This page lists a number of best practices you can incorporate into your geek group to make it a safer space for women and other marginalised participants, as well as anti-patterns to look out for.
An anarchist group has no leaders and usually makes decisions via consensus or uses a JFDI (just f*cking do it) approach to getting things done.
Examples include the Geek Feminism community, Anarcha Feminist Hacker Hive.
Note, though, that some organizations described (or self-described) as anarchist or "flat" may in fact have unwritten power structures or de facto leadership positions, which may tend to favor privileged participants and disfavor marginalized participants. See the corresponding anti-patterns on this page.
Many organisations (both formal and informal) are run by committees. People may be elected or appointed to the committee. Committee members may have particular roles (eg. president, treasurer, outreach) or not. Groups may turn over their committees regularly (eg. with annual elections) or not.
No formal structure
Some groups operate without any formal financial structure. Free resources are used where available, or group members pay for expenses out of pocket and may seek recompense by "passing the hat" if needed.
Examples: Geek Feminism
Formal non-profits are incorporated in some fashion. They may or may not have tax status which allows them to receive tax-exempt donations to support their work.
Some groups are sponsored in part or whole by for-profit corporations. Corporations provide money and/or other resources (meeting space, meals, etc) in return for feel-good publicity and recruitment opportunities. Corporate sponsorship can exist in conjunction with other financial structures, but is easiest to access for established groups with a formal structure.
As they seem, these are gatherings just to meet one another and build connections in communities. These are sometimes overlooked because women's group can be so focused on progress, learning and work!
These meetings are typically instructor-led, with a pre-defined curriculum. Examples include the Boston Women's Python Workshop.
Code & Learns
PyLadies hosts meetings at local coffee shops where anyone is welcome to drop in, ask questions, hack with friends and get help on setup, their laptops or project ideas.
Self-Directed Study Groups
A cross between Workshops and Code & Learns. Attendees come with laptops and each work through coding tutorials on their own. More experienced attendees work through advanced tutorials and help less experienced attendees.
Meetups With Technical Talks
People take turns giving presentations. Typically 1-2 regular length talks or 4+ five minute lightning talks. The all lightning talk format can be good for encouraging first-time speakers, since a five minute talk is easier to prepare than a 30-minute talk.
See also Terms to designate groups for women Name your group something other than Women Who Do [Geek Thing] or Feminists in [Your Location]. This allows you to define your group using whatever base assumptions you want, without people who want something else feeling that they are being excluded by The One True Official Feminist Group.
It's very hard to depict a human or humans in your logos while still being inclusive. More abstract designs make it easier (although not necessarily easy) to avoid obvious inclusion problems.
Pay for work
Legal advice, accounting, graphic design, systems administration and so on are professional skills. Paying for them when you can, rather than relying on unpaid women volunteers, can be a feminist act.
"My husband/partner/boyfriend is the perfect person to lead this project."
When a feminist organization is led by men, or their mission is primarily carried out by men, you set yourselves up for:
- few or no women volunteering to participate or lead
- women feeling pushed out or unwelcome in leadership positions
- give the impression that men's contributions are more valued and supported than women's
Promoting a husband, partner or boyfriend's work rather than the work of other women undermines the mission of most kinds of feminist organizations. Often well-meaning volunteers see themselves as less qualified to lead (see Imposter Syndrome), and so will promote partners, who may or may not be more experienced or qualified.
The organization should endeavor to support women's leadership as a primary goal, and encourage women to recognize and share their own achievements, their own skills and talents before deferring or promoting men's. Without being conscious of the anti-pattern, women might wrongly assume that promoting a partner is harmless on the context of an organization.
I love to help women with those tricky geek skills!
In groups that allow men, some men will join assuming that they, by virtue of their gender, have superior geek skills and can make an invaluble contribution to gender equality by teaching women. This can lead to:
- an anti-feminist pattern in which a supposedly feminist group is full of men's voices
- an anti-feminist pattern in which all the leadership, advice and/or expertise comes from men
The Statement of purpose/Communities including men may provide a template for avoiding this anti-pattern.
Corporate sponsorship from anti-feminist organisations
If a group accepts sponsorship (money or other resources) from a for-profit corporation or other large organisation, they may find that their sponsors have beliefs/behaviours that work against the ideals of the group. For instance, the sponsoring corporation may discriminate against women in its advertising, or have exclusionary hiring practices.
It can be hard to "fire" a sponsor when your group depends on them for its operations. To avoid this problem, a group can either decide to be member-supported (by subscription fees), beneficiary-supported (ie charging at least cost price for training or other programs) or make sure it has sponsorship from a wide range of organisations so that the loss of one of them has less impact.
We're young and fun and pretty!
Some geek groups that are notionally broadly aimed at women focus on portraying the participants as ideally feminine and non-threatening as possible, by eg emphasising youth, happiness and prettiness. (There may be reasons to emphasise youth if that is the group's target demographic, but some groups do this even if they aren't designed as a group for girls or young women.)
This will exclude women who are older, cranky and/or not conventionally pretty or feminine. It will also suppress feminist opinions and activism by or within the group, because feminist activism is pretty much the opposite of being perceived as fun and non-threatening.
We welcome men! We are so so so welcoming of men! Welcome!
Sometimes a group's communications go out of their way to state their group's welcomingness and embrace of men. Even groups that allow male participants shouldn't center them and their worries about not being welcomed, if they're designed to be for women. A neutral statement along the lines of "this group welcomes people of any gender identity as members" or "this group welcomes people of any gender identity, including men, as members" should suffice.
Supportive men are so amazing! Applause!
In groups that include men, men are often unduly rewarded for the most basic of supportive actions, such as stating their recognition of sexism, or their support for feminism. A common pattern in in-person feminist tech groups is that men receive rounds of applause for such statements, when no one is applauding women for anything.
It helps to specifically call out this pattern when you see it.
See also: Feminist cookie
Everyone who calls themselves a volunteer is one!
If the group volunteers are "anyone who regards themselves as a volunteer" you set yourself up for these situations:
- someone causes a lot of conflict or requires a lot of emotional support and care from other volunteers, without actually doing any work
- Cookie licking, in which volunteers claim a portion of the project, fail to work on it, but either defend their territory or are ceded it, resulting in no work happening on that portion of the project by anyone
Your volunteer group needs to be a group of actively involved volunteers, people should be encouraged to review their commitment periodically, and it needs to be possible that people can be fired if they aren't doing work or are doing harmful work.
You're oppressing me (by asking me to behave)!
Feminist groups should center inclusiveness and intersectional concerns, but sometimes members use intersectional concerns as an excuse for poor behaviour. Groups may sometimes face the situation where someone is claiming that their destructive behaviour is a result of their oppression and need to discipline that person or ask them to leave regardless.
Documenting your procedures and behaviour standards at a time of low conflict can help with this. Ideally this process is led by people with intersectional oppressions but at the very least it should actively seek and incorporate their feedback.
I love to heal men!
In groups that allow men, some men may join for emotional support from women rather than to be part of the geek community. This arises from men being conditioned to believe women are required to support them emotionally. Women's matching conditioning to be supportive of and caring to men can make it difficult to exclude a man who is lonely or in difficulties and using the group as a source of emotional support, because women members may rally to continue supporting him.
Meritocracy! Our leaders are just naturally the most awesome!
Assuming that the "best" people will rise to the top, and that those who have risen to the top are the "best", is not a safe assumption. Women who suffer from impostor syndrome may not comprehend the excellence they exhibit, and may be reluctant to put themselves forward for leadership and other skilled work that they are capable of and might be willing to do were they not suffering from impostor syndrome.
Oh, we've evolved beyond "leaders" and "rules"!
Often masquerading as an anarchist or "flat" structure, this anti-pattern claims to have no leadership structure at all (and often no documented code of conduct), while punishing anyone who challenges the unofficial leadership structure or violates any of the unwritten rules.