Talking about women in tech is like talking about Germans in business – for every stereotype with useful truth in it, there are too many exceptions to count. Would you automatically group Rocket Internet’s Oliver Samwer with Betterplace founder Till Behnke?
Likewise, women in tech: Monday night’s Berlin Geekettes summer meetup at Google HQ brought together 100 women and a few men for talks by Amen co-founder Caitlin Winner, Xyologic co-founder Zoe Adamovicz, Jocelyn Afful and Dajana Günther from Rails Girls Berlin, and Lisa Lang from Campus Party Europe. All guests had different anecdotes, tactics and advice to share. As with any tech networking event, some were keeping an ear out for jobs, others for investors, some for possible hires.
Winner shared five things she’s learnt building up Amen without any mention of gender at all (a deliberate omission). Adamovicz delivered a frank, fun presentation on how, and why, she sometimes uses being a woman to her advantage.
If you stand out, make it an advantage
“There is no male and female business – there is just business,” Adamovicz pointed out. “The guys are playing all the advantages they have so it’s not very wise to strip yourself from yours.”
As background – Adamovicz spent four years studying at Poland’s Warsaw Technical University as one of just three women in a 100-plus class. “You’re getting noticed whether you want to be noticed or not.”
She decided it was better to accept that and stand out than try to blend in. That evolved into what she calls (tongue-in-cheek) the “three axes of femininity leverage” – access, economics, control.
“Access” refers to extra attention leading to special invites, whether it’s to balance out gender ratios at a conference or because you’ve piqued the interest of a tech VC who’s not used to seeing women in his field. As Adamovicz put it, you may not like the reason but what matters, in her mind, is that you were invited. “If you want to raise funds in Berlin, you’re in a better position than any man,” she said.
This still means you have to prove yourself and your product, and there’s still discrimination around. One audience member, after Adamovicz’ talk, shared that after an unsuccessful pitch she’d heard (second-hand) that one of the jury said he’d never invest in an all-female team (cue shocked looks from audience).
“Economics” means discounts, often by default. Adamovicz said she’d struck a 94 per cent discount on one major purchase last year. “I assure you no successful guy would be able to pull this deal off”. I don’t think many successful women would have been able to pull it off either, and I think Adamovicz would agree. Her point wasn’t “do as I do” – more, in business, it’s a good idea to figure out the advantages you have to hand and use them.
Also, be bold. “In business, you want to be in the driver’s seat,” she pointed out. “Disrupt the existing rules, get the opportunity to put in your rules.”
Making women more visible in tech
Winner’s words of advice from her experience so far with Amen included: make sure you hire well, “execution is everything”, press coverage doesn’t equal success, “online communities are mysterious” and “growth hacking is real” (more on this later).
Rails Girls Berlin organisers Jocelyn Afful and Dajana Günther gave the crowd a rundown on their work to put together regular Ruby on Rails workshops in Berlin – if you want to take part (beginners welcome) or become a mentor (all genders welcome), get in touch.
Meanwhile, Lisa Lang (pictured right) from Campus Party Europe is doing her best to make sure the festival, which is expected to attract 10,000 tech enthusiasts to Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, includes a good showing of female experts in their fields. Campus Party Europe will include a Berlin Geekettes panel and a Rails Girls workshop (if you’d like to attend, make sure you check out our free ticket giveaway).
Achieving that kind of visibility for women in tech is close to Berlin Geekettes founder Jess Erickson’s heart – that effort will continue and there’s also talk of putting together a more formal mentorship programme for women in tech in Berlin.