Female-friendly hackathon to tackle gender gap

Women-focused events are a necessary stepping stone in ensuring the stark gender gap that exists in the Australian startup community is closed, PowerhouseHQ founder Marina Paronetto says.

Paronetto is the facilitator of the first ever River City Labs Weekend Brisbane Women event, a 54-hour hackathon with an especial emphasis on promoting diversity.

These diversity-focused events are very important, Paronetto says, but they’re hopefully only stop-gaps to help ensure that one day all mainstream events will be accessible and welcoming.

“The future is not more and more of these events,” she says.

“Hopefully they’re helping to reshape the mainstream so we have more women attending the non-gender related events.”

The short-term purpose of these events is to work out why the gender gap exists in these type of events and what can be done to lessen this problem.

“We’re trying to learn how to make mainstream events more women-friendly,” Paronetto says.

“This is a test phase to really understand what the events are like and how we can make them better.

“We don’t want to just create a separate stream.”

A 54 hour challenge

The River City Labs Event, taking place from October 9-11, will offer participants the chance to be involved with all stages of creating a startup, from pitching an idea on the Friday night to presenting a prototype on the Sunday.

A panel of entrepreneurs will judge the final pitches, and prizes will be presented to the winners. It’ll all take place across a very busy 54 hours.

River City Labs general manager Peta Ellis says it’s about creating an inclusive environment.

“We are certainly not discouraging men’s involvement by any means,” Ellis says.

“The overarching goal however is to empower women to have a go and to unleash their skills and ideas around design, development and creation in order to better facilitate their startup growth.”

Paronetto says she has regularly attended startup events with a stark diversity gap. After bringing her husband along to a women-focused event in Melbourne he told her: “now I understand how you feel”.

Hackathons by their very nature and the way they’re structured can seem daunting to women, Paronetto says.

“It’s self-organising. People go in there and jump in a team – it’s like a marketplace and you have to be slightly aggressive,” she says.

“A lot of people don’t feel that’s their personality. We want to have everyone on board and participating so they don’t feel discouraged and go home.”

Good for the whole community

It’s best for the entire Australian ecosystem if events are made more female-friendly, she says.

“Not only does it help in building a bridge for those women who might not ordinarily feel comfortable partaking in a startup event, the startup community itself benefits as it’s been found that having women and men working together on a startup actually yields better results and higher chances of success,” Paronetto says.

She says these events need to offer support in different areas to traditional hackathons.

“We’ve learned that women are amazing at identifying problems to solve and very passionate about solving an issue, but there’s a lack of support in transforming that into a business,” Paronetto says.

“We need to give extra support with building a business plan and looking at the idea with more strategic lenses to see how it can become a sustainable business.

“It can feel a bit intimidating to be in a class and you don’t feel like there are a lot of people of your sex there. It’s about how we go about communicating and how we are being more supportive and welcoming for people that haven’t been to a startup weekend.”

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