What does it take to make a women-friendly hackathon?

Statistics and learnings from Hack’n’Lead 2019, Switzerland’s first women-friendly hackathon.

Maelle (Mae) Baud


Photography by the awesome Luisa Contreras

Hack’n’Lead is Switzerland’s first women-friendly hackathon.

Why women-friendly? Well, hackathons are known to be largely male-dominated. If we want more diversity, then we need to encourage more women to attend hackathons.

Photography by the awesome Luisa Contreras

How to increase diversity in Hackathons?

Our take is to empower our participants with a positive experience at Hack’n’Lead. We inverse the tendance with an event gathering a large majority of women. We create an atmosphere based on learning, sharing and collaboration instead of competition.

Our ultimate goal? Motivating our participants to attend other similar events in the future. Hack’n’Lead 2019 had gathered over 200 people all dedicated to making it a positive and unforgettable experience. Among the hackers, 70% attended a hackathon for the first time (and we’ve heard many of them projecting to hack again soon.)

What the Hackers say:

So you are asking yourself what this is all about? Although I only started to learn programming about half a year ago, last week I took part in the Hack’n’Lead of women++ in Zurich. Some of you might ask yourselves: Really? You have participated in a hackathon and then with so little coding experience? And I can only say: Yes, I did! And hey, it was really cool. Of course, I was a little nervous about whether that was right for me. But in the end, sometimes you have to jump over your own shadow and just try something new. And it was definitely worth it!

Read more about Marina’s experience here

Learned and achieved so much thanks to the women++ hackathon and mostly: even with a long history of programming background, I’ve FINALLY participated in a REAL hackathon for the first time and totally enjoyed it.

Read more about Maja’s experience here

How to create a women-friendly hackathon

Hack’n’Lead is designed to be a welcoming and inclusive environment for participants to learn and challenge themselves. The hackathon model has been redesigned around four principles:

1. Safe Space

We encourage collaboration and learning over competition. We make sure to create an inclusive space for participants to explore career options and learn new things.

We typically don’t encourage overnight coding (our venue is open from 8am to 8pm) and provide a rather comfortable environment with healthy and delicious food, yoga sessions, and massages for everyone to enjoy.

2. Offer Guidance

Additionally, we do all we can to ensure that no one feels like a fish out of the water. All questions are welcome, there is always someone to help.

There are a lot of mentors onsite, they’re dedicated to helping you with technical questions, to have an external opinion on your project and to practice your pitch.

Our sponsors also offer tech talks at the end of each day, a good way to dive deeper into specific topics and to learn about their industry!

3. Pre-event Preparation

It takes courage to try something new. We organize workshops on pitching, development, and leadership during the year to better prepare participants. (Make sure to follow women++ to get to know about the next events)

4. Childcare & Coding 4 Kids

Mom and dads don’t have to worry about their little ones. Children are welcome and we have special activities for them too!

Hack’n’Lead 2019 results

So, does it work? The 2019 Edition in Zürich was the second edition of Hack’n’Lead and yes! We can say it works! Let’s have a look at the numbers:

Add to this 3'600 friendly slack messages, 708 dark coffees, and 64 relaxing massages.

It takes a lot of efforts and dedication to put together such an event, we would like to thank our sponsors, volunteers, ambassadors, and partners for their support and for making Hack’n’Lead a great success!



Maelle (Mae) Baud

Marketing Manager @Antler, global VC and startup generator| Support women in tech @women++