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This space unintentionally left male (mostly)
August 25, 2014 12:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm a woman (mostly), and I'm the chairperson for our local hackerspace, we have female participants but it's a small minority... and we would really love to be more diverse.

But so many women visit us, dig all the cool stuff we have (3Dprinters, sewing machines, tools for wood- and metalworking, computer museum, laser cutters and so on) and then say 'This is great, my husband/male friend/nephew/son/male neighbour would love this!'

I wish I knew what we could do to make these women say 'This is great, I love this, can I join in?' At least I'm doing my part by being visible, so women know that it's not an all-male space.
We have toilets that aren't filthy, we do a pretty decent job of cleaning up after ourselves, and there are no sexist posters hanging in our workshops. Our activities are diverse and span a wide range, from workshops on computer security and Arduinos to welding, t-shirt printing, sushi making, board games and lock picking.

Does anyone have ideas about things we could try to get more women to visit, join, use and enjoy our hackerspace?
We're located in Europe, in case it matters.

(This question sprouted from a comment and was triggered by a friendly nudge from another MeFite. Thank you!)
posted by Too-Ticky to Society & Culture (68 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
A group just for women would be awesome. Like a biweekly Women's Night thing. I know that in spaces like that, I often feel like "ugh these guys making Arduino things and sawing boards in half would totally make fun of my laser cut jewelry ideas."
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:42 PM on August 25 [13 favorites]


Start young - young girls will attend just because their teacher brings them, and then they'll develop an interest. Work on your school outreach or after-school program, depending on how that works in your country.

Same goes for high school and college - find the women in technical programs and invite them.

Encourage mothers to bring their sons and make it easy for them to also participate while their sons are there.

I agree that pointing women to a women's group/night would tip the balance for some of them.
posted by michaelh at 12:44 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Ask them what they'd like to see there, and then offer it. You can build it, and they will come, when you know what they want you to build. You could even phrase it as "what would your daughter/sister/wife/niece/etc want to see here?" if the woman you're asking seems reticent.
posted by Solomon at 12:47 PM on August 25 [8 favorites]


I wish I knew what we could do to make these women say 'This is great, I love this, can I join in?'

Ask them!
posted by rtha at 12:48 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]


My kids and I happened to drop in on a hackerspace because it was open, and a woman invited us in and showed us around. My daughter wanted to see a 3D printer, and they had one printing something, and there were awed gasps all around. As we left, the woman gave me a flyer for their Girls Play (or words to that effect) event, where girls from 10-18 were invited to show up and get familiar with all the equipment and possibilities there. The presence of a woman in the space, the fact that she spoke directly to my daughter and engaged right with her (I also had my son with me, but he's only 3) and the fact that they even had a girls' event made me, as their mother, feel very welcome, like this was a space that was used to having women and kids around.
posted by KathrynT at 12:49 PM on August 25 [14 favorites]


Ok, caveat: I consider myself a hardcore feminist, who enjoys technology, working with my hands and learning skills that are traditionally "boys only." There's a couple ideas I had off the top of my head.

1. "Hackerspace" makes me think of computer hackers which makes me think of male nerds which makes me think "boy zone." Perhaps it means something different in Europe. I find the words DIY or "maker" to feel a little more open to women.

2. Have "for women" events. They can be lead by men but should have a woman co-lead. I frustratingly do not understand why women need this kind of marketing but until we figure this out, it seems like it works. It says, "you can mess up here, you can learn at a comfortable pace, you won't have to compete for the verbal and physical space that men claim as matter of fact."

3. Women are somewhat less likely to flake on social engagements than on commitments they have made to themselves. So, creating ongoing projects or social groups can make community and may help grow an active base.
posted by amanda at 12:50 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


Ask them!

Oh yeah, and that too! When women say "the man in my life would love this," you can engage directly with that statement -- you can say "Would you love it? Would you love to come here with him? Would you love to come here WITHOUT him? Not just for dudes!"
posted by KathrynT at 12:52 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Are there any fabric/yarn/craft stores in your neighborhood? They tend to attract communities, and are overwhelmingly coded as female hobbies (even though a lot of the time, what they're doing really isn't that different from the projects in male-coded hackerspaces, in terms of creativity or complexity.) Reach out to them about holding joint events, cross-advertising, etc.
posted by kagredon at 12:54 PM on August 25 [8 favorites]


I agree that the problem lies in the word "hacker." For me, it's not the gender connotation but the skill level and content area connotations. Hacker implies to me someone who is a hardcore computer expert working on super advanced computer projects. It doesn't seem like a welcoming or appropriate space for someone who is just starting to learn or just wants to putz around. I also wouldn't think of non-technology projects as something I could do there.
posted by unannihilated at 12:57 PM on August 25 [16 favorites]


I just wanted to third the problem with the word "hacker". I read this question and thought that it wouldn't pertain to me or my interests at all (it sounds very code oriented), but then I saw the list of equipment you have and activities you do and, whoah, that sounds really cool and totally like something I'd check out in my area!
posted by jess at 1:04 PM on August 25 [3 favorites]


Make sure that the men you have in the space are not behaving in a way that is turning women away. If they are, you need to do something about it.
posted by winna at 1:07 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


What other community spaces are there locally? Do you reach out to them? If this were me, I'd be dropping in for the collective meeting/operating meeting/some kind of large routine event at your local [related organizations] - niche bookstores, community spaces, community-focused libraries, etc. Meet the people who run those spaces, make your pitch to them, network with them.

Also, what kind of promotional materials do you have available? My gut impression of a "hackspace" (which also makes me think of hackers, ie people who do more important and cooler things than I do) is that it's for people who already know what they want to do or learn. Do you foreground the "here's how you come in and mess around on stuff" and "here are workshops" angles? Can you make some kind of actual paper brochure that people can carry away with them? I know it's all supposed to be social media now, but I find that paper is actually really persuasive.

Can you work behind the scenes to find local women who'd like to do workshops and then promote those?

It would never occur to me to go to a "hackspace" (even though there is one locally) because it sounds like it's for people who are already really good at what they do, and it sounds like a place where you'd be scrutinized a lot.
posted by Frowner at 1:07 PM on August 25 [3 favorites]


Also, can you hold some kind of social events? Like, show a documentary and offer snacks - advertising this at craft places, community centers, etc? And have it be a documentary that includes or highlights women makers-of-stuff?
posted by Frowner at 1:08 PM on August 25


Offer on-site child care? I'm a woman with no kids but when I see an org doing outreach to women that offers child care, it makes me think they take demands on women's time seriously. (Or offer programs for kids and for adults at the same time.)

Also maybe have programs that are tied to specific skills/outcomes/products that you can take home? I think in general women are more protective of their time than men and for many women the idea of just messing around with stuff for a while may be less attractive than the idea of coming home with a useful skill or fun item.
posted by mskyle at 1:11 PM on August 25 [9 favorites]


A makerspace means different things to different people - for instance, check out this 2011 Make Magazine interview in which seven women are interviewed about What Does it Mean to be a Woman Hackerspace Member?.

Here's some other ideas.
posted by zamboni at 1:28 PM on August 25 [7 favorites]


Wow, some great answers already! Here's some additional information:

Things we already do
- We have a paper flyer that lists all the kinds of 'nerds' that our space is for. On the list are made-up terms such as culinerds, knitting nerds, beginning nerds and booknerds.
- We have an atmosphere in which no one is ridiculed for asking questions and for not knowing. Learning is encouraged, and any stage of learning is welcome. Our male members do a pretty decent job of not chasing women away by being flirty or concescending.
- We have a yearly open door day, advertised in the papers, with all kinds of activities. These are usually well visited.
- I spend a lot of time in the Space and show a lot of people around.

Things we're not keen on
- Doing activities with or for young children. We're not equipped / insured for that and we do not have the people to do them. Child care: same applies.
- Stopping to use the words hacker and hackerspace. These are names of honour in the community.
- Offering certain activities (not events) just for women. Because that implies that (all/most) women enjoy different things than (all/most) men, and also that the other activities are for men. We prefer not to see activities as gendered.
- Excluding male members from some events, until it turns out that there is a good reason. As much as possible, we prefer all of the Space to be open to any of us.

Things that sound like good ideas (keep 'em coming, we're listening!)
- Explain the words hacker and hackerspace better when we use them
- Emphasise that all levels of expertise are welcome
- Ask women what they would like to see happen in the Space. (my favourite so far)
- Have local female experts on all kinds of things do workshops with us
- Find more opportunities to tell people about the stuff we have and the things we do

We're also considering organising a bring-a-dish dinner on Ada Lovelace Day, and inviting women we know and admire (or just like) to come and eat with us on this special day. Maybe start with a short lecture on Ada and why she matters. Does that sound like a fun idea?
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:30 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


I'm totally comfortable at spaces like that and I still go to our local bike co-op on women's only night. I think it's because there is no obligation to be social? Like people sometimes use spaces like that to look for potential dates, which is 100% totes fine but not what I'm into right now. Going to women's only night is just kind of easier. I still occasionally get flirted with but pretty much I can do my own thing.
posted by fshgrl at 1:35 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


We have an atmosphere in which no one is ridiculed for asking questions and for not knowing. Learning is encouraged, and any stage of learning is welcome. Our male members do a pretty decent job of not chasing women away by being flirty or concescending.

It is great that this is the attitude you encourage and that you feel your space is doing a good job of working towards that ideal. However, no space is perfectly inclusive and you yourself admit that your male members "do a pretty decent job" (ie not perfect).

Mostly inclusive is great, but consider that you're hoping for women to spend their leisure hours in an environment dominated by men who are strangers to them whose behavior they're not familiar with. Consider that there are spaces that are women only or de facto women only, like knitting shops and their own homes/friends' homes, where many women makers would rather spend their leisure time, rather than taking a risk on an environment that is by your own admission only "pretty decent" at not being off putting to women.

I strongly nth the suggestions above to offer a period of time when the space is women only, or even just when an area of the space is women only. This is not about excluding anyone. It's about creating a community of women who are comfortable in and invested in the space, who will then integrate into the community at non-exclusive times and improve the diversity of the community. Eventually you may find you no longer need the women only hours because the group will be gender balanced and less intimidating to newbies. Men who value gender diverse communities should welcome the idea of having a women only event, because it will lead to more women being comfortable using the space, not reject it.
posted by telegraph at 1:50 PM on August 25 [19 favorites]


What about events that are woman-focused but not women-exclusive? I once went to a Wikipedia-sponsored event that was called something like "Women's History Edit-a-thon." Anyone was welcome to attend, but women were particularly encouraged (including those with no Wikipedia-editing experience), and while no one was looking over our shoulders at what we were doing, the idea of it was that we were creating content and/or editing articles related to women's history topics. I don't know exactly how this would fit into what you do, but maybe something like events inspired by women scientists/makers/hackers/etc., on topics related to famous women/women writers/women's history, etc. Like "Feminist Zine Night" or "Make some laser cutter thingies of female superheroes" or "Learn how to use our sewing machines to make awesome rainbow tutus" or whatever where people of all genders would be welcome to attend if interested.
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:55 PM on August 25 [6 favorites]


Things we're not keen on: Offering certain activities (not events) just for women. Because that implies that (all/most) women enjoy different things than (all/most) men, and also that the other activities are for men. We prefer not to see activities as gendered.

That's what it implies to you. To women who would come to a women-only event but not to open-to-all events it may imply a space where no man will talk down to them, hit on them, make them feel unfeminine, unwelcome, whatever. You know your membership but newcomers do not. And even if they do presume that your membership itself is great, there's SO MUCH gender baggage in the tech field that I can easily imagine that there's a section of the population that would not be able to put aside their own internalized issues without a single-gender space.
posted by phearlez at 1:59 PM on August 25 [22 favorites]


Excluding male members from some events, until it turns out that there is a good reason.

One good reason is that it might actually help women feel safer in the space, and with the community. If you're not open to an all-women event, then maybe do an event that is specifically for couples (maybe with a loose definition of "couple" - including not only romantic but best friends, sisters, etc)? That would feel safer to me than just walking into an unknown space.

Promote the tools you have in terms of things you can make with them, vs. what they are. A 3D printer sounds cool, sure, but my personal perception is that I'd need to be Very Technical to use it. If you did, say, a jewelry making night that showcased the laser cutter and 3D printer as tools you can use to achieve an outcome vs. "hey, look at this cool toy".

I'm pretty nerdy (although older, maybe, than your target market) - I'm a gamer, and a historic reenactor and good at using tools, and I make a lot of different types of things, but the words "nerd" and "hacker" just don't resonate with me at all. I consider myself a "crafter" or a "maker". Partly, it's that the canonical definition of "nerd" just isn't a way I see myself. But partly it's that the word "nerd" implies a level of both skill and obsession that I just don't have for my maker-type activities.

The women who are already nerds have their own shop. The women who would use your space are likely only dipping their toe in the water of nerd-dom and maybe need to be marketed to as people who want to try something new, not people who are already experts.
posted by anastasiav at 2:00 PM on August 25 [11 favorites]


Kind of a random suggestion, but - if you have sewing machines, and 3D printing, what about reaching out to your local costuming/cosplay/Ren Faire/steampunk communities? Those are usually full of women who are interested in making stuff and would often love to have access to more professional-quality machinery. Perhaps some occasional costume creation events could be a good way of reaching out to women in general, and a way to get more local female speakers/teachers in the spotlight?

I know, for example, that I've seen a lot of great work that involves using a laser cutter to cut out detailed leather pieces for costuming, or a 3D printer used to make beautiful jewelry. I bet if you put together a gallery of things like that, and reached out locally, that'd be a great way to market your space to women.
posted by tautological at 2:14 PM on August 25 [3 favorites]


As a woman who builds stuff in Arduino &etc but still hasn't joined a community around those interests, I agree with everything people are saying about having at least a couple of events for women only. It's not that I can only relate to women - most of my friends are male - it's just that I don't want to deal with being hit on while I'm trying to learn a new skill or figuring out a new space. My experience joining predominantly-male groups, especially groups related to nerdy interests that not as many women share, is that I'm likely going to get hit on by someone who isn't great at taking the hint. I hate having to manage mens' feelings when I'm trying to do something new, so knowing that there will be a certain amount of that involved no matter what I do tends to discourage me. Instead of "go to hackerspace and make something," my objective becomes "go to hackerspace, try not to attract undue male attention, try to deflect that attention kindly without making enemies, and then maybe make something if you have the mental bandwidth left for it." Bringing my husband along shortcuts that process (for gross reasons that make me uncomfortable - "step off guys, I'm already some other guy's property" is the only hint some people will take) but he's not into electronics so I'm on my own there.

Also, on the hacker/maker front, you might enjoy this article from Make about the difference in connotation between 'hackerspace' and 'makerspace'. Relevant pull quote:
Dale Dougherty summed up the difference between making and hacking best for me during his keynote presentation at our How to Make a Makerspace event this past February; he said that before he founded MAKE Magazine, his original intention was to call the magazine HACK. When he presented the idea to his daughter, however, she told him no – hacking didn’t sound good, and she didn’t like it. Dale tried to explain that hacking didn’t have to just mean programming, but she wasn’t buying any of his arguments. She suggested he call the magazine MAKE instead, because ‘everyone likes making things’.

Dale’s anecdote sums up how I feel about the term ‘hacking’. To me, ‘hacking’ and ‘hacker’ are fundamentally exclusionary; whether they refer to the traditional act of programming to defeat or circumvent existing systems, or the act of working with physical parts, there’s a basic understanding that ‘hacking’ refers to a specific subset of activities that involve making existing objects do something unexpected. No amount of cajoling on my part will get a professional artist or craftsman unfamiliar with the terms to call themselves a ‘hacker’, or their vocation ‘hacking'; in fact, if I were to say “I like how you hacked that lumber together into that table” to a professional woodworker at Artisan’s Asylum, I would run the significant risk of insulting them.
While I take your point that hacker is a term of honor in your community, you're asking a question about how to expand that community, and understanding the way that people might be interpreting those terms outside of that context might be helpful.
posted by dialetheia at 2:15 PM on August 25 [19 favorites]


A few years ago I started collecting real-world examples of successful gender diversity initiatives in technology. I wrote up a summary that may give you some ideas.

Common themes of actions that worked:

* Helping women find mentors/role models
* Cultivating a culture of inclusion — newbies always welcome
* Tons of outreach, ideally woman-to-woman
* Specifically addressing concerns such as impostor syndrome, fear of being the only woman, fear of not being "hardcore" enough, etc
posted by annekate at 2:22 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


Have a strictly anonymous, heavily moderated help page.

When I need help in real life on a technical matter, I'm often afraid to ask because when I receive the help, it looks like "girls are dumb and need help from men" vs. "oh look at the brotherhood of interested boys transmitting knowledge." Do this until you have a critical mass of women experts.

Luckily at work I can hide behind my non-gendered name and non-gendered profile photo and use the royal 'we at [team X]' a lot. But in real life, I would not feel safe learning a new skill in public for the reason above.
posted by batter_my_heart at 2:36 PM on August 25 [6 favorites]


We have a yearly open door day, advertised in the papers, with all kinds of activities. These are usually well visited.

Would it be possible to do more frequent Open Door Days? Perhaps quarterly?
posted by shiny blue object at 2:37 PM on August 25


+1 to all the folks recommending women's nights, and exploring your aversion to it. We have a local hackerspace in my city, but the website so clearly screams DUDE ZONE that I have zero interest in checking it out, despite the fact I'm teaching myself some interesting coding projects.

However, I would change my tune and gladly go check it out if they hosted a women's night.
posted by mostly vowels at 2:49 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


And even if they do presume that your membership itself is great, there's SO MUCH gender baggage in the tech field

This. If you asked me right now what "type" of person I would least like to spend my leisure time with, it would be male self-proclaimed nerds. My mind goes directly to hurf durf internet comments and resentment against women. I am a technical person at work who enjoys building stuff and is pretty comfortable with tools, tech etc. I can fix most anything. And I'd still not think a hackerspace was a space for me, without more explanation at least.

Your members may be lovely, wonderful people but unfortunately that's what I think of when I hear a lot of the jargon words in your posts. I blame the internet!
posted by fshgrl at 2:56 PM on August 25 [10 favorites]


identify women who can present their talents, and have events that will appeal to women. Costume-making before Halloween, crocheting, knitting, clothing swap, etc. You don't necessarily need to say it's for women if you have female leadership and events that women often enjoy, though an evening of welding for women would get my attention.
posted by theora55 at 3:05 PM on August 25


And, presumably, you have a board of advisers, or something similar. Is there female representation?
posted by theora55 at 3:06 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


Stopping to use the words hacker and hackerspace. These are names of honour in the community

You should ask yourself if you're trying to make women want to come to your community as it currently exists, or if you want to change your community to be more welcoming to women.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:06 PM on August 25 [22 favorites]


I likewise get the DUDE ZONE vibe off my local hackerspace, due to the term itself and the website and anything I've heard about it. I would be significantly more likely to dip my toe into a women-oriented event.

Another thing that is a factor for me, not gender related but I'll toss it out in case it's useful, is that my local space has events almost exclusively at 7 p.m., usually on weeknights. I'm a bus traveller. I would be able to attend maybe an hour of the event, if I wanted to have any hope of catching the bus back across town to be home at a reasonable hour. Obviously I can't expect the hackerspace to relocate for me, but more weekend events, or events just after work hours, would fit better with my life. Something as simple as switching up the schedule a bit could work for you to broaden response in general, not exclusively among women. (But if your country's culture is such that women do a disproportionate amount of the cooking and housecleaning and childcare, then you just might find them being more positively affected by such a change.)
posted by Stacey at 3:16 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]


Is there safe access to public transportation to/from the space, especially after dark? Not having that has discouraged me from visiting hacker/makerspaces before. My women's hacker/makerspace has a habit of making sure that after evening events, people have company walking to their bus/train stop if they want it.

I've also been discouraged by the clutter/noise/chaos/crowdedness of other hacker/makerspaces, even ones that were not really grimy/dirty. I think there are many people who find that kind of atmosphere slightly stressful, but especially women since we tend to be more socialized to make things clean/neat. My hacker/makerspace prioritizes making itself comfortable: the walls and floors are clean, the tools are on the shelves, the art on the walls is framed, the couches even have colorful accent pillows because that's fun. Most of the time our chaos level is fairly low; we try to indicate when an event will be particularly crowded or noisy.

The "feminist hackerspace design patterns" page on the Geek Feminism Wiki talks about some related ideas, although it doesn't have much detail yet.
posted by dreamyshade at 3:20 PM on August 25 [3 favorites]


The halloween costume sewing idea is a good one. I guarantee you that if you had a bunch of sewing machines available with people to show visitors how to use them, as well as big tables and sharp scissors and muslin and stuff, women would show up in droves. You wouldn't have to make it a women's event, probably, particularly if you had people available to help people who don't know a lot about sewing or garment construction. That would definitely send a message to me that you wanted women to come and use your space and participate in your activities.
posted by KathrynT at 3:24 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


I recently visited a local makerspace and thought, "wow, my son and dad would love this!"

Why I didn't consider it a space for me: I am a single working parent with kids. I would rarely have time to get there. I also don't have a ton of headspace to be inventive/ ponder long-term projects/ learn how to do new things, which felt like the main purpose of the space.

I might be more inclined to use the space if specific short-term project-focused classes were offered, rather than it being an independent-work thing. I think it's a great model just as it is but not something that fits into my life and interests right now.

I am personally comfortable working in primarily male spaces and am uncomfortable attending women-only events because I don't like segregation.

Not sure if this helps, but I suspect "I don't have the energy for that" is a major reason why women, who as a whole have more family and household responsibilities, are less involved.

Adding looms/ embroidery machines might attract different demographics. Hosting stitch n bitch might increase awareness of the space. Having a class to make something for kids, like "build a kitchen tower for a quarter of the price they inexplicably cost," might attract new people.
posted by metasarah at 3:28 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


But don't make all the women only events sewing or crocheting! I suck at that. My interests lie more in electronics.
posted by fshgrl at 3:43 PM on August 25 [6 favorites]


I absolutely support your disdain for the gendering of hobbies and activities and wish you every success in subverting those stereotypes. However, you have to meet people where they are, and the fact is that most hobbies remain very gendered in terms of who currently participates in them. The appeal of hackerspaces is largely access to expensive specialized tools and equipment, and secondarily to a community of people who know what to do with that stuff. So, if you stock your space with soldering stations and arc welders and 3D printers and CNC machines, you are going to draw mostly dudes, because like it or not those are still "guy hobbies" for the most part.

If you want a more even gender mix, create a more even mix of available tools. Invest in expensive or bulky gear that facilitate traditionally "feminine" hobbies like looms, computer controlled paper cutters and embroidery machines, screen printing rigs, etc. Maybe canvas any local mostly-female crafting groups and classes to find out which high-end equipment they wish they had access to, and then get that stuff and give it equal billing with your milling machine.

I don't think you can hope to bring many women in the door by convincing them that they should come try out something they've never had any interest in, but once you've caught their interest by actually providing something they already want to use, I think (or at least I hope) you'll be able to get more cross-pollination and more people jumping ship from one pursuit to another without regard for gender stereotypes.
posted by contraption at 3:53 PM on August 25 [7 favorites]


- Stopping to use the words hacker and hackerspace. These are names of honour in the community.
- Offering certain activities (not events) just for women. Because that implies that (all/most) women enjoy different things than (all/most) men, and also that the other activities are for men. We prefer not to see activities as gendered.


You just need to be aware that this is an intrinsically counter-productive stance. You are saying that hacker and hackerspace are names of honour in "the community," while somehow mot seeing that "the community" is intrinsically unwelcoming to women and at the root of the very problem you're asking about.

You're also saying your events are male-dominated and yet seem reluctant (or maybe not?) to have women-dominated events.

80% of women have children, largely birthing and raising them in your core 20 - 35 demographic years. If you are saying "no childcare, no children" then... well, I'm sure you can look at the studies on division of family labour and do your own math. The outcome will look amazingly like what you have now.

Anyway, ignoring your limitations, I'd do a series of Tricks for Chicks: Useful Hacks with X and I'd get as many women to host as possible. You cannot be what you don't see, so recruit from the top down, and recruit hard.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:54 PM on August 25 [16 favorites]


Encourages the guys that come to bring their partners/female friends/relatives. It's not quite the same but as an example, my husband played D&D for ages with an all male group One day he asked me along our of the blue. I went along and loved it. The guys that D&D were all older & very welcoming but I would not have gone if I hadn't been invited by someone I know & trust because game shops are not traditionally female friendly zones.

Funny thing is, the rest of the guys started bringing their partners along, another couple joined us, then another. The women all said because I was there they felt "safe" coming. Just started D&D 5e and I'm DMing and the ratio is now about 40% female and gone from 1 table to 4, every single female there started going because their partner said hey there are other women there why don't you come along too and stayed because they liked it.
posted by wwax at 4:03 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]


We have a local hackerspace in my city, but the website so clearly screams DUDE ZONE that I have zero interest in checking it out, despite the fact I'm teaching myself some interesting coding projects.

This is the way I've felt about the places that I've been to or learned about. I'm a confident woman who is good with tools and would love to be in a space where I could toolshare. My two concerns are

1. dudes will talk down to me and act like I don't know how to use tools
2. dudes will hit on me because I am a confident woman who uses tools and there aren't many of us in this space

Both of those are worse than just using my small set of tools at home, especially if I felt like that was the local culture and not something that was something I could do something about. So I think you do need to give some thought to whether you want to be open to all women generally or whether you're just looking to expand the hacker space with women who are already in line with hacker ideals and etc. Either one is okay but I think you're going to have a harder time with the second one and you're going to have to bend a little with the first one.

So, some things that might help

- a visible code of conduct (or call it something a lot more cheery) but the basic gist is "This is a place you can hang out and no one will talk down to you or hit on you and if people treat you poorly, there is reecourse"
- profiles of women who do use the spaces who are doing things like knitting and book arts as well as the more machine-intensive tools stuff. I look at a place and think "Are there people like me there already?" I don't always want to be the pioneer.
- a forum or online space for interacting so that people can get a feel for it before they actually go there in person. For some people this is a good way to test the waters.
- things that are universally helpful such as childcare, a clean and welcoming kitchen space, maybe a place to get a cup of coffee or some other value add that would get people in the door
- partnerships with other local institutions that are thought of as trustworthy like the library or the local community college
- working with younger (not necessarily kid age) groups like college age students to sponsor robotics projects or other stuff that are already happening in your community. So you don't want to always have the "people need to come to US" vibe, you can go out in the community and see what people are doing that is in line with what you're going.

These are names of honour in the community.


I'm an activist in many ways and I totally feel you on this and I understand what you mean. That said, even the idea that this is a term of honor makes me think ... that it's a place where I don't belong. I burned out of Open Source activism because it was full of true believer guys with poor social skills and it was a bad place for me to be. The decentralized nature of some of these projects makes it tough to do real advocacy because it's hard to have everyone on board in a distributed system. And it's hard to try to balance the genders if you're not willing to do things that are going to have a majority of women at them as you're trying to just get them to show up at all.

Again, I get that this is difficult but one of the things we did at MetaFilter to get more women happy here was to tell some of the men that things were going to have to change and we'd try to be respectful but not changing was not an option. We could have done a lot better but I think we did okay.
posted by jessamyn at 4:07 PM on August 25 [38 favorites]


If I read your comment right, it seems like you are OK with events just for women. You don't want to have activities just for women. How would you distinguish the two?

Also, I see from your profile that you live in The Netherlands -- I assume your group is in Arnhem? As an American, I don't know what the connotations of "hack" versus "make" are in Dutch culture. I'm hesitant to proclaim too loudly about issues of language.

The hackerspace we have in my small city is allied with the Python programming club, and both are women-led, women-dominated, and women-publicized. I'm not sure how that ended up being the case. I'll ask around at tomorrow's Weekly Hack Night to see if anyone has suggestions for you.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 4:12 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


My two concerns are

1. dudes will talk down to me and act like I don't know how to use tools
2. dudes will hit on me because I am a confident woman who uses tools and there aren't many of us in this space


I would add a third concern which is that men will want to compete with me and won't leave me alone until they have "won" at something. This is tiresome and happens all the time when you are a woman who is good at traditionally male things. It's like, oh you fixed that generator I couldn't fix? But how many pull ups can you do?
posted by fshgrl at 4:27 PM on August 25 [15 favorites]


I get that you don't want to change the name but maybe you make sure to describe, in very open and inclusive language, what "hacker" means in the context of the space and what the mission of the group is. If that language can be vetted by women as feeling open to them, put that everywhere. Don't put out a single piece of promotional material without that information on it, include it in email sigs, on every page of the website. It should be really good if you want to make sure that "hacker" is not just broadly appealing but overtly inclusive of women and beginners.
posted by amanda at 4:28 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Oh, a note about childcare — I am in your target demo, early 30s female programmer, lots of maker/hacker interests etc, and I am 500% more likely to go to events that offer free childcare. Not just because this helps me logistically, but also because it is a strong signal that the event coordinators are actively trying to include women/parents and it won't just be a dudebro fest. And let's face it, most young parents would enjoy the chance to do something adult while the kids are entertained by someone else for a while.

It's actually really easy to do. You would wall off a safe room/corner for the kiddos, get a standard liability release form off the internet (or use LegalZoom or your own lawyer if you have one), and hire a couple of babysitters from a local agency. This could easily be done for <$100 for a 2-3 hour event. You could even recruit volunteers to decorate the kid space and make toys and games they could play with.
posted by annekate at 4:30 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


I would add a third concern which is that men will want to compete with me and won't leave me alone until they have "won" at something.

Oh wow, this is totally a thing and I did not have conscious awareness of it until seeing it articulated just now. I'm a pretty accomplished iPhone developer and when I go to meetups I get a near-constant stream of men wanting to either a) nitpick my work until I admit they know more about something than me or b) get me to tell them their work is great.

If a woman approached me and said "yeah, we've got this meetup, and we know about this competitive thing that the guys do, and we actively try to discourage that behavior" I would be so floored as to be basically compelled to go.
posted by annekate at 4:45 PM on August 25 [12 favorites]


One thing I like about my gym -- it's a Y -- is the posters they have up of members and staff. The poster is a photo of the person or people with their name and a sentence or two quoting them, talking about what they like about our Y. The choices the management made about who to put on the posters make it clear that people of all races and ages are valued there.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:50 PM on August 25 [3 favorites]


Basically, what @contraction said.

If you want to diversify your audience, diversify your offerings. Crafting, knitting, felting, making and repairing clothing, artistic endeavors (painting, sculpting, etc.) and backyard farming/homesteading might be things that a higher percentage of women would be attracted to. As far as I'm concerned, these are just as valid (and are arguably more valid in that they have bigger communities and are more established) DIY or Maker activities than the ones you're offering now.

Mrs. cnc would be the first one in line if you did a laser cut papercraft class.

I've seen how women are treated at tech conferences, and it's absolutely ridiculous. The women attending these conferences as 5% to 10% of the audience seem to get incessantly hit on. Most of it seemed innocuous on its own, but when it happens 20 times per day, it's got to become maddening. I imagine that's a major barrier to you broadening your audience in the events you're offering now.
posted by cnc at 4:52 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


One last thought from me -- it may be that as you take these suggestions to your other members, you get pushback. Some of that pushback may be "We don't want to change the default and therefore male coding of our space; we just want women to show up anyway." In that case, my answer would be "If you don't want to change anything, then nothing's going to change."
posted by KathrynT at 4:58 PM on August 25 [12 favorites]


I hear you on not wanting to change the name, and to include the word "hacker", but what about also including "maker" and the notion of making things?

The local makerspace has a very gender-neutral logo and website, which I read as very inviting. Lots of negative space, lots of bright colours, nothing overly masculine or feminine. It looks like a place I could go and bring friends, both male and female.

It sounds a little bit like you're asking for advice on how to welcome more women, but without disrupting the current state of affairs. Does the rest of your team agree that this is a problem? If there's only one person trying to get more women involved, that will come across loud and clear.
posted by third word on a random page at 5:01 PM on August 25


I've been involved in a bike workshop, and helped get a women's only night started, against a lot of opposition. Wow, do men not like to be excluded.

I'm good with my hands and I really want to learn, but I found the space quite alienating, and the people there well meaning but often unhelpful. Women seem to interact with spaces like these quite differently to men. They are more afraid to fail, would prefer company when learning stuff, don't want to inconvenience people. Things that would have helped me:

- Have a good website. Have as much info on there as possible about how the space works. Make sure that it actually works that way. Keep it up to date. Have email address and phone numbers for people that are obviously women for people to contact.

- Have an online gallery featuring projects and people, with as much diversity in the people and in the project type and level as you can manage.

- If you don't like the idea of a womens only night (which really is a good idea, and you should strongly consider it), have a beginners night. Have your best teachers there, make sure all the manuals are in order, show people around, have some small projects they could work on. Make sure everyone knows that on beginners night they have to be patient and helpful and welcoming. As a woman, try to make connections with the women so that they have a friendly face when they come back.

- Have manuals available! Even better if the manuals are online too. Have start up, how to use and shut down documents. I don't want to break anything, I don't know what I'm doing, and whilst I don't mind asking for help, lots of people aren't very good at teaching. Seriously, manuals.

- Run classes or workshops. Women are much more likely to go to classes. Provide notes and further reading.

- Have some way of identifying your volunteers. A badge with their name and 'I'm here to help' or something less cheesy would be fine. I hate wandering through a sea of busy people looking for someone to help me. Or, print out pictures of all the volunteers and stick them and their names up on the wall.

- Actively ask women to be volunteers. Provide training about the equipment they don't know, and support them a few times as they start out.
posted by kjs4 at 5:32 PM on August 25 [9 favorites]


I know you addressed this already as a no, but I think you should offer daycare, or at least present options as such. Maybe find a daycare that is near you who could work with you in the evenings?
posted by oceanjesse at 5:35 PM on August 25


identify women who can present their talents,

I like this very much. I would automatically feel more comfortable in a woman-run class/presentation. It wouldn't have to be "girly" but it should be pitched as "learn these particular skills" in a way that implies you don't have to already know how to build a nuclear reactor to be able to do it. I would probably enjoy something like "how to do 8 simple car repairs yourself" or "building a nightstand: not actually that hard."

Nthing childcare, if you can. You can charge for it if you like; even a nominal fee from each person per kid would pay for babysitters for a few hours.

Women are tougher to reach, because we have been put behind so many barriers; childcare responsibility, not as much money, facing a lot of discouragement/competition when we do try things coded male. Your group is going to have to stretch a little if it wants to reach them. You have to be louder than all the voices telling women not to do it.
posted by emjaybee at 6:02 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


I think kinda clarifying what you can do there would be good... Like, is it cool if I make soap molds with the wood making stuff? Will you laugh at me if I need help? If I explain that xyz lining is key, are you gonna talk down to me because not knowing HOW to do something isn't the same as not knowing WHAT you want to do?
posted by spunweb at 8:36 PM on August 25


And I think the presentation bit is a good idea too. Or a little series of YouTube videos where you could have different members talk about their projects.
posted by spunweb at 8:37 PM on August 25


I think having lots of introductory classes on using different tools/machines and techniques would be a very good thing. I personally have never gone to the local hackerspace and don't plan to, even though I've looked it up and checked out the hours and would love to have access to their tools. The reason is that I don't feel like going there only to have to get some guy/s to explain everything to me and watch me bumble about as a beginner. I've had to do that too many times, and the number of times these guys have then gone on to consider themselves my personal saviors and/or condescending mentors has been large enough that I just don't have the patience for it anymore. I don't mind having to ask guys questions once I'm not a complete beginner, but I'm not willing to take the risk of someone deciding I "owe" them in any sense at all for their Nice Guy help in getting me started. (And I use the word "risk" seriously these days.) It's hard to emphasize how much of a dynamic this has been for me in the past.

Having women instructors for these classes would be great, but any organized environment specifically for training would help with this problem. Also, speaking with women who are already using your space about potentially looking out for the new women who come in and offering their help to get started might be a good tack. Speaking with members of both genders generally, and regularly, about helpful and unhelpful behavior towards new members and noob members could be a very good thing. Having a system in place to get input from people who show up for a bit and then stop coming might be useful, especially if it asks specifically about behavior from current members as a factor.


On the subject of "hacker" versus "maker," personally both terms put me off these days. Both to me feel too invested in identity rather than activity and in the sort of quest for hardcore-ness that can lead to really offputting, if unconscious, behavior. Call it a hackerspace if you want, but don't let the subtitle be "this is a space for hackers." Say "this is a place for ______ing and making _________s and for anyone who wants to ____________." I wonder what signals the physical space sends -- is it a stark, bare warehouse, or is it decorated in some way and made to feel like an environment for "normal people"? The old "hardcore" me would have seen the former as backing up my identity, but today I'd be drawn far more to the latter.


I used to be someone who got annoyed at "women only" events and the whole attitude behind them (or what I imagined it to be.) Now, I'm just too tired to deal with any of the crap if I don't have to.
posted by trig at 8:46 PM on August 25 [6 favorites]


Start by inviting your (female) friends. Then ask them to invite their girlfriends. Foster a culture where women are visible and central to activities.

I was part of an art collective which had only two other female members (out of 15-20) when I joined, and which was roughly 50/50 by the time I became less active a few years later. The main reason for the difference was that the women who were involved started bringing other women in our social/professional/creative networks around and encouraging them to get involved.

Seeing a group and noticing that there is one or two token women doesn't necessarily scream "YOU ARE WELCOME HERE!" to random stranger women. Being invited by someone you already know works better.
posted by Sara C. at 10:00 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


So I demo and teach a lot of hand tool woodworking. One of the things that I've found is that women (and were talking junior high girls all the way to ladies almost old enough to be my mom) who are interested seem much more willing to try a thing if you offer to put a tool in their hands, while guys seem to have some sort of performance anxiety thing going and seem to prefer tracking down their own tools and figuring things out on their own, as if we're all going to laugh at them because of their inexperience with the filister plane. (Heck, I kind of unconsciously endorse this mode of operations here.)

Given that hackerspaces are all about putting tools in peoples hands, this seems like the sort of thing you should be able to capitalize on.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:02 PM on August 25


Thank you all so much! I have a ton of ideas now. Some things that will very likely happen:

- Asking women what they would like to see happen in the Space / what would make them want to come
- An event for women on International Women's Day. Everyone welcome, women extra super welcome (and invited in person where we can).
- A project that will make our social rules and habits visible to literally anyone who walks in the door
- Local female experts will be invited to do workshops
- Our website will be checked for showing both women and men (pictures!) and for welcoming language (you don't need to be an expert, messing around is encouraged, and so on)
- Reaching out through the local media (and possibly social media as well) to reinforce the idea that a hackerspace is for pretty much anyone

I will also get in touch with the other female participants, and see how they feel and whether they have any ideas.

Will think about the child care thing. To be honest it's not something I'd given much thought, because children aren't really a big part of my world. But I hear y'all that it's very different for many women. Maybe we can find a way, maybe for daytime events (which we do not have a ton of).
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:02 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]


I am a woman and I live in the same country as you. I recently read about a hackerspace (or something like it) in my town. I did not consider going because of what people earlier in the thread said: I would assume that it would be mostly young men who are handy with everything and I would feel out of place (and I agree totally with what jessamyn and trig and others said about how guys talk to me in situations like this and how much that sucks). I'm a programmer and I read Hacker News and that's kind of the people I expect in a hacker space. I feel threatened enough just reading the comments on that website and that's not the kind of environment I would feel comfortable in at all, even if people *say* that they welcome women. I have learned to completely ignore that because in practice it is meaningless. I get that in your hackerspace that may be different, but you really have to show that to me because otherwise, sadly, I probably will not even check out your website.

I am glad you decided against offering women specific things to do. There's nothing that makes me feel more alienated than there being different male and female things, because I never like the female activities and feel I'm not good enough or under intense scrutiny for the male things.

Don't worry about the babysitting. The percentage of women who have small children and would go to something like this if only they had a babysitter is very small in my experience (as a mother). It would maybe be nice for one off activities during the day, but children here go to bed relatively early and nobody would bring their children to evening activities. I wouldn't focus on it too much. Definitely make sure that you will not give the few woman who are in your hackerspace already babysitting duty. That would only be counterproductive. (I don't think you'd do that, but that's how babysitting always works out in my experience, so I wanted to say it anyway). That said, the best thing you could do to lure me in is to organize a family friendly activity during the weekend where I can bring my 10 year old kid. I would definitely consider going there, and if I then see and experience that this is a nice group of people, I might consider getting involved.

I like your list about things you're going to do a lot, so I hope it's going to work out!
posted by blub at 5:56 AM on August 26 [3 favorites]


To be honest it's not something I'd given much thought, because children aren't really a big part of my world. But I hear y'all that it's very different for many women.

If it's not a big part of your world you may be surprised how much this sort of thing would matter to your male demographic as well. In my family I am the one who made the decision to alter my career for the sale of being more available for our boy, and when I want to go to professional development things in the evening it means a lot of coordination with my wife & it's a compromise for our family.

If you want to do gender-neutral things that expand your diversity you might find that opening up opportunity for folks with families will help do that too. Things like wearables are hugely potentially fun for families & kids anyway.
posted by phearlez at 8:01 AM on August 26


Will think about the child care thing. To be honest it's not something I'd given much thought, because children aren't really a big part of my world. But I hear y'all that it's very different for many women. Maybe we can find a way, maybe for daytime events (which we do not have a ton of)

When my kids were little I would have loved a during-the-day place where I could plunk them in a corner with some toys and someone watching them while I got to learn how to use industrial-grade sewing machines, a lathe, etc.

There are coffee shops around here that have fenced-off areas where toddlers can go and the parents -- and it's almost always the mothers -- have a cup of coffee and socialize or relax. I don't need that sort of childcare now, but if I saw you had it -- at least part of the time, like, say, two mornings a week -- it would signal to me that your business was actually doing the work required to be welcoming to women.

I strongly feel that you should have women-only events. There are so many reasons why some women won't come to co-ed events: intimidation, exasperation, cultural or religious restrictions. You say you're reluctant to do that unless "until it turns out that there is a good reason," but you already have your good reason, which is that you "would really love to be more diverse."
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:06 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Oh, here is something else I may need to explain: we are not a business. A hackerspace is a collaborative workshop; we all chip in to pay rent and toilet paper, but we do not make money in any way.

Our members are usually not present in the daytime, but when they are, they're there to tinker, not to watch someone's children.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:34 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Sure. That's one of the things that might have to change if you want different results than you've been getting. You can't keep your system as it is and expect things to change at the same time.

People must be willing to do non-tinkering jobs like cleaning the bathroom and making sure the electric bill gets paid and ordering supplies. Scheduled childcare could be one of those non-tinkering tasks.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:04 AM on August 26 [4 favorites]


Agreed with The corpse in the library -- even if you're not a business, surely you do various things on a volunteer basis to make the space work as a group, and this could be one of those things. I can imagine that if you had a critical mass of parents, they might trade babysitting duties (i.e. Tuesday afternoons child care is available, each parent involved takes a babysitting shift once a month). But, obviously you need the parents to be invested first.

Another option might be to do a trade -- find someone who would be interested in joining but can't afford to contribute whatever the contribution is toward rent/TP/etc., and exchange access to the space for a couple of hours of babysitting a week, and make that block of time "parents hour" or whatever. If someone in your group has a teenager, this could be an awesome way to get a young person involved and add some childcare hours.

Finally, I don't know how mobile people are in your area -- do people tend to settle down in the same town they grow up in, or move away? If you have lots of people who settle down in the same town, then you could leverage this to build up a parents network over time. Target some activities toward teenagers and younger people, and then overtime they will grow up and become parents and hopefully stay involved.

One other thought, since so many people noted being hit on as a problem in mixed-gender spaces. When you make and post a code of conduct, how about including something to the effect of: "This is a space to make awesome things, not a space to find a date. What you do outside of this space is your business, but when you are in this space, please do not approach other members with sexual or romantic advances."
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:16 AM on August 26 [4 favorites]


I think your unwillingness to have women-only events is really going to hurt you. I get you don't want to and people think you shouldn't have to, etc. but look at the number of people here explaining why they prefer them and how that is a key way to bring in women. Like someone said above, if you are unwilling to change, nothing is going to change.

Likewise, your specific women-focused ideas currently are also kind of poor. I don't want to go on International Women's Day or to a women's event that is a potluck. (I am a woman. I hate cooking.) I don't want there to be women sitting around talking about Ada Lovelace. I want to come in and have a chance to go to a workshop about a CNC machine in the kind of welcoming environment that for a lot of reasons only tends to happen in womens-only settings.

Frankly a lot of the draw of women-only events isn't even just the atmosphere but also the chance to meet other women who love this stuff. And then, once that's happened, I will be likely to go back, see my new awesome friends and be a member.
posted by dame at 10:31 AM on August 26 [9 favorites]


I need to try to get to work so I don't have time to finish reading all responses before posting.

But I will suggest you think about the design of the physical space and how it impacts a sense of safety for female members. How open and visible is the space? Can you do everything where people can see you, without being in some little room, potentially trapped if you wind up in there with a guy and he has funny ideas? Big windows. Glass partitions. Etc.

Glass walls: Partial solution to the glass ceiling? (it's a self link)

I have a Certificate in GIS (a 2/3 male field and my classes were 2/3 male) and I am, as far as I can tell, currently the highest karma openly female member of Hacker News (a very serious boy zone). I also write a bit on my personal blog about gender issues of this sort (like in the link above). It is something I have read about and thought a lot about over the years. I also was, at one time, studying to be an urban planner, which is part of why I notice things like how the physical environment impacts such dynamics.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 10:40 AM on August 26


> If you want a more even gender mix, create a more even mix of available tools. Invest in expensive or bulky gear that facilitate traditionally "feminine" hobbies like looms, computer controlled paper cutters and embroidery machines, screen printing rigs, etc.

I think this is excellent advice -- within the boundaries possible by a volunteer-funded budget and purchase plans -- but I think it's also absolutely vital to promote the specifics of the equipment you have and/or are willing to get. Access to rarely-used specialty tools broadens the range of work possible. This isn't a gendered issue. A good sewing machine is not much of a draw because many fabrics crafters get their own eventually. A special-purpose sewing machine is what they need to expand their capabilities.

You say that you plan to ask women what they would like to see in the Space -- expand that to what tools/equipment they want, or maybe ask what projects they would like to do and what tools that might involve.

Maybe also women-only education nights to train on equipment (in addition to women-only workshops and project nights). Especially if you require all members to be trained on dangerous equipment before they're allowed to use them independently (things like welders, sheet metal cutters and table saws).
posted by ardgedee at 1:26 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


I don't think you need to feel like free childcare is a must -- some places are just not for children, and that's OK. I would definitely think that any place that is for either quiet solitary work or heavy machinery is especially not for very young children.

That said, it might be worth sitting down to think about who your audience and/or demographic is, and what those people are looking for in a space.

It might be that your demographic is mostly people who are into developing software or welding, and it's just going to skew male no matter what. It might be that your audience is mostly a population who are young parents, and the lack of childcare is a problem (women won't come, men are pressured not to in favor of family time). It might be that there's a whole population of frustrated female jewelry designers and screen printers who don't feel welcome in your space for whatever reason. Spaces like yours, in my experience, tend to skew youngish and single, people who still have a lot of free time for really involved hobbies. But your specific situation might be different. Actually talking to your audience and the people you hope to bring to the space is the best way to figure it out.
posted by Sara C. at 1:40 AM on August 27


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