Founding a women geeks group—a group that centers around people who are both women and geeks—is not easy. There are several difficulties:
- finding women to attend: if the entire geek community only has a few women, then all of those women need to attend to form the group, and this is unlikely
- sustaining interest in the community: ultimately the women attending will need more in common than "we're all women"
Many women geek groups are essentially regular meetups with no other purpose than having a chat together. If the group gels really well together this can work, but a lot of groups eventually have their interest in regular chat sessions based on common woman-ness wane.
Why found a women geeks group?
Women geek groups have several benefits:
- many geek women feel that they ought to or want to have more women friends
- women's groups make women feel less exceptional in their wider geek community
- they may provide women with a safe space to discuss discrimination or unpleasantness in the wider community
- they may provide women with a safe space for learning, with less stereotype threat (internalising anti-women stereotypes in ways that affect their performance) or worries that their lack of expertise will reflect badly on women
- they may provide women with geek role models
- they may help women remain in the wider community longer than they otherwise would have done, or be more active than they otherwise would have been, due to having a place to pursue their interest with less sexism
Given how few women some geek communities have, you may need to widen either your geographical coverage or your scope. For example, instead of an email list for "women Linux kernel hackers who live in Washington DC" you could have either "women interested in open source who live in Washington DC" or "women Linux kernel hackers who live in the USA."
Stay in touch!
Founding a blog or email list for any group that is going to be ongoing makes sense, even, or maybe especially, if you meet irregularly.
Make sure your announcements appear in all your regular channels each time, don't use, eg, Twitter for one event, the blog for the next one and email people for the third. We suggest having the blog be the core tool and having emails and tweets (and so on) generated automatically from your blog post.
When posting event details, cover all the basics:
- start and finish time
- type of event
- RSVP instructions if any
- accessibility for disabled people
- provision of food if any (describe it accurately, eg, "light refreshments" rather than "dinner" if you're serving nibblies)
- whether or not children may accompany parents
- provision of childcare if any
Important note: while obviously we suggest that you choose accessible venues and consider the needs of people who usually have less access to society than you, it is better to be honest about, eg, inaccessibility. People may be angry with you—justifiably, as you may be excluding them from their core community—but at least they don't have to write to you, disclose potentially private circumstances and then find out you are excluding them.
Someone new to meet
One of the most common failure modes for a women geeks group is that more or less exactly the same women show up each time. Meetings work best when people can expect both to meet some people they know and some people they don't know. So you need to find a way of encouraging a little bit of change in your attendees in various ways.
Ways to achieve this might be presenting talks on a wide variety of topics, moving your event's location periodically or assigning different organisers to each event.
Something new to do
If every meeting is exactly the same, eg, you all meet in the same cafe at the same time with the same people each week, it becomes easy for members to skip one, because they can have the same experience next week. Or they can skip several in a row and still have the same experience next time they come.
It can be useful to have one-off activities, so that people are missing out if they don't come along to each event. Examples of one-off things you could do include excursions, gaming nights, hackfests and competitions.
See for example the Sydney Google Women Engineers who have off-site activities together that differ each time.
Some ideas for women's groups or events
Having a one-off event removes any pressure to found and maintain a group long term. You could, eg, simply have a Women's Gaming Night or Women's Jam Session or Women's Issue of your zine without any mention of a repeat. Then once your event is complete, it was successful and you are free of further obligations.
When people ask about repeats, you can simply say "when I feel like it" or "sure, if someone volunteers as editor there can be another Women's Issue at that time".
Get out of town
If you have an excursion, a conference, an overnight stay or similar, everyone will tend to stay for the same length of time and focus on each other due to being removed from their usual responsibilities.
Note however that this has the considerable downside of being less accessible to anyone who doesn't have long chunks of time for your group, which might include women with disabilities or women with caring responsibilities. Give lots of notice of start and finish times, and consider whether you can offer childcare to make it easier for mothers to attend.
A purpose centered group includes things like training together for eg an SCA tournament or a programming competition.
An advantage of a purpose-centered group is that it often does not need to be maintained indefinitely: when the event you are planning or training for happens, the group has an after-party and then dissolves naturally. It also tends to attract women who are interested in that outcome, rather than groups of women who all already know each other.
This is similar to a purpose driven event except that the aim is to create something of wider use. For example you might have women's photowalks or Wikipedia edit days.
Periodic but rare
Rather than weekly or monthly meetups, consider having a rarer but larger event for your women's group, such as a yearly unconference or day long gaming session, or a yearly Women's Issue of your publication or similar.
Be part of a larger group or event
Some groups, eg the Haecksen miniconf, have had success in making a women's event part of a larger event. This moves some of the burden of getting everyone in the same place and giving them a reason to be there to the larger event.