Girl Geeks Get Together

dinnerparty.jpgBy Heather Chapman (New York City)

There has been much discussion of late about the scarcity of women in tech. While more women than ever are entering the industry, according to the Catalyst and Anita Borg Institute studies released earlier this year, fewer women are staying in the industry long enough to reach the upper echelons of management. Both studies point to isolation and a lack of networking and mentoring opportunities as part of the reason for this tech “brain drain”. But women are starting to take matters into their own hands, establishing their own professional networks and creating organizations that provide opportunities for women in tech to meet and support one another.

Girl Geek Dinners started three years ago in London, England, when Sarah Blow, a software engineer with an interest in mobile and wireless applications development, wanted to make it easier for women in the technology field to meet with other like-minded women.

Since that first dinner in August 2005, the idea has spread to thirteen countries, with dinners—and other events—being held in cities like Seattle, Washington; Miami, Florida; Beijing, China; and many others. These dinners have evolved, now offering networking opportunities, idea sharing, mentoring, as well as friendship and a host of other opportunities.

Toronto-ite Elena Yunusov, a social media expert, says that although she is new to the Girl Geek Dinners, she whole-heartedly supports them. What first interested her in the dinners was the “opportunity to connect with like-mined women in my area. The informal nature of these events and the kind of relaxed and fun atmosphere our facilitators and hosts created was a great bonus. I have met some of the leaders and trailblazers in my field, and made connections that will hopefully be long-lasting.”

Jennifer Goodwin says that she not only attends these dinners and events, but has started speaking at some of them as well. She and her friends “discover new software to test out and share with the group.” She also likes the friendship and camaraderie that has formed, saying, “I like that we can all learn from each other, much more than we could learn alone.

Silicon Valley product manager Lisa Schwartz enjoys and participates in these kinds of events because she likes “to network with all individuals in technology, particularly women as we are so few.” She also likes the aspect of being able to discuss whether or not she should replace her current FM transmitter or get a new in-dash MP3/CD car stereo with people with whom she can also discuss her latest cookie recipe.

Tamra Krefman, of San Francisco, California, says that she regularly attends Girl Geek Dinners, as well as events held by other networking groups, because she wants “to meet other women in the industry; when you work in an industry that is male-dominated, it’s nice to meet other women who face similar challenges as yourself. Often these relationships can also lead to business outcomes or personal friendships, and the networking events are less intimidating and more conducive to mingling in a friendly environment than some of the general tech mixers. I also enjoy supporting and helping other women out as we each pursue our own endeavors.”

Girl Geek Dinners is just one of the many organizations now bringing tech women together; others include:

Girls in Tech – Founded in 2007, Girls in Tech is a social network enterprise focused on the engagement, education, and empowerment of like-minded, professional, intelligent and influential women in technology. Their events range from educational workshops and lectures, to round table discussions, conferences, networking functions, and recruitment events.

Women 2.0 – Founded in 2006 and headquartered in San Francisco, California, Women 2.0 which has held everything from conferences to panel discussions with accomplished businesswomen, entrepreneurs, and Internet heroes. They also have networking wine and cheese mixers, and an annual business plan competition culminates in a Pitch Night when finalists present their best pitches to a judging panel of VC and executives.

If you are interested in attending a Girl Geek Dinner, their website lists the cities where they are currently holding events. And, for those of you in New York, Manhattan’s first-ever Girl Geek Dinner is being held on Friday, December 5, 2008. Ana Radovanovic, a research scientist for Google and Valerie D’Orazio (a.k.a. “Occasional Superheroine“), writer, blogger & social media specialist, are scheduled to speak.