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Social Media Week – moving the debate beyond just "women in tech" Written by Nina Fowler on 27. September 2012

SMW Berlin – Women in Tech panel

Last night’s Social Media Week panel discussion in Berlin considered not just how to get more women into tech but whether and why that conversation is needed.

SMW Berlin – Women in Tech panel

Anika Lindtner, Linsey Fryatt, Jess Erickson and Caroline Drucker prepping for the panel

Jess Erickson, Berlin Geekettes founder, formerly of 6Wunderkinder and now heading up General Assembly‘s activities in Berlin, got her first taste of the tech scene back in New York. “I heard it all”, she said. “I heard male founders say, ‘women don’t understand tech’. Or, ‘I can’t hire a female developer because she’s simply going to distract all my male developers’.”

Etsy Germany manager Caroline Drucker recalled a web conference, where one speaker – talking about a lack of “humanity” in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer – included a slide with an image of a woman nearly naked, bound and gagged. “There were maybe 800 men in the room and as one of the maybe 30 women in the room, I felt really, really uncomfortable,” she says. “The thing is, he didn’t realise that he’d made all the woman so uncomfortable. He didn’t realise he’d made some of the men uncomfortable…”

Get visible, contribute to the scene

The panel – also including VentureVillage Managing Editor Linsey Fryatt, Rails Girls Berlin founder Anika Lindtner and leading social media expert Nicole Simon, and moderated by Gründerszene‘s Nora-Vanessa Wohlert – agreed that women in tech need to be more visible, to make other women feel more comfortable and confident pursuing careers in the sector. Rails Girls Berlin is a perfect example – creating an environment where would-be coders can expect, at the very least, not to be one of only one or two women in the room.

But being female shouldn’t be the “hook” for a profile interview and, in an ideal world, there would be no need for separate panels for women in tech, Fryatt said. “Ultimately, the aim should be at a stage in society where you don’t need these.” She added that, in a scene which hero-worships hotshot founders and developers in their 20s, age can be as much of a source of discrimination as gender.

“I hate just working with men”

Professions come into play, too – with communications, the one area in the tech industry where women tend to dominate, sometimes seen as less important than coding and engineering (the “oh, you’re the PR person” response, as Wohlert put it).

Maybe the best point to close on, from an audience member about to start working as an engineer for SoundCloud, is that men also want to help get more women into tech. “I hate just working with men all my life,” he said. “I would love to have a 50-50 kind of group.”

Just drag as many women as you can along to coding events and conferences, Simon suggested. “Make them attend. Every single time any of them complains about those boys’ networks, show them all the times you asked them to come with you.”

SMW panel audience


Take away #1 Be more public

Look through your systems and social networks and make an audit of how visible you are to the outside world. Are your entities connected? At least an page should be in the mix if you do not have your own home base.

Take away #2 Start commenting/participating online

Make comments on sites, engage with key players, tell your story to a wider audience.

Take away #3 Think about writing a book

Highly scary for people who are not even at the stage yet of even submitting comments on a blog post!

Take away #4 Attend events for strategic purposes

Find out all the tech meetups and events that are happening in town. Choose the ones that will benefit you. If you can add just three new people in your network, you’re doing well (see Events suggestions further down the page…)

Take away #5 Learn something

Open Tech School and Rails Girls Berlin are looking for participants. Learn to code, even if you have no experience, in a comfortable atmosphere…

Take away #6 Small Mastermind group

It’s easier to learn and achieve in groups; some in the audience already are public, speak at events etc, but they want to grow too. Find people who want to go on the European/international level of speaking/publishing.

Take #7 Upgrade your skillset

Look at the requirements in tech world jobs, see what you are and make a consorted effort to build a “things to upgrade on my skill set in 2012 / 2013” list. See job listings help below…