Organizers of an all-women hackathon respond to critics who call such events discriminatory or are skeptical of their value.

By Tina Egolf (Co-founder & CEO, wellcome:familie.unternehmen) and Diana Kondel (Product Owner, XING)

A few weeks ago, the second Berlin Geekeettes all-women hackathon took place in the vibrant European tech-hub Berlin. 115 women came together to spend the weekend hacking, learning, eating and networking – all sponsored and hosted by Coca-Cola and the Berlin Geekettes.

The Berlin Geekettes with their recently launched sister-chapter in Hamburg are a growing community of women dedicated to helping aspiring and established female tech innovators.

Anyone who has ever taken part in a hackathon knows about the exciting atmosphere, the incredible team spirit, the long nights and the stunning ideas coming to life, ranging from hilarious fun-hacks to innovative ready-to-rumble web products. All this also happens at an all-women hackathon. So, why even mention it in a blog post like this?

The comments left beneath the digital press coverage we received were not so typical for a hackathon. Commentators (all anonymous, of course) were furious about the idea that this was an all-women event. The arguments ranged from “You’re discriminating yourselves by saying you need such events” to less sophisticated ones like “Chances are equal. Women are obviously just not good/interested enough otherwise they would participate and win more mixed hackathons”. These comments reminded us of the discussion in the US about the legitimacy of raising the gender/diversity question in the tech world after the Twitter IPO.

And of course, we won’t end this debate with “just another” blog post, but we definitely shouldn’t get tired of making our point in this discussion. Therefore, we collected four arguments why indeed it’s necessary to have all-women hackathons from time to time!

We Are Not a Minority

Before networks and communities like the Geekettes, Women 2.0, Women Who Code etc. were raising the flag for women in tech, people attended tech conferences, hackathons and panel discussions that were nearly 100% male. And guess what: no one wondered. That’s what the tech and startup scene looks like, right? Why even talk about it? That’s how things are … Well, no! Because women are not a minority that just “happens” to be not represented in an equal ratio. We make up 50%of humankind!

With our startups and innovation-driven mindsets people question everything, everyday, everywhere: from how we are drinking coffee to copyrights and the freedom of information. But at the same time we just quietly follow old-fashioned beliefs about what is a “typical woman” vs. a “typical man”? Changing the game and inviting female hackers is not about organizing an all-women hackathon itself. It’s about challenging our common perception of the world, making people realize that obviously something is wrong in our system when diversity is “just not happening” because – and this might be a surprise for some people – an “all-male panel” is not based on a law of nature.

This Is Not About You, Guys!

To make this clear: Organizing all-women hackathons and building communities for women in tech is not about taking action against men. Nobody (really nobody!) has to be afraid or feel offended by this. The efforts we make are for women. To support them, grow their skills and sometimes also challenge their conceptions about themselves.

Because sometimes women just fight other demons than men do, things like: “I’m not good enough to do this.” The bad thing about the fears and psychological obstacles holding us back is that they can hardly be overcome without changing the circumstances that created them. Everybodd knows that it’s so easy to do sports when you are on vacation but it seems impossible to maintain a healthier lifestyle in your daily routine. It’s the same with our psychological training. If we know that women often feel “not ready / well-trained / experienced” enough to step out of a crowd and pitch or take a leadership role, why should it be a bad idea to gather a group of women and give them the opportunity to train their skills by changing circumstances so they perfectly suit their needs? (No, there was no loud discussion at our hackathon. Yes, there was healthy food and yoga. No, it was not just about winning the hack but about collaboration and learning.) Everybody should have the chance to live up to their full potential. Of course, not just women. But of course, also women!

Who’s the Customer? Well, We Are

OK, we’ve talked about how, if you want to design and sell products to women, it just makes sense that women take a major role in that process. That’s common sense. And yes, maybe women even create totally different products than men do. But that’s not the point.

Given the variety of reasons we have discussed, if we agree that reaching an equal ratio of women and men in tech is a challenge that should to be addressed, we need to enable people to work on solutions. With our all-women hackathon we gave the people that were mostly affected by this topic the opportunity to work on ideas that could actually take us a large step into the right direction. Our participants created apps to build self-esteem, overcome taboos, spread the word about female tech role-models and enable networking. And this was not even an official mission for the event! But for the participating ladies these were obviously required products. And hey… they are the customers!

The Feeling of Being Part of Something Big Strengthens Self-Confidence

One of the biggest challenges in our daily lives is the constant balancing differentiating ourselves as an individual with the desire to belong to a group that appreciates us for who we are. The success of social networks and trends like shareconomy are evident proof for the importance of “belonging” and being connected to other human beings.

And this is even more true for cause-related communities or social movements that have the ability to transcend our individual efforts and form a striving community heading for something big like changing the face of an industry, fighting against climate change or other social problems. We belief that this feeling enables us to do great things, giving us self-confidence and raising our commitment to the shared goal. To accelerate this, our hackathon team  developed a prototype that aims to enable easy, activity-driven, cause-related community building. We want to show the members of all the great networks out there like Women 2.0, Women Who Code, Geekettes, Stemettes etc. that they are part of something big and that they are not alone. We called our app “We are Many!” and it’s our goal to build this into something that can be used by other cause-related communities as well. Since “women in tech” is just one use-case, there could be others, like climate-change, social entrepreneurship, etc.

Fighting for the necessity of all-women hackathons or women-only networks in general is not going to lead us anywhere. If innovation and shaping the future for the better are goals we can all agree upon, there is just one answer: We need to do what it takes to tap the potential of everyone that can contribute, no matter which gender, religion or skin-color he or she has.

Have you ever taken part in an all-women hackathon? Was the experience valuable?

TinaAbout the guest bloggers: Tina Egolf (@tinaegolf) is a startup CEO and code novice. With a professional background in venture capital, social business and contemporary art investment she has always been a border crosser and troublemaker passionate about technology and changing the future of work.


Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 10.47.49 AMDiana Knodel (@dianaknodel) has a background in computer science, psychology and educational research and works as a product owner for XING. She loves to share her enthusiasm about tech and coding, always trying to get more girls and women into tech.