Rereading this title reminds me how far this seemed when I was selected to start the first GDG in Malta back in 2015. (Unfortunately) the tech industry struggles to attract female talent and starting initiatives that challenge the status quo is never straight forward. This article is not a defacto set of rules…it is just our experience of how we managed to surpass the challenges and reach this milestone. I hope that this can at least serve as inspiration.
So here’s the story that led to this group photo…
Key Step 1 — believe in it
This is not about ticking a box in your community to-do list. Neither it is a step towards political correctness (whatever that could mean). You have to mean it and act towards achieving it. Despite the challenges, together with Alexiei Dingliand Mark Bugeja, I decided that we should do our best to kick start the WTM chapter in Malta. The Google’s Women Techmakers (WTM) programprovides visibility, a global community, and resources for women in technology.
In an industry where the 80/20 rule also maps the ratio of male to female practitioners, it is understood that attempting to change this would not be an easy task.
Another challenge was to explain what we were really planning. We were careful not to portray the initiative as one that replicates other awesome initiatives. The context has always been that of a Google Developer Group and nobody wanted a sub-committee focusing on women in tech. We wanted the WTM to be an integral part of our community where female participation was natural and effortless. This meant that we were going to strengthen female participation, including speakers. From our inception, we always strived to have a high number of female speakers at events and this initiative would indeed link us to awesome techmakers who are willing to join our events.
There is no us and them. We are all working in technology to make the world a better place…irrespective of gender or whatever attribute one possesses. We always make sure that everyone feels welcome in our community and a positive attitude is the only mandatory attribute one must possess to join us. This meant that we had to work hard to build an environment where men would be the allies of the champions I’ll mention below and together we would achieve increased participation.
Key Step 2 — find awesome champions
Throughout the GDG Malta events, we were noticing an increase in female interest and participation. We also made sure that we include female speakers in our events. This was not enough. We needed individual who are ready to commit.
Everybody knows someone great…so just ask around!
We started at our regular events. We made sure we have a chat about recruiting female co-organisers with participants. While many were happy and willing to participate, as expected, few were willing to take up the challenge…so we had to be patient. This is where we needed our WTM mentor, Azzurra! From Google’s Dev Rel team and through her experience with different communities running events in this programme, she could support us through this crucial step and keep us motivated.
“Everyone knows someone great”…this also applied at this stage. Together, we identified another 5 WTM Champions who would share their experience during our first event and motivate others to participate in future events. Eventually, this proved to be a very wise decision since they indeed motivated the community!
Key Step 3 — know your community
Don’t assume what your community likes…just ask around, again. Once we established all the key players, it was time to gather all the required information to design the best event that could kick off this initiative.
The context and priorities of our community are our priorities and we needed to get to know them well. A Google Form was set up and shared with all the community via our social media and personal contacts. We started with this form that you may copyto your Google Drive and customise to fit the needs of your community. Who would be interested in such an event? Students? Developers? some other group? PS: don’t forget your GDPR obligations if you are dealing with data of EU nationals.
Then we also asked about what would people expect out of the event. This needed to range from the time of the event together with the format. Nobody was going to attend if we held an initial event that would have consumed one’s vacation leave or if it was just a lecture about the importance of female participation. That much was clear but that still leaves a lot of open questions that this questionnaire aimed to answer…and it did 🤩
I’m sharing some key findings that can serve as an inspiration. Practically all respondents (97%) were willing to participate in such an event. However, we weren’t too surprised when the affirmation to share was not as positive:
So we also asked about which event format would make our participants feel most comfortable. The responses narrowed down the options and we were thankful!
Key Step 4 — prepare a solid launch
With all this data at hand, we just got started planning.
When? We thought that the best time to launch would be just before DevFest 18. The main reason was that during the launch, we could announce a variety of other GDG events in which participants could join.
What?“Wine…because no great story every started with someone having a glass of milk.” No, this wasn’t a party but on the other hand we wanted to steer clear of a formal event that stifles participation. So we went for an unconference. This is a participant driven event where the agenda is set by those present…therefore ensuring engagement and relevance.
How? Easy…from the initial survey, we identified 4 main topics of interest ranging from employment opportunities to research and education. We coupled this with a selection of short 5-minute sessions delivered by women techmakers who we identified during the planning stage. This was very great for kicking off a discussion and encouraging others to share their perspectives.
Where? Anywhere that has room for focus on the event itself would be fine. On campus, private function at a bar or even hotel facilities. We opted for the latter and it was perfect. We opted for The Palace Hotel in Sliema, Malta, because they had awesome flexible packages that allowed us to realise our ideas. Bottomline, the location per se is not a priority as long as you can keep all participants in a single location and have food and drinks at hand.
1800–1845: Welcome + Registration (Food + Drinks)
1845–1905: Introductions + Speaker: Azzurra Ragone from Google
1905–1925: Speakers (Mei Calleja, Jade Zammit Stevens, Sheila Kavanagh)
1925–1945: Unconference (Networking, topic ideas + zen voting)
1945–2015: Small group Discussion + Food + Drinks
2015–2030: Wrapping Up
2030–2100: Networking + Drinks
Key Step 5— measure and keep in touch
Doesn’t this sound like another opportunity to prepare another awesome event? Well, hopefully more than one event. Most feedback is gathered on the day of the event and you clearly get an indication of how things went. On the other hand, there is always room for improvement. Once again, there’s nothing better than asking again and there’s another Google Form for this. The feedback formthat we prepared first of all asked about general improvements of the event. However, we also took the opportunity to see who is interested in participating more actively in future events and how. While doing so, we kept in mind that many would simply prefer to attend events and we also provided that option.
Bonus: A WTM starter toolkit
Here follows the link to an open Google Drive repository where you can find a selection of forms that can help you get started. Edit it, make it your own or just ignore it…but please get started!
Checklist (approx. 10 days before the event):
– Remind all participants with an email, asking them for regrets so you get an updated headcount.
– Prepare a running order/agenda with timings and send it to speakers. Don’t forget to tell them to be there 45mins before the event starts.
– Contact the venue to make sure everything is fine
– Prepare a GDPR friendly registration list so who turns up signs it and writes an email address.
– Make sure you have a pull up banner for the event
– Prepare to decorate the venue…balloons? Swag?
– Keep people motivated via social media
– Who will take photos during the event? Prepare a Google Photos album and share it among organisers.
– Draft a press release so you publish it on the day after the event and include photos.
We wish you all the best on the event and please feel free to contact us if you need any assistance!