This year, we’re delighted to be sponsoring Manchester Girl Geeks (MGG). Founded in 2008 as part of the Girl Geek Dinners movement, MGG is a not-for-profit group that organises events for women and girls interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The Girl Geeks movement began when one woman grew frustrated about being one of the few female attendees at tech meet ups in her area, which was made worse by the negative experiences she encountered there. Wielding the power of the internet, she arranged the first Girl Geek dinner in London, which attracted 35 people. There are now Girl Geek offshoots all over the world, all aiming to encourage women to embrace their passion for STEM in spaces that aren’t majority male.
Manchester Girl Geeks have now been going strong for a decade. The tech scene in the North West is booming, with big employers in media, travel and fashion all aiming to recruit talented software developers. In addition, Greater Manchester has four universities and several large research hospitals, so it’s not hard to see why STEM meet ups in the area attract a lot of interest. The MGG calendar includes networking events, workshops, show and tells, and ‘BarCamps’ – also known as an ‘un-conference’ – where attendees are encouraged to deliver an unplanned talk on a topic of their choice. This year’s BarCamp – the group’s fifth – took place at the AutoTrader offices on 23rd June, which also happened to be International Women in Engineering Day!
As sponsors, we had a space in the event’s Community Area, where attendees could speak to other sponsors, play games and make their own binary keyring. We spoke to a wide range of people, from those who had had a long career in STEM to young people just starting out on their journey. We also shared the area with the fantastic Tech Returners, who help people return to the tech industry after a career break.
When not spending time in the Community Area, we had the chance to check out some of the talks delivered by participants. There were no restrictions around the topics that people could discuss and no expectations of pre-planned material. Speakers discussed topics close to their work, issues that they were passionate about, and subjects that they hoped would open a wider debate. The relaxed, ‘un-conference’ format often gave way to audience questions and discussion. Throughout the day, the MGG community delivered talks on the emotional experience of playing video games, how to hack a Roomba, mental health in academia, and hacks and apps to improve your life.
When not attending one of the talks, participants also had the chance to enjoy the fruits of the BarCamp Bake Off and collect some swag provided by sponsors. Girl Geek regular Zoe Breen also gave participants the opportunity to use her new Care Labels for Humans. Mimicking the labels found in clothing, these wearable stickers allow event attendees to display their interests and preferences to others, with the aim of promoting more meaningful and less stressful social interactions. The event closed with a great set from comedian Bec Hill, known for her ‘paper-puppetry’.
During the day, I caught up with organiser Gem Hill to find out more about MGG. Gem works as a software tester and first became involved with MGG when she moved to Manchester. Not knowing anyone in the area, she and her partner stumbled across MGG and started attending events. Over the years, Gem became more involved and started volunteering, and is now a co-chair. She says that MGG’s mission is to put on fun events with lots of tea and cake!
Ultimately, MGG hope that there will be a time when they’re no longer needed, and STEM will reach a point where women no longer feel like they need to actively seek out a space where the majority of participants aren’t male. Gem recalled that at their first BarCamp, only one man attended. He approached the organisers at the end to ask if his experience was what women typically encountered at tech events. The fact that his experience was so unusual just shows how far STEM still has to go in addressing its gender imbalance.
While MGG events are great places for women in industry, they also do important work with young people. Enabling girls to see women doing the jobs that they want to do and talking about them in a smart way can make a huge difference to girls’ aspirations and will hopefully encourage more girls to consider a career in STEM. Research by Microsoft has found that girls tend to become interested in STEM subjects just before the age of 11, but this interest drops sharply when they turn 16. Having good role models and mentors has been found to be one practical and effective way to overcome this decline in interest and encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM.
We look forward to seeing what MGG get up to in the coming year and we’re proud to be able to offer them support in their activities. You can find out more about MGG on their website and Twitter account.
Thanks for a great BarCamp, MGG!