Last week’s much publicized attacks on Anita Sarkeesian—the San Franciso-based filmmaker who started a Kickstarter to fund her video series exploring gender stereotypes in video games—reinforced an ugly truth: though women are some of the greatest consumers of technology, men still seem to have the primary control over mainstream tech.
Where are the women? Companies like Cambridge-based start-up Web Start Women believe that there is a sense of hesitation when a woman is learning in a male-heavy environment.
“A lot of things, competitive nature and those sort of things, especially when it’s when we’re used to being the minority, it’s hard to not carry those feelings in, even if it’s just three men to 10 women in a room,” said co-founder Susan Buck about a mixed-gender classroom.
In order to build more confidence in women, especially in a world where feminist movements in tech and gaming have created more awareness of the problem, Web Start Women offers woman-only spaces to learn the basics of web development. They offer classes where women can learn in a more free environment. They also hope to start an online platform in the near future.
“We envision it as the place where we create community, and also provide education and resources and skills with the hopes of getting more women involved in technologies,” said Buck.
I spoke in depth with Buck and co-founder Nicole Noll about their start-up and what they hope to achieve for women in the tech industry.
I never really thought of the need for a woman’s space in the tech industry.
N: I think a good analogy is like a greenhouse. You want to start your plants early, you don’t just throw them out in the cold. You kind of give them a slightly artificial but very supportive environment.
So these courses give you a basic understanding of the languages.
S: You get enough understanding to go out and do stuff on your own. You don’t walk away complete experts on it—but we do consider our stuff to be crash courses, get your feet wet, get in the door.
N: I think another thing you emphasize in all the courses is just getting into the mindset of thinking like a programmer. So, realizing that you can figure a lot of this stuff out on your own,on the Internet, pointing people in the right direction-
S: It’s learning how to think, really.
Are there any men who see this as something that might not be the best thing?
S: I think the closest we’ve gotten to that has been men who are like, they want to come, they want to participate, they’re excited. That makes us smile, we’re happy to see that.
N: One thing I think that is interesting is so often guys, even when they’re asking “Can I come”, they’ll say “I totally understand if the answer is no. I think what you’re doing is really important.” So I can say the response has been really good.
S: At least to our faces.
Do you feel that it’s good for people to have some kind of basic knowledge?
S: I think it’s becoming knowing how to put content online. I mean, look, this is how we communicate now. If you’re not a part of that, you are missing out on a lot. So being able to put basic content online, and edit a little HTML is becoming what it used to be like with a word document. It’s a language of communication, and I think that’s another reason why we’re invested in this. Tools are empowerment, right? By giving out these tools, more women will have a role in the content that’s created on the Web, the messages that are being sent out, and I think that’s positive stuff. It’s empowerment.
Is it more empowerment over education, or is it education over empowerment?
S: I don’t want to cop out and say “It goes hand in hand,” but it kind of goes hand in hand. I, to this day, do stuff, and I’m just like … “you [Nicole] were asking me the other day “How do you know how to do this?” And I was kind of ‘I don’t know, I just do!’” Sometimes there are things that I do that are so complicated that it amazes me that I know how to do it. And that’s just exciting, that’s really cool to me.