The phrase "Girls in Tech" conjures up images of the exceptions (Carly Fiorna of Hewlett Packard, Marissa Mayer of Google, etc.) or the vague peripherals (Julia Allison, namely). Rarely do you get to meet the not so famous ladies working behind the scenes, and by that I mean the programmers, game developers, and social media wizzes who, until the conception of Girls in Tech in February of '07, have lacked a vehicle for exclusive female networking.
Founded in San Francisco by hi5 Corporate Communications director Adriana Gascoigne, the L.A. Girls in Tech chapter is spearheaded by Robyn Cohen, a former fashion and beauty marketing pro whose passion for technology led her to the Internet industry and fueled her efforts at uniting L.A. women who share the same love for new media. It's a big nod to Los Angeles that the L.A. chapter, founded last July, is second only to that of San Francisco - it's a great time to be a girl gamer or software engineer in the City of Angels.
Held at the super slick V Lounge in Santa Monica, the inaugural Girls in Tech mixer was not without controversy. There was some kind of Super Bowl casting going on adjacent to the mixer - as I entered club the bouncer asked me whether I was a "Girl in Tech" or "Superbowl Hottie" - like you couldn't be both? This brings me to my second point - apparently about four "Guys in Tech" decided to crash the event - openly flouting the "girls only" rule. Many of the 75 females in attendance seemed okay with the idea. Laurie Percival, a blogger and site moderator had no problem with the interlopers, "Personally I prefer events that both men and women are invited to, simply because I will probably know more people there."
Conducting impromptu interviews in the ladies' room for Lalawag.com, Laurie and the inexorable Jackie Peters of Heavybag Media asked the attendees what they thought about the secret clubhouse feel. Many of the questions furthered an ongoing debate from the "Women in High Tech" brunch I attended over the weekend at UCLA's Andersen School of Business. "Why do we feel the need to separate ourselves?" Peters asked. Many of the women I spoke to, including Cohen, express that tech is a primarily a "boy's club." As Julia Bianco, co-founder of GamerVixens put it, "Some women are completely comfortable with that and some aren't."
Bianco offered her perspective, "It's refreshing to be here after working in an environment that's only men." She recounted her experience working as a production developer for a top gaming company, "Whenever I wore skirts, guys wouldn't talk to me." Kelly Sheehan, a former Project Manager at Initiative was excited for more GIT events, explaining that in this economy "we need each other's support more than ever."
"Now's the time to talk to each other," she emphasized. "After all, networking is not about finding a job, it's about meeting people."
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Cohen informs me that not all of the Girls in Tech events are gender specific; their launch party at the Causecast headquarters last month had a healthy Y chromosome quotient - and it was a huge success. Cohen described the high attendance at the event with a schoolyard metaphor, "Tech is now the popular kid. Everyone is like, 'I want to be friends with you'." She holds that up until now women have had no major support system in the industry. Girls in Tech aims to change this fact with a robust schedule of upcoming events like the "Next Incubators" series featuring young women entrepreneurs like Chris Elia of Closet Couture, a "Social Fashion Summit" in March, and a "GIT University" program focusing on useful topics like personal finance management as well as a crash course in social media for beauty and fashion-related branding/PR.
When you take into account that Web 2.0 is social networking heavy, this new emphasis on female movers and shakers makes sense. Women are traditionally better at community-oriented endeavors, a trend that might explain the current influx of women in what has thus far been a male dominated field. Aside from the networking aspect, (I have never talked to so many women at ANY event before!) I am beginning to see another reason for getting in touch with tech's feminine side - competitive advantage.
Girls in Tech Networking Mixer @ V Lounge,
2020 Santa Monica Blvd. Monthly, free - Check site for date and location updates.