London's Girl Geek Dinners - 4th anniversary

Last night saw the fourth anniversary event for London’s Girl Geek Dinners. It was the first Girl Geek event I had been to and I found it more friendly, interesting and lively than just about any other tech event I’ve attended.

The best thing about Girl Geek Dinners is that it doesn’t want to be negative. It’s not about complaining about the diversity problems in technology – we all know they’re there, and we all know it’s in everyone’s interests to make them go. It actually tries to move the debate forward, come up with ideas for how to change things, and be constructive rather than just critical.

It also provides women with a chance to be in the majority, which makes a nice change for most of them.

Maggie Philbin, science and technology broadcaster and former Tomorrow’s World presenter, summed it up by saying, “It’s not about moaning about the negative side of things – tonight is about flagging up the things that really are making a difference for women, and looking at what we can change to make a difference. We are anxious to move forward.”

Sarah Blow set up the Girl Geek Dinners network four years ago, thinking it would be “few girls based in London having some nice food and a few drinks talking about what they have been up to with their work.” Since then it has mushroomed into a global network of groups, and things are slowly beginning to look up for women in technology.

She said, “When I first started Girl Geek Dinners the IT industry felt isolating and lonely for many women in the industry, not just in the work place but whenever you attended technical events. 

“You tended to feel out of place and were often challenged on why you were at events. Since the Girl Geek Dinners, Women in Technology and BCS Women have come about we’ve seen the number of women at events increase, not by huge amounts but just a little.”

Not only this but men, as a result, are a lot less surprised to see female technologists, and more friendly and welcoming. There are more women going to technical user groups, and the emergence of some very strong female technical role models.

So things are improving, which is great, but there’s still a way to go. There’s still some sexism in the technology industry (although it tends to be more “underground” than it used to be), and women only make up around 15% of it. This needs tackling.

And as for the natural differences between men and women, the reasons why girls don’t choose technology, the nature versus nurture question – the debate about possible causes for the gender divide can only get us so far. What matters is what we are going to do to change it.

Margaret Robertson is a writer and consultant on gaming and education. She said last night, “The lack of women in IT could be down to marketing, to upbringing, or to natural differences between the sexes. In 50 years, maybe we’ll have an answer to this question, but at the moment we just don’t know.

“We can get a little bit worried about the complexity of the problem, but we just need to back the projects that have been shown to work.”

Don’t just worry about why the problem exists, and instead make the decision to change it. Another article will follow with some of the practical tips that came out of the debate, but that was the main message I took away from the evening.