“Where are the women?” Its been asked before and it will probably be asked again. However, the issues of women in technology are not as straightforward as the question begets. Expectations run from all sides - personal, society, business, education, economy, ask anyone and a different discussion ensues – to form a complex web that is continually unwound and wound back again. But entangled or not, the women are already there, not just using this web, but also building their own. In a city like Berlin, where in every dark corner there seems to be a new start up being initiated, women in technology, from hackers to media artists, are (and have been) instigating and curating their own practices to build long standing communities that, regardless of the expectations, continue to be there and networked everywhere.
FACES a platform for women in technology, administrated and maintained by Diana McCarty, Kathy Rae Huffman, Ushi Reiter and Valie Djordjevic, asked the question 16 years ago, and they are still here, growing from 30 to 300+ women strong. FACES started as a mailinglist for women working in technology, and it has now grown to include informal dinners, meet-ups and bed and breakfasts around the world. This community has served to fill a gap in media culture, to give faces to the often hidden women who are also playing in this so called man’s world. But they say it themselves, and the complex web winds itself back into debate: does this platform only serve to create a marginal place for women? Marginal or not, 16 years later, the truth of the matter is the women are still there, coding behind those flickering computer screens.
The community Berlin Geekettes extends this idea of giving faces to women in technology by speaking directly to the media with a blog that includes profiling such as ‘Berlin Geekette of the Week.’ The profiles are made up of entreprenuers and startups working with technology, and the community provides resources such as mentorships and professional meet-ups. Coining themselves as grassroots with an organic growth that is based on personal relationships, Berlin Geekettes focus on narratives and experiences as tools of inspiration. With this network based on trust, the Berlin Geekettes are here to stay, and its perhaps not where the women are that needs to be asked but how they operate that builds a force that continues to grow despite marginalisation. Technologies come and go quickly, but with long standing resources and networks where knowledge can be transferred, these communities of women may understand that it's not always important to be the (wo)man at the top but to sustain and thrive in fast paced world with the confidence of quality work and discussions.
Quality and quantity – women in technology clearly have what it takes. But the debate continues, the marginalization ensues, and the web winds itself back up. In a time where precariousness seems to become the norm, networking then becomes the tool, and the steady building of communities might just make it to the top. After all, Claudia Kefer, an innovation intermediary and strategic consultant, is taking this idea of networks and facing the technology world head on with her project MESHING-BERLIN, to be released at re:publica13 in May 2013 in Berlin, which researches ideas of the entire city as a networked, resourceful and sustainable community. If she can bring it to this scale, maybe the slow and steady community ideals that are already being woven by women technology groups will eventually become in themselves the larger expectations of this technology driven world.
Follow Renee Carmichael on Twitter here @renbotix