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Happy to have led the Women in Technology event at TechEd last week.  Asli Bilgin and I have been working with a team at Microsoft to build this event brand for a year now.  Microsoft has hosted WomenBuild events across the US and Australia already and intends to host more in the future.  (Take a look at the original video of the day Asli and I met and the day we got this idea – just for fun.)

The idea is to hold events which implement a type of speed group problem solving facilitated by table leaders and LEGO bricks.  We’ve worked directly with the originator of the SeriousPlay concept, Robert Rasmussen to customize the implementation for WomenBuild.  We were quite lucky to have Robert over from Denmark to act as lead facilitator for this event at TechEd.

At each event small groups of women and men who are interested in working on this problem (too few women working in technology) build models with LEGO bricks to answer directed questions around this issue.  We have a Facebook group to share knowledge and to connect people who are interested in WomenBuild.  At TechEd we had over 100 participants in WomenBuild 2.0.  To get a sense of the event, take a look at the video below (thanks, again, to our friends at TechZulu for this one!):

So, what were the key learnings from WomenBuild 2.0?  I’ve compiled the feedback (after building a model to represent their ideas around a specific question related to WiT), each participant then shares ‘their story’, and then writes down their key thoughts.  Here’s what some of the participants had to say about these questions:

1) Why are you here? i.e. motivations for wanting to make change

Together we can improve the situation

To meet other technical women

Increase the visibility of women in technology (many people said this)

Want to get new ideas on how to solve this problem

My co-worker (a female) asked to attend

My graduating class in IT had too few women in it

2) What is essence of the problem?

Work/Life Balance – too much to do, especially if raising kids (many responses)

Different expectations “there is a mental wall – false expectations”, IT not seen as feminine, technology implemented via a ‘male vision’ (good old boys club), women feel alone or apart from the group of men at work in IT, women must work at least 2x as hard to prove their technical competence as men

Women don’t expect to have careers in IT, area not seen as attractive to women, it is not expected that women will do these jobs,

Women are not encouraged to be creative or to ‘take risks’, limits their ability to be effective at work

Women are isolated, feel alone, ‘only women in the room’

3) What actions could be taken to address this problem?

Educate girls about IT career possibilities – participate in DigiGirlz, level the playing field at an early age (many, many responses!)

Be more visible as women in IT, i.e. attend more IT events, public speaking, educate, act as role models, mentors

Act as a mentor to a girl (many mentioned younger family members or neighbors)

Train (enlighten) teachers and parents about gender bias in STEM education

Consciously attempt to ‘hear from’ everyone in the room, both men and women (at work)

Reward risk taking women at work, break or change the rules

Listen to my wife more closely (multiple responses!)

Accept part-time work from busy women, especially mothers

Ask my husband/boyfriend, etc…to take on more family responsibilities

Take time for me to learn, get certified, attend user groups, attend conferences, seek out a mentor

Engage girls in Green Development and Green IT

Bring Robotics to girls

What’s next for WomenBuild?

We are evaluating the first year and planning for year two roll out.  We are attempting to sharpen the focus of the event to result in more actionable information.  Were you there?  Have you attended WomenBuild somewhere in the US?  We’d love your feedback!  (via this blog or our facebook group).  We are also considering what we call *Build programs, i.e. GirlzBuild (for DigiGirlz), etc… We would also be interested in your thoughts on that.

Also, I must thank the 10 table facilitators who made WomenBuild 2.0 possible – Cidgem Patlak, Kim Schmidt, Cindy Palmer, Elisabeth Vanderveldt, Julie Lehrman, Jenny Nielsen, Karen Henderson, Dana (from Hynesite), Julie Yack, and Catherine Eibner.