Friday, on twitter, it became evident that some people may not understand the mission of Gr8Ladies. I don't mean to call out this particular individual, but as he was not the first person to raise this question and I'm sure he won't be the last, I felt it was a good time to start talking about it. To begin, Gr8Ladies is an open organization. Anyone who supports women in the Gr8 (Groovy, Grails, Gradle, Griffon, etc) community is welcome to attend events. In fact, I will argue, we can't achieve our goals without men being part of the discussion.
I started Gr8Ladies last year after a series of events. When I met Gr8Ladies co-founder Allison at our local Groovy users group, GroovyMN, last summer I’m pretty sure my first words were something to do with my relief that I found another woman at a user group who wasn’t a recruiter! Before I moved to Minnesota (and switched to Groovy) last summer, I was part of several user groups where men would ask for which company I was recruiting. It was annoying and sad that the other attendees didn’t think I could be a programmer and that I had to justify it by answering all of their technical questions. I have to applaud the Gr8 community for not doing this to me. However, I digress.
Later that summer, I went to Gr8ConfUS. It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot and met some very remarkable people. The one thing I noticed though is that there were very few women. In fact, it was only about 3%. When I had a chance to talk to another woman outside Minnesota, I found it to be an issue in other parts of the world as well. However, I don’t understand the low adoption of Groovy among women at all. Everyone I have met in the Gr8 community has been incredibly professional and supportive and I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the community more so than other tech groups I’ve been a part of in the past.
In October, Allison and I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing held here in Minneapolis. I met so many wonderful women who were telling similar stories about their own communities. I also heard Sheryl Sandberg talk about the importance of leaning in. This reignited a discussion about what I saw at Gr8Conf and why there were so few women. The next week, I bought gr8ladies.org
I sat on the Gr8Ladies idea for a few months trying to determine where I wanted to go with it. I had previously joined Girls in Tech (GitMsp) and started networking with women in other fields of technology. It was great to have other women to talk to and have events that catered to my interests. I soon discovered there are so many other women’s groups and I wanted to make sure Gr8Ladies wasn’t going to try the same things. I also wanted to make sure there was a demand and support system if I did start something.
Then, at the January meeting of GroovyMN, there were six women in attendance, which made up a whole 25%! I was so excited that it became my first tweet from the Gr8Ladies twitter account. Within 24 hours, I had followers from around the world and Gr8Ladies was getting positive feedback from some of my role models! I was awed and excited. Gr8Ladies officially started.
As I have met and talked with different women in the local community, I have gotten a clearer sense of where Gr8Ladies should go. There are two theories for the low number of women in technology that I’d like to focus on.
The first is the pipeline problem. The pipeline problem states that there are not enough women educated in computer science. Allison and GitMsp have done a great of job of recruiting women into tech fields through programs like Technovation and local mentorship of elementary, middle, and high school girls. Gr8Ladies will support the efforts of those groups but I’m not sure it’s within our scope to start anything new yet for these age groups. I would however like to use Gr8Ladies to tackle the pipeline problem by helping women at the college level. My thoughts are to start a lecture series on subjects that help transition between college and the workplace. One of my biggest barriers to finding my first job was having the right skills to get my foot in the door. Another one of my goals to help with the pipeline problem is to establish a Groovy/Grails intro workshop similar to Rails Bridge. This would be open to anyone looking to learn groovy/grails. If you would be interested in helping with this, please let me know.
Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’ outlines the second problem I would like to tackle. Leaning in consists of creating small networking circles to promote women’s issues. It is a proposed solution for the drop-off of women in technology as we age. With a low number of female computer science graduates to start with and the rate of women in technology leaving the workplace higher than average, there are far fewer women in high-ranking positions. I commend the work of the few female speakers I’ve seen in the Gr8 community, but I’d like to see more. My thoughts are to encourage women to stay in or rejoin the workforce by creating a support system for networking and by providing continuing education. This effort will require more than just the Gr8Ladies. Everyone can help by mentoring women in their workplace or community. In addition, once I get a continuing education program started, I will need help from experienced professionals.
I hope that this clarifies the mission of the Gr8Ladies organization. In summary, Gr8Ladies is not about creating a club that excludes men. We are as discriminatory against men as we are against other programming languages. Just because we are a group for the Gr8 community doesn't mean that we discriminate against HTML programmers. Our purpose is to start a discussion involving everyone as to why there are so few women in the community and how we can change it. Please feel free to discuss your thoughts in the comments section below.