Interview with Mona Szyperski and Anna Domascan from Women TechMakers

Diversity and gender representation in the field of tech is a hot topic, and it has been for some time. Headlines about tech being an all-white male club have been well documented over the years, the ratio of men against women still currently hovering around 80/20. With the ever-growing influence of tech in all aspect of our lives, and with the future of work being clearly geared towards digital skill sets, the issue is one that has important ramification. It is therefore important that access to the tech sector remain open and fair, that the the playing field be as levelled as possible and that opportunities be dependent on merit alone, not on gender.

Thankfully, a lot of initiatives are being put in place to give a voice to underrepresented groups in Frankfurt Rhein-Main region. Initiatives like Techettes Frankfurt, ‘’Women who Inspire Rhein-Main Startups’’,  Code Door and Digital Media Women are great examples of grassroot, volunteer initiatives that are doing their share to close the gender gap through education and networking. Another such organization is Women Techmakers, an international network with a very involved local meetup in Frankfurt and with whom we had the opportunity to sit down with for a very stimulating chat.

We met with Mona Szyperski, Marketing Executive at technology consulting firm FDM Group, and Anna Domascan, Integration Engineer at Lucht Probst Associates GmbH, who are both involved as organizers and who generously accepted to present to us the work done since the launch in January 2017.

First off, first those who don’t know, could you briefly explain the role of Women Techmakers?

Mona: It started off in 2012 as an initiative from Google, the idea being that women not only at Google but in the field of tech in general could make use a dedicated network to share experiences, connect with one another, organize events and educate younger generations about all the opportunities of tech. Since the original events in North America, the network has grown internationally with chapters in pretty much every region of the world.

What is the extent of the network in Germany?

Anna : It started off with Hamburg, now Berlin has its own chapter, Munich as well. For Frankfurt, the chapter was started in January 2017 and we are now a team of 6 core organizers – with one man I might add! We are all volunteers, and our skill sets are quite complimentary. Some have technical backgrounds, others are project managers, scrum masters and innovators. We try to organize one to two events every quarter.

What is the membership like, and what’s a typical WTM event?

Mona : I would say 30% to 40% are regulars, but mostly every event there is a majority of new people, either invited by their friends or curious about topic-specific content we put together. We do a lot of pairing, training and workshops. Back in May we had a really cool event where we ran 4 different workshops simultaneously, on Programmatic advertising, CSS, D3.js and React/Javascript.

If we talk about the purpose behind your group. Why is there a need for an organization like Women Techmakers? Isn’t there already many other coding groups that women could simply join and get the same results and actually, increase female representation in these existing structures?

Mona : It’s sometimes harder for women to get into other groups, or at least to be more visible. And intimidating! We want to create a space where people can learn without complex, where there is a specific focus on welcoming and giving a voice to women.

Anna : That said, it’s not a female-only club. Men are most definitely accepted, and the last thing we want to do is actually create divisions. It would be great actually if Women Techmakers didn’t need to exist! But the lack of female role models is something real and that we feel we can address. Women groups are also typically very collaborative, supportive, and a great place to exchange ideas.

Why do you think the tech world is such a male-dominated sphere?

Mona : I think a lot of it is due to how we are as women. There is a certain tendency to stay back in public, to be cautious when it comes to take your place. If men are offered speaking engagement they are much more likely to jump at the chance, whereas women, even if they are very qualified, will sometimes pass up great opportunities because they feel they don’t have what it takes, or that they are not ready. All the more reason why providing them with a platform to build their confidence, giving a voice to successful women, enabling mentoring, is crucial.

Anna : From a personal standpoint, I have built a lot of confidence in my skills through Women Techmakers. By hosting events and talking in front of a small but very friendly crowd, writing articles about the events. A couple of years ago I joined the Web Monday team with roughly 70 people attending, currently our events have an audience of about 140, and it has been great for my self-confidence and gaining precious experience. That’s another takeaway that we see a lot : once women actually do take a step forward and accept to speak in public, they realize that they knew a lot more than they initially thought.

What can organizations do to help bridge the gender gap?

Anna : It needs to be a built-in feature that women will be part of the agenda. From the first planning meeting, organizations need to think about the need to include women. There are also a lot of organizations and women groups out there that can be asked for help, for example when there is a call for applicants or for speakers. Use them!

Mona : Yes exactly. In Frankfurt you have us, the Techettes, Fintech Ladies, or Digital Media Women. All have deep networks that can be leveraged. Just give us more than 4 weeks of heads-up; involve women already in the early planning stages! The idea here is not to create quotas; but we need to focus on diversity. Women want to be picked not because they are a woman, but because they are qualified. Still, there needs to at least be invitations to women experts, and since they might not be as numerous or visible, they need to be proactively seeked out.

I would also give the example of my own company, FDM, that is very involved in promoting inclusiveness. They have very much embraced my implication with Women Techmakers, it was actually quite an easy sell because of the strategic fit with the company.

Any final thoughts? What would you say women who want to get involved, or men wanting to help and make a difference?

Mona : I think women need to grow a thick skin – but that said, they still need to point out blatant sexist behaviors. Take your place, don’t be afraid to make yourself heard and take chances.

Anna : For men, I think they can definitely help by opening up their networks, by taking part in the dialogue, taking ownership of the issue and not painting our initiative as a ‘’feminist’’ group or something that divisive or negative. In the end, we all gain from being open minded and supportive, and to men I would say, you are welcome to join us a our nexts event!

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