Why we run women-only workshops

RailsGirls event by Ruby Belgium. Photo credit : Le Soir

I manage a coding school. Several times per month, we give workshops to introduce people to the world of programming. Most of the time, they’re given by one of our alumni who wants to share their knowledge. They’re free and people are enthusiastic to get a hands-on approach to something that is oftentimes entirely new to them.

We noticed, however, that our attendees are mostly cisgender white men. We tried changing the day, the time, the location : nothing seemed to make a difference. We were committed to host a more diverse group though. 75% of tech positions are held by men, and since we train the people who will join the industry, we have the power to positively contribute in bringing more diversity to tech teams. And we believe it matters.

People’s first reaction when we talk about this issue was to say that it’s all about the pipeline : “less women are interested in coding”, we heard. Socialization and sexism do prevent women from pursuing a career in tech, but as one of our coaches often says : it’s the lazy way to face the issue. This line of thinking doesn’t bring us any solution. It basically would allow us to take no responsibility, blame it on society and go on with our day. We didn’t want this to be our approach. When you’re in any industry that has a huge gender diversity issue, you’re either a part of the solution or a part of the problem.

Luckily, Brussels has lots if kick-ass initiatives regarding women in tech. The WikiClub works on visibility by running biweekly meetings during which people create profiles of successful women on Wikipedia. Women.Code(be) are building a strong community and organizing great events. Women in Tech is always there for knowledge and support. CyberWayFinder trains women in cybersecurity.

And then, there is the Ruby Belgium association. They run a coding workshop called RailsGirls four times per year. All the coaches spend their weekend teaching on a voluntary basis. Le Wagon Brussels is always happy to partner with them. One of the participants, Marie, turned out to be interested in joining our 9-week coding bootcamp. 3 months later, she was a coach at the next RailsGirls. “It’s full circle”, she said.

We did notice that forty seats were gone in a heartbeat without even trying that hard, when we could barely get a few women to enroll in our similar workshops. How did those tickets sold out so fast ? Why did so many women joined the event ? It’s quite simple : because the event is marketed towards women. As it stands, in a world where the universal is masculine (right, guys ?), marketing something in a “neutral” way is in fact inviting only men. So this seems to be an excellent start : to explicitly invite women, so they know that this field is theirs too.

That’s when Brussels’ head of marketing -my fantastic colleague- suggested we try a series of women-only evenings. Other Le Wagon campuses have tried it before, and their experience was positive. Though separating men and women is not an end-goal I believe in at all, it can be an efficient strategy. In a matter of days, we were overwhelmed by emails of women who wanted to get on the waiting list, when we could barely get one to attend the exact same workshop a few weeks earlier.

The lack of women in tech is a complex topic that requires many, many steps and a diverse range of solutions to address the different facets that led us here. This isn’t about solving all the issues (and diversity is not only about gender, we have many things to tackle!). It’s about creating women-only spaces in an industry that has too many unintentional men-only spaces. It’s about having a supportive network of women in a society where representation barely exists. It’s about diving into the world of coding and decide if you like it enough to take it to the next step and do a bootcamp. It’s about finding the confidence to believe you can learn, because in the end, all it takes is your motivation and your perseverance.

We decided to move forward with women-only workshops. If you’re interested in joining us, make sure to stay in the loop, as we update our events very regularly.