Lesbians Who Tech Highlighting Diversity in Berlin’s Tech World

Silicon Allee Team
Aug 28, 2015 · 6 min read

This is a guest post by Leanne Pittsford, founder of Lesbians Who Tech.

Lesbians Who Tech has arrived in Berlin for its first-ever summit in the city, connecting with one of the world’s most important tech communities. The event brings together more than 150 queer women and our allies from eight countries to hear speakers on topics including civic engagement through technology, how to start a company in Berlin, the #ilooklikeanengineer movement and more.

I’ll talk more about Lesbians Who Tech in a little while, but first I’m going to explain how we chose Berlin as the focus of our European expansion.

It’s been four years since I fell in love with Berlin. I love to travel; I’ve spent time in Thailand, Vietnam, Colombia, Argentina and more. But Berlin has a magic that keeps me coming back every summer.

What’s so enthralling and interesting about this city? My short answer when people ask is to simply ask them to imagine if New York and San Francisco had a baby, and that baby lived in Europe — that would be Berlin. Some of you are undoubtedly nodding your head and saying “oh, hell yes,” but if you’re less familiar with New York and San Francisco you might be a little confused, so let me explain…

Berlin has the green spaces of San Francisco, but is bigger in size and has more history. It also has all the grit, art and music of New York but just like Silicon Valley in the 90s, Berlin is on it’s way to becoming one of the most interesting tech hubs in the world. It already attracts some of the best and brightest tech talent from across six continents. And after you spend even just a few days in Berlin you can begin to understand why.

Leanne gets to grips with one of Berlin’s numerous public table tennis tables.

From a technology perspective, Berlin is a great place to work and live. It’s a global city and it’s catching the attention of some of the biggest investors and entrepreneurs in the world. Many US based companies like Twitter, Etsy, and Airbnb have offices here because they know having a presence in Berlin matters. In many ways this city is the pulse of new European trends in both tech and culture.

Berlin is also bringing together some of the most talented people from all over the world, like my good friend Kevin Dykes, co-founder of Avari, who relocated to Berlin many years ago. Now his company has grown and is positioned to take on both the US market as well as the European one. I met Kevin during my first summer mentoring at Startup Bootcamp, a European technology accelerator. Originally from Austin, we quickly connected in a room full of mostly Germans. I was also one of few women mentors in the room and noticed that perhaps diversity in technology was not just a problem in the US.

That was also the same day I met Jessica Erickson, founder of Geekettes.io, for the first time. Our conversations and my time in Berlin planted the seed for the original Lesbians Who Tech Summit.

Four years later, I’m in Berlin about to host our first-ever European Lesbians Who Tech Summit.

It was just three months after returning home from Berlin that we hosted our first event in San Francisco. I decided to start Lesbians Who Tech for many reasons, but in large part because I wanted to build a community for queer women in technology, a group that’s rarely represented in either of the communities of which they are a part: the tech community, or the LGBT community. I had been to way too many events all over the world where the voice of queer women was missing from the conversation; whether you go to tech events, LGBTQ events or women’s events, it felt like queer women’s perspectives and voices were simply not there.

During my second summer, I went to a Berlin Geekettes event at a beautiful Apple store and I’ll never forgot the panel taking ten minutes to discuss how important it was not only for women to ‘Lean In,’ but for their husbands to help out at home. And I know it’s a subtle difference, but for queer women there is no husband. In that moment, I so badly wanted one of the five women to bring up what it would be like for two women to deal with issues of inequality. For queer women our issues our magnified. If women make less than men, two women in a couple are dealing with an even greater economic disparity and disadvantage. Not to mention we just have so many different experiences that are unique to being queer.

And so four years ago I left Berlin and headed back to San Francisco with an idea to build a community focused on providing value to queer women in technology. And in just a few days I’ll get to bring Lesbians Who Tech members from the US with me to experience the same magic that’s been bringing me back every year. They will get to experience Berlin’s vibrant tech community for a few days before the marquee event: our first-ever European Lesbians Who Tech Summit, from August 27–30. We are excited to connect international technology leaders in a city that’s increasingly being recognized as Europe’s technology hub with a community that’s focusing on increasing diversity in technology.

Lesbians Who Tech focuses on increasing the visibility of queer women, creating a community for this rarely represented group, and increasing women in technology and leadership positions. Our global community reached 10,000 members this summer and we have hosted over 200 events in 25 different cities across the world.

summits in the US have brought together over 1,200 queer women and allies to talk about technology, entrepreneurship, diversity and more. Our first award recipient was Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer of the United States, who was recognized for her visibility and leadership as a queer woman in tech. We also hosted Kara Swisher, a respected and talented Silicon Valley journalist who has interviewed tech giant Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce. Most recently, and marking a milestone for the future of Lesbians Who Tech, we received our first grant from the Andreessen Foundation for two key programs, a coding scholarship for queer women and a mentoring program called, Bring a Lesbian to Work Day.

After these successes I knew it was time to host one of our Summits in Europe. And I can’t think of a better way to launch our first Summit than by hosting it in Berlin at one of the coolest companies in the world, SoundCloud. The Summit is a new and unique technology conference. An opportunity not only to expand our European community, learning about the needs and challenges faced here, but to do what no conference has done yet — create an experience for underrepresented groups in both the LGBTQ and tech communities. Our summit will bring together queer women on an international scale. We have women from Argentina, UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Slovenia, the United States and more. This will truly be a global event.

We also have a new initiative debuting in Berlin: Lesbians Who Tech on a Plane (yes we stole this phrase from our friends at 500 Startups). This program will bring together a cohort of 20 people from all over the world for a five-day excursion in Berlin. We have women from WeTransfer, Google, Twitter, ThoughtWorks, Airbnb, Twilio, Vimeo, BlackRock and more. We’re doing everything from hanging out on the canal to visiting startups like Avari and cool tech hubs like Betahaus and Factory.

With every Summit and every event, our focus is on highlighting incredible queer women who are doing cool things in the tech sector. We are hoping that the Summit in Berlin will be the beginning of a great, ongoing conversation about the LGBTQ tech community in Europe.

Leanne Pittsford is an entrepreneur, investor and thought leader at the intersection of technology and diversity. You can find her on Twitter.