A while ago a few entrepreneurial women and I decided to start a monthly Meetup for like minded ladies.
Over the months, the Meetup has become fairly successful, drawing an array of fascinating and very successful women out of the woodwork, with the promise of worts and all stories about ourselves, by ourselves.
The question has been raised time and time again: Why do we limit the group to females only?
As a general rule, Im not a big personal fan of segregating genders. I’d never send my kids to single sex schools, Im not necessarily a fan of quotas and the only reason I went to the women only gym at Les Mills is because it was the only place with spare treadmills. But in this case, we thought it was worth a try.
Why (I think) we did it.
The first reason was based around the fact that we’d all been to a bunch of big tech events and conferences and noticed the distinct lack of female presenters. My initial theory was that women were somehow more shy or less primed for presenting (major projection happening there). Providing a safe place to practice speaking to a crowd and building confidence, to me, seemed the greatest benefit of starting a female only group. Maybe if we acted as a breeding ground for female speakers, we’d be all over the show and that would solve an issue we all felt existed.
Secondly, Ive been in enough female dominated social situations, where, with varying degrees of subtlety, the men involved conveyed their lack of interest in the ‘nattering’ and ‘gossip’. As a general rule, we DO socialise differently. There are a ton of places women can go and socialise in the tech sector, it’s just that they are dominated by men. I genuinely don’t know if that has a big impact on the way things are done at those events, but I do know I save my blatant venting and full disclosure of anxieties and issues for my female friends.
Maybe we should just jump right on in and start those conversations in the existing places, but the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t happening enough for any of us.
So we decide we may not be right, but trying something new had to be better than wishing and hoping for a greater representation of female tech founders.
What we’ve found so far
The group’s format is very loose on format (a round of intros, 1-2 speakers, then requests and success/failures), but very strict on openness. We don’t want your sales pitch, we want your trials and tribulations and how you managed to get through them.
I was wrong about a fear of public speaking, thats just me. What I think we’ve found though is that the what we speak about is quite different from anything Ive heard in a more traditional techie meetup, we can evolve from ‘how to get through the day to day grind’ to ‘how to survive an emotional breakdown to ‘is it ok to breastfeed while at a meeting?’ in the space of 10 minutes. People ask questions and others answer with brutal insight. And I find it very helpful.
One thing I’ve very much found, is that life is way easier when you see people who look and act like you, doing things you are scared of. It also puts a lot more pressure on because it ups the standard of what you expect for yourself and removes the excuses that are all too easy to find. So maybe it’s not even about the absense of men, but the presence of so many other women that makes a difference.
Nope. Im still personally torn, and hate to think separation equals success. I still wonder if it’s just the culture we created and think if we could hold onto that and let everyone and their dog in, we’d be equally successful. The way the group has grown, and attracted so many people that I literally wouldn’t have known existed, does make me think its successful. We’re a small community overall, where have all these women been hiding? I suppose the more important question is why? And how does a female only group change that?