Where Creative Minds Work

Making Strides: Women in Tech and the Etsy/HackerSchool Alliance

Here at MiamiShared, we aim to provide gender neutral support for all of our tech community; but we’re certainly not oblivious to the clear disparity between the numbers of men and women within it. After reading a Tweet about the new partnership between Etsy.com and the NYC-based Hacker School, we were inspired to dig a little deeper regarding the reasons behind their partnership, and the broader issue of the lack of women in tech.

Etsy, a leader in bringing handcrafted bits of awesome to anyone in the world, and a huge supporter of (hundreds of thousands of women-owned) micro-businesses, recently created the Etsy Hacker Grant program. These grants  will go toward funding 10 exceptional women in tech to attend this summer’s Hacker School Session, housed at Etsy headquarters. Etsy’s hopes are to encourage more women to pursue tech-based careers like engineering. Marc Hedlund, VP of Engineering at Etsy, writes about Etsy’s efforts in combating the gendered imbalance and their attempts at aggressively recruiting women:

“Last September, three out of 96 employees in Engineering and Operations at Etsy were women, and none of them were managers. …we thought that Etsy — which supports the businesses of hundreds of thousands of female entrepreneurs, which sells a majority of all items to women, and which already has many talented and amazing women working for the company — should be one of the single easiest Internet companies at which to correct this problem.

Six months later, we now have eleven women in Engineering and Operations. That’s a great start, but we still have no female engineering managers, and we’re nowhere near a gender-balanced department.”

And Hedlund isn’t the only one feeling this way. Nick Bergson-Shilcock, co-founder of Hacker School, also recognizes the challenges that might dissuade women from the tech world:

“I’ve spent the last several years in heavily male-dominated environments. Dave and I studied computer science and electrical engineering, which were over 90% male. I graduated and joined a 100%-male engineering team. Dave and I were in the Summer 2010 batch of Y Combinator with 80-some other founders but only a handful of women.

On the flip side, I’ve spent time in heavily female-dominated settings. In college, I was one of two men on the 17-person executive board of the Women’s Center, and helped organize Take Back the Night marches for five years. Those were eye-opening experiences—as a straight, white male, I don’t spend a lot of time being in the minority.

I bring these experiences up because I think about them whenever I’m in a room of programmers and there’s only one woman. No matter how welcoming and friendly the environment, you burn at least a few cycles being cognizant of the fact you’re ‘different’ from most of the people around you.”

The reasons as to why women are still fairly invisible in the tech world continue to be discussed at length, and this is an excellent thing. This is the kind of dialogue that will inevitable give way to a new, equalized worldwide tech community. Studies have already been conducted on how environment affects women’s desire to pursue STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). And Kara Swisher of All Things Digital recently addressed a group of about 100 women at SXSW on the subject, reinforcing her (and many others’) belief that real encouragement needs to be given to young girls to give them a better chance at becoming just as successful in STEM fields as their male counterparts. In simpler terms, she knows that a big driving force in change will be making young girls feel awesome about themselves the way so many little boys do.

There are some, like Michael Arrington, senior editor of TechCrunch, who seem to feel that there needs to be less finger pointing and more proactivity when it comes to attracting women to tech. While his comments at times seem almost like a backlash against outspoken women-in-tech activists, he does bring up valid points about how women are at an advantage at the moment to become entrepreneurs and to have their stories covered simply because there are so few of them. Then again, we have others like Charles Arthur of The Guardian who have no qualms with pointing out the sexism that continues to pervade our society (Read: Why aren’t there more women in technology? Here are a few clues. to see what we mean).

The point is that until things begin to equal up, until we start seeing just as many ladies attending (and creating) tech meetups and joining tech-related groups, until there just as many women employed as men in our tech and IT departments, we NEED things like the Etsy Hacker Grant to be the great equalizer. If Etsy and HackerSchool have their way, they’ll have at least 20 women in this summer’s program, “In other words, 20 times the number of women in the current batch.” We’ll be sure to spread the word here in hopes one of our South Floridian ladies can represent us up at Hacker School!

Are you a woman involved in the tech community here in Miami? We’d love to hear from you and potentially even work with you in the future! We’ve been meeting some amazing women lately and forming partnerships to grow our budding tech community (shout out to Aidanna of TechMeetups Miami – a mover and shaker in the the local tech scene) and would love to find more of you to keep this going. Drop us a line at [email protected] and get in touch.

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