackathons more accessible?

  • Gender-neutral bathrooms…it’s as simple as a written sign.
  • Code of Conduct! Hold people accountable.
  • Include room to list pronouns on nametags, etc.
  • Location is key…
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To build your hackathon community, you can do things year-round.

  • Post questions to engage hackers and people who follow your social media in the days leading up to the event. It can range from “what’s your major” to “what do you want to learn?”, “if you could meet any engineer, who would it be?”, or anything!
  • Video Hangouts with industry professionals, etc.
  • AMA’s with industry professionals, professors, etc.
  • Workshops on nearby campuses on hackathon-prep topics, like iOS, Android, Node.JS, etc.
  • Volunteering! Give back (Girls who Code, Black Girls Code…)

What’s Next?

Use the feedback from this poll to make your hackathon or event, or any hackathon or event, more supportive, empowering, diverse, and inclusive.

Ladies Storm Hackathons

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