Girls in Tech is a social outreach organization founded in 2007 by Adriana Gascoigne, communications director of social network Hi5. GIT’s mission is to enhance the careers of tech sector women with workshops, lectures, networking functions, and recruitment events in each of its chapter cities. This week, GIT announced it will expand from three chapters to eight, adding Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, Portland, OR and London to the existing chapters in New York, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco.
FastCompany.com sat down with Gascoigne to find out what it’s like to be a woman working in today’s male-dominated tech industry, and what GIT is doing to promote female entrepreneurship and innovation.
In predominantly male technology companies, what kind of obstacles arise for women?
The impetus for starting the organization was an experience I had way back in the day, working at a startup called Guba. The men that worked there were of technology, engineering and business backgrounds. I felt that part of my job there was to educate some of the men on my roll there and what I was doing – more so than any man had to do for any other man.
So I ended up spending time educating and communicating, making sure they knew my value at the company. That took away from the actual work that I was doing; I felt like I was being distracted because there was a lack of understanding.
What’s the crux of the gender gap?
Women just engage differently and present differently. At Guba, I just wanted to absorb what everyone in the company was doing, because from a PR perspective, that’s how we promote the company and gain proof points. I felt a lot of my time there was spent showing the rest of my team what I was doing.
I think women tend to be a lot more expressive, emotional and social, in a sense. With Girls In Tech, we wanted to have the networking and blog online, because that’s a good resource, but there’s more value in producing workshops, educational programs and lectures. From a socialization perspective, there’s so much value in meeting in person and making that initial handshake. There are facial expressions that you share. People forget that, in the digital media age.
What can women do to make themselves comfortable in the tech workplace?
It’s hard, because sometimes a lot of women with science and technology backgrounds – and I see this at Hi5 – they spent hours and hours working and they don’t have time for the kind of events that Girls In Tech sponsors. We have a software engineer here; she usually goes home at 10 or 11 at night, so it’s tough for her to pull away.
But I think that’s changing. As they see the value of networking and coming together, a lot of women that were working in-house are now realizing that they can start their own companies. So going to these events and meeting people from the business side of things, the marketing side, the legal side, the PR side, that’s important in building a business.
Where will tech companies be blooming in 2009?
The East Coast is really gaining traction when it comes to tech. Online advertising and biotech in Boston, and entertainment in New York. There’s a huge startup component in LA for gaming, because it’s so close to Silicon Valley. Similarly, Portland and Seattle are becoming hubs because they’re so close to the Valley, but they’re much cheaper than San Fransisco or Palo Alto. Another area of extreme interest right now is London. I’ve been surprised at how many startups are flourishing there.
What kinds of events will Girls In Tech chapters do in those cities this year?
We’re integrating a lot of new types of events. One that has been popular has been the Field Trip series, where we go somewhere – say, CBS studios as an example – and get trained by an anchorwoman, or something of that nature. We’ve also created something called the Author Chat, where we highlight female authors who have some kind of alignment with technology, and we have them talk about not only the content of their book, but how to be an author.
We’ve also created the GIT incubator program, which has been extremely popular in the Web 2.0 world because it showcases a female-run company, or a company that caters to females. A startup comes in and does a presentation and we invite members who are interested from all different aspects of starting a business to provide resources and support for that startup. We give resources, advice, connections – it’s virtual incubation. That launched last month. We started out by highlighting Mixtt; it’s a dating site for groups.
We’re also doing our usual social mixers and talks. At big conferences like Web 2.0 or South by Southwest, we’ll have a panel or booth or an off-broadway type mixer. A lot of us fly out there to these events.
With all those great female tech minds attending these events, are new ideas ever born?
Yes. Not any I can divulge right now, but we had a VC panel early in 2008 and at least 10-15 companies got that first meeting. I’m not sure how many of them rolled out and launched, but I’ve received a lot of amazing emails saying, “Without this event, I wouldn’t have been able to connect with XYZ venture capital firm.”
Will there eventually be an educational component to GIT?
That’s the next layer of the organization that we’re launching later this year: Girls In Tech University. We’ll be doing a GIT tour to penetrate and promote GIT within student programs and activities centers at colleges across the country. We’re working with the UC system, and some colleges on the East Coast that have shown an interest. Eventually we’ll do a high school program to promote science, tech, and math amongst girls who are interested in those majors.
GITU will most likely start its planning stage and preliminary in Q2. We’ll incrementally reach out to groups of universities – maybe five per chapter, and that will grow each year. GITHS won’t be for a little while, based on bandwidth and how many people we have onboard.
Are more chapters in the works?
Yes. We’re looking into Europe – Paris, and maybe Berlin – as well as Asia: Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong. We’ll also be looking into expanding here in the US: there are opportunities in Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, DC. It’s ever-changing. We’re open to the UGC approach, so we try to open up forums for discussion to hear what our members want out of Girls in Tech, and do it.
Read more: The Most Influential Women in Technology