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Corporate responsibility and inclusion

At HackZurich, a crack in the scarcity of women in tech

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At HackZurich, Europe's largest hackathon, Thomson Reuters helped the tech scene make a stride in the long journey toward increasing diversity.

Every week, Henrieta Tissu meets committed, intelligent women in the technology industry, so it has puzzled her why she hasn’t seen these women and their colleagues well-represented at technology events.

It’s an epidemic in the industry, where, depending on who’s counting, women make up no more than one-third of tech employees. Women of color are even less represented. It’s a shortage that harms the industry as a whole.

“I think it’s important that teams have a diverse background, and gender is one parameter of that,” said Måns Olof-Ors, head of Thomson Reuters Labs, which sponsored HackZurich, and the Incubator program. “A team that has multiple views is going to perform better than a team where everyone is the same.”

Crack the Hack

Tissu, an account manager based in Geneva, thought she ought to do what she could to find out why the women she knew weren’t getting involved with hackathons, which are important professional development and networking events. She hosted a “Crack the Hack,” a pre-event workshop staged with the Sept. 15-17 HackZurich hackathon in mind.

With some 4,800 applicants and only 550 teams accepted, HackZurich is one of the largest and most selective events of its kind in Europe.

What Tissu heard from the 36 attendees surprised her.

“The main reason women are not even applying to these events is they are not confident they are good enough, which isn’t really true, because they are more than qualified” Tissu said. “So, it seemed as though they needed some guidance and encouragement, because they already had all the technical qualifications.”

Olof-Ors said he could understand where the feeling comes from, given how some hackathons can have an unwelcoming club-like atmosphere.

“People know they’re quite good technically, but they don’t know what is expected of them, and they think everybody knows everybody else,” he said.

Hackathons 101

Accordingly, some of Crack the Hack focused on behind-the-scenes and how-to information, such as  what makes a good application, how to articulate an idea and assemble a team, tips for making a pitch in front of a jury, making effective use of different skill sets and, once accepted into a hackathon, how to manage time.

It turned to have been an effective blend of material. Of the 36 who attended, 18 made it into HackZurich. Those organic results were welcome news to Olof-Ors.

“We deliberately said, ‘We don’t want to have a quota for women,’” He said.  “We said ‘What we do want is to help the women who take an interest feel like they’re supported and encouraged to do the best they can.’”

One of Crack the Hack attendee who went on to HackZurich was Selda Cebeci, a software development specialist at tutti.ch. Cecci’s team took first place at Crack the Hack, which earned them an automatic entry to HackZurich. Once in HackZurich, Cebeci’s team won the Credit Suisse business case challenge. In an interview with Credit Suisse, Cebeci thanked Crack the Hack for encouraging her to get involved.

Overall, HackZurich increased its female participants from 18 percent last year to 21 percent this year.

Work lies ahead

Of course, it takes more than one year-over-year increase at one event to mean an issue as large as gender diversity in technology has been addressed.

“It’s important that we do more than just talking. It’s important that we set goals and objectives and take action,” Olof-Ors said.


Learn more

The Incubator team is currently reviewing a robust pipeline of applicants to join the program. Learn more and submit an application.

Visit Innovation @ ThomsonReuters.com for more on how we bring together smart data and human expertise to find trusted answers.

 

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