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Spotify Wants More Women in STEM, Organized a “Diversify” Coding Event With 50% Female Participants

This makes us happy-ify!

Screenshot 2015-01-15 at 12.07.37 PM

In our interview with Code and Cupcakes founder Jen Myers earlier this week, the web designer explained that fostering diversity is “difficult, long-term work. You can’t simply sponsor a women-in-tech meetup or hire someone from an underrepresented minority and consider your part done for diversity. You have to create a sustaining, toxicity-resistant environment that these people can work and learn in.” Truly committing to changing the demographics of tech is a daunting task—but it seems like Spotify might actually be up to the challenge.

As someone who rarely thinks about Spotify unless I’m being startled by one of their ads, I was surprised to hear that the company hosts 48-hour hackathon coding events, usually with a 15:85 women to men attendance ratio. Sofie Lindblom, who works in design operations at Spotify, says that these events’ overwhelming dude-bro atmosphere is usually excused because “there is not a high enough demand from women to attend tech events.”

Believe it or not, we still get versions of this from a lot of people as an explanation for why there are so few women at tech events. We simply refuse to believe this is true. So instead we set out to create a tech event that would be equally attractive to men and women.

Lindblom explained to The Daily Dot,

We [Spotify] were frustrated about the fact that we didn’t manage to accomplish even close to a balanced mix at our previous hackathons. As an experiment, we wanted to see how the atmosphere would be if we achieved a 50-50 female-male ratio, none of us had ever experienced that at a tech event before. It was important that we dared to try, because in the end we believe that diverse teams create better products.

In a blog post, Lindblom describes the measures she and Spotify used to create “Diversify,” a hackathon intentionally organized to subvert the boy’s club atmosphere of the company’s typical coding events. In addition to using “gender neutral” colors on promotional material and reaching out to schools and the local community to find participants, Diversify organizers also fostered an atmosphere that they hoped would appear inclusive even to potential participants without a lot of prior tech experience. Spotify offered GitHub tutorials before the event began and used interest rather than experience as a deciding factor when screening applicants.

This shift in organizational tactics had a huge impact on the event’s turn-out: the company received 57% male applicants and 43% female, from which they selected 40 people. Participants were broken up into 10 teams, with two men and two women on each.

Of course, even if the gender ratio remains relatively even for future hackathons, Lindblom told Daily Dot there’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done:

Gender is only a subset of diversity. It’s also about nationality, age, religion and much more. We addressed gender as a first step, but will keep working towards making our events welcoming for everyone, regardless.

For a more in-depth look at measures Spotify took during the hackathon to help all attendees feel welcome, you can head over to Lindstrom’s blog. In the meantime, check out all the work the weekend’s participants accomplished right here!

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