Hack’n Jill: A hackathon bent on changing the conversation about women in tech

Hack’n Jill: A hackathon bent on changing the conversation about women in tech

We at TNW have spent quite a lot of time attending and covering hackathons around the globe. We’ve seen a ton of great results, ate plenty of free burritos and have even jumped in ourselves a few times to build things. But if there’s one thing we’ve seen more than anything else, it’s that these events tend to be horribly unbalanced in terms of gender diversity.

As you’ve likely seen, heard, read and read some more, this is a pretty heated topic amongst the entire tech industry. Right now, engineers and developers are dominantly male, but making the whole scene more approachable is one of the best ways to start shifting the balance. This is exactly what Judy HeEugenia KooKara Silverman and Lauren Gilchrist are doing with Hack’n Jill, a hackathon with 50 men and 50 women happening June 16th in NYC.

The event is all about letting everyone know that “women are passionate and talented technologists,” but the creators “also know that diverse teams with both Jacks and Jills create the best products. That’s why Hackn’Jill will be a fun, inclusive event that will strengthen our community and promote innovation.” To learn more, we talked with co-creator Kara Silverman:

HW: Most hackathons don’t restrict the number of attendees so clearly. How did you decide on 100?

KS: We believe that 100 attendees is a good size event but not so large where attendees lack a sense of community. It was also a play on our focus of having a relatively even split of 50% men and 50% women involved.

Hackn’Jill is now just under 1 month away and we will easily exceed that milestone and hope to open up more spots. We even recently had a ‘Jack’ try and sneak in through a ‘Jill’ rsvp slot!

HW: Why artificially balance the number of men and women?

KS: For women interested in tech, every time they look around the room, it’s always mostly men. Intentionally or not, this sends a certain message that has a negative impact on women entering or staying in the field. By having an event where the numbers are more equal, we hope to show how the industry could be and to inspire and encourage men and women to work together.

Also the fact that we have to resort to artificiality or forcefully creating a balance in the first place is part of why we are doing it.

HW: With more gender diversity, do you expect to see different results than we’d normally see at a NYC hackathon?

KS: Every hackathon is unique – it is difficult to describe too many commonalities among them aside from the gender ratio. I think the quality will be at the same level of other one day hackathons with a general theme. I also think the types of products that we hope people will work on, social/fun apps, will benefit greatly from having both gender perspectives involved in their development.

HW: Is the gender gap in tech widening or shrinking?

KS: The gender gap has been improving. Although enhanced media attention on female tech founders, hackers, and investors has helped bring to light their tangible achievements, the skewed demographics are still very present. Hack’n Jill seeks to champion and highlight individuals who make a difference in their communities every day.

The event, which is sponsored by the likes of AppNexus, Boxee, StackExchange, Yodle and Mashery, will be held at the Appnexus office in New York. You can learn more via the link below:

➤ Hack’n Jill

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