[hackerspaces] Women in Makerspaces

Melissa Hall melissa.hall at gmail.com
Thu Jan 17 14:43:20 CET 2013

I have gone back and forth on talking about this.  Mostly because a lot of
what I have to say is very personal. And I hesitate to talk about such
things in "geek space" without data to backing.  I am speaking only to
women because it is the only thing that is unusual about be as a maker.
 Other diversity groups such as race, language, culture and economic
background are very important but I can't speak to them intelligently.  I
am also not discussing issues of gender identification or queerness because
I don't really have much to say about that either.

I generally find places with less than 15% or so women become
uncomfortable.  I don't know quite why but that seems to be a tipping point
for me.

I also know that, for me, there is a kind of "hacker culture" "macho" that
also works poorly for me.  That is the idea that focus and time is the
measure of value.  The values I prefer in space to feel comfortable are
"taking care of each other", which can sometimes rub
rugged individualists the wrong way, but which I have also always felt is a
deep part of the geek/hacker/maker culture we all share.

I know I feel I failed my own space.  Or at least I feel like I have.  For
me this feels like it happened in two moments.

The first was in the bylaws meeting.  I wanted leadership to be my
nomination from someone else.  That got changed to encourage
self-nomination.  Someone said "I don't think you should be a leader if you
are not willing to ask for it".  I didn't fight that and have regretted it
ever since.

My experience with community groups is that, in general, those who support
leaders who proclaim their leadership have fewer women.  Groups where
leadership is something that is affirmed by members of the group tend to
have more women.  I have theories as to why but no data.  I just know that
for me it is FAR easier to accept a nomination than to nominate myself.

The second was the most recent.  I stepped down from leadership in my space
early.  It was the right thing for me because I am preparing for a move and
I did not want to leave abruptly at an important transition point.  However
I deeply regret not having this discussion about visible diversity in
leadership at the time.  Our space is still new, and I have hopes it will
change, but having no visible diversity in leadership is a concern.  On the
other hand the team that is there does a great job and really made things

We are not country clubs, I don't want our membership to look like we are.
If making is about sharing not being diverse is a serious failure.  If you
want girls you really do need women.  I don't have any real answers here,
but I am glad it is a topic of discussion.
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