She’s Geeky is an unConference for women in STEM. It’s place for women to discuss passions, careers, lives, in a supportive environment. There have been 17 conferences since 2007 in many major cities. I was thrilled to get to talk to Kas Neteler, the multi-talented executive producer of She’s Geeky. Let’s find out about the organization, what it does, and how you can get involved as a civic geek!
1) Hey Kas! So first of all how did She’s Geeky get started?
The life of a woman who has chosen a career in science, tech, engineering or math can be lonely and stressful. In 2007 our founder, Kaliya Hamlin, was attending one tech conference after the next she noticed a pattern that women were far out numbered by the men in the room, and that those women who did attend often did not command the same attention as men. She decided to explore this gender gap to see if she could make a difference. She gathered her female tech colleagues and they launched She’s Geeky to create a space for women to geek out, connect, and share their stories, their passion for all things geeky and their tips for survival in the STEM world.
2) What has the response been like to the unConference?
For those unfamiliar with the unConference format, it can be a leap of faith to invest time and money to attend. Some folks have a hard time letting go of the structure of keynote speakers and plenaries. However, once they show up and experience the unConference format, where all participants are involved in creating and presenting the agenda topics – they love it!
3) What events occur at the unConference – and how does it differ from regular conferences?
The unConference format allows for attendees to be super engaged participants. The culture of the conference is one of mutual support, information sharing, and beyond. The women who attend recognize that this event is created with their success in mind. From the healthy catering options (no burrito bars here!) to the in depth conversations – She’s Geeky aims to re-charge and reinvigorate our attendees.
4) She’s Geeky has conferences in multiple cities – how do you coordinate events when they’re so geographically distant from the last one?
Very carefully… It’s on us to do our research and we have a formula for success. For the events beyond the Bay Area it’s all about finding a host team that is willing to share about what is best for their community. Our goal is always to make the conference accessible in terms of location, ticket price, scholarship and sponsorship.
5) Do you work with any other conferences and organizations?
Yes, we like to cross promote events we think are amazing for women in STEM including other conferences – GraceHopper and BlogHer are stars in the field. In terms of organizations, we especially like to work with local Women in Tech and STEM groups and encourage them to come and run multiple topics at our events. For instance, Code Chicks was born at a Bay Area She’s Geeky number of years ago. Our host team in Minneapolis is their Girls in Tech chapter. In Seattle we work to get DevChix. One of our big draws is that we can get these various organizations in the same room and we love to see what happens when they inspire each other.
6) Have you considered teaming up with the SF, anime, and video game convention scene?
We have not yet co-located a conference with another conference. I don’t really see this happening. We have been sponsored in the past by EA PopCap gaming company.
7) If people want to be involved in She’s Geeky, how can they pitch in?
Attend. Spread the word. Bring a friend and/or daughters. Ask their employer to sponsor. Donate to our scholarship so we can send help women with financial challenges attend. Send us leads to groups who should be invited. Our philosophy is if there is woman out there who wants to attend, we do our best to make it happen.
8) For those of us who want to do more for women in STEM, what can we do to help out?
Spread the word about She’s Geeky, become more aware of the issues facing women in STEM and, of course, as a non-profit we appreciate donations.
9) What are other organizations you can recommend people look into to promote women in STEM?
There are a lot of groups that post on Twitter and we try to connect with them in this space. So take a look and start following some of the thought leaders we like to watch.
10) Now let’s ask how you got into this – how did you end up part of She’s Geeky?
I started as part of the facilitation team for the event. I met Kaliya Hamlin (founder of She’s Geeky) through a monthly breakfast for facilitators and was asked to help at the Bay Area event in 2009. A couple years into it, the executive producer role became open and Kaliya and I decided I could better serve She’s Geeky by applying my Green MBA business skills to grow and build the conference.
11) What are the biggest benefits – and challenges – of working with She’s Geeky?
For something that seems so open and organic in the moment, it takes months of preparation! There are always those moments early on where I fret no one will come and I have nightmares I forgot to do something. But ultimately, it comes together: we have a healthy number of attendees, healthy number of sponsors, lots of people buzzing about the event and excited to attend. The payoff for me is hearing stories of women supporting each other at the event and beyond. The other payoff connecting with the core group of women who come each year, and some bring their daughters. It’s a reunion and great to see women year after year. I love watching their daughters get bigger each year and see their fearlessness and willingness to participate.
12) Any parting advice for women in STEM and other female geeks?
We need to grow the pipeline of women in STEM careers and keep that pipeline moving as women progress through their careers. We need to encourage women to find ways to start their own STEM companies. We need to embrace women who re-enter their careers after starting families. We need to recognize the amazing offerings of women of all diverse cultures, backgrounds, ages and orientations – this is the key to creating leaps forward in what it means to work in STEM careers.
Thanks Kas! Everyone – you know what to do.
– Steven Savage