Women-only hackathons to tackle the gender gap

March 8 is International Women's Day (IWD), which is just around the corner. On this day, the United Nations wants the world to specially celebrate women's trials and successes. In keeping with the spirit of International Women's Day, companies such as HackerEarth are organizing events to recognize budding women geniuses in the world of technology.

A little background

In the past 50 years or so, the number of women contributing to the tech community has been quite dismal. Their seemingly "more illustrious" male counter parts have been riding the technology wave and how. Of course, there were exceptions like Anita Borg, but it is fair to say that the majority of the great programmers have been men. Women make up just about 30 percent of the tech workforce.

These facts paint a chauvinistic picture, don't they?  There is hope though.

Tech companies as change agents

This problem has been under scrutiny for a while now, and the tech community is happy to do its bit to open doors of opportunity for female developers world over. They want to change the future of male-dominated professions such as engineering and computer science. Thriving tech companies are trying to promote gender diversity at the workplace to bridge the talent gap and bring new perspectives. They recognize that women should not be subjected to deep-seated sexist perceptions. They know that undercurrents of condescension, isolation, and frustration shadow women in tech-related jobs.

They know they can set things right. They are trying.

Especially on IWD, some companies such as Google make a concentrated effort to honor the talent of enterprising women workers. Google's community initiative, the Google Developers Group (GDG), organizes Women Techmakers events, a series of woman-centered activities during Women's Day to make technology less intimidating for women and to encourage more women to take it up. This video made last year is also a truly commendable effort. Google releases great doodles on March 8 every year. Microsoft honors women on IWD with its YouthSpark program. Another company committed to empowering women, Accenture, has a slew of events on IWD. Check out its efforts in 2016 here.

Hackathons—a novel way to get more women in tech

Hackathons have become a fad today, and rightly so. Bright minds, driven and passionate, collaborate and innovate for a few hours to come up with solutions that are simply amazing. Across sectors, companies use hackathons for a host of things from hiring to branding to plain old fun. So why not use it to encourage programming among women?

Away from a male-dominated environment, away from the unconscious insecurity that plagues many women while competing with male coders, away from all sorts of biases, women programmers get a chance to prove their mettle, build their confidence, and assert their technical know-how.

In 2014, the organizers of GDG Delhi suggested that they have a Hackathon, the women tech makers code jam, hosted on HackerEarth, where they would invite women programmers to participate in the hackathon at an assigned place. This would happen across India, wherever feasible through the various GDG chapters. There were awesome prizes to be won. There was a separate leaderboard for programmers who weren't at the GDG organized event and we gave away awesome music gear from Apple for the top 2 winners!

HackerEarth cottoned on to the immense potential of this wonderful initiative. The Bangalore-based company was successful in creating a world record by aggregating 10,000+ women developers in its first outing of International Women’s Hackathon in 2015. It found much success in 2016 as well. Like Sachin Gupta, CEO of HackerEarth, said, "This Hackathon was a testament to equality. Even though we restricted the hackathon only to women, the quality of submissions were no less than any other top hackathon that we have a conducted till date. With the help of all our sponsors, we've been able to make a statement, that women can code and women representation in IT is only a question of encouragement."

Now, HackerEarth is ready with the next edition of this tradition of celebrating women programmers. HackerEarth has conducted many women-only hiring challenges as well for companies such as ThoughtWorks and Symantec.

So, what is the point exactly?

Hackathons and other women-centric events are about making women a priority, engaging women early on by using the right channels, doing away with significant existing and potential professional barriers, providing role models, and reinforcing the immeasurable benefits of gender diversity at workplaces.

The sign of a mature and flourishing community is equality. Everyone should have the freedom to do what they want to do - without any sort of bias or prejudice. For all the advancements that the technology community has given the world, you would think that this is a mature community too, right? Well, this current gender disparity suggests otherwise.

High time we worked toward changing this distorted landscape, don’t you think? Say no to "systemic disparagement" and say yes to women empowerment. Honestly, you don't need to wait for special days to do something that is fundamentally right.

If you are a woman developer who is reading this post, perhaps this event will interest you.

About the Author

Raghu Mohan
Raghu is an engineering grad handles Marketing at HackerEarth. Prior to this, he was an editor at YourStory.com. When he’s not working, you can find him at the nearest music shop having a jam session.
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