Last week, we had an insightful, honest conversation with Rachel Katz, the Director of Social Innovation at AngelHack, a woman-owned company that’s a pioneer of global “Hackathons.” We sat down together during Collision Conference to talk about brushing yourself off after fundraising adversity, getting more women in the Middle East to give prototyping and pitching a try, and men learning empathy by designing products for women.
In December of 2016, AngelHack saw an 83% female hacker participation in their Gaza hackathon. That is remarkably high. How did you achieve that?
We partnered with Gaza Sky Geeks and they organized a series of workshops prior to the Hackathon, all around building confidence. They made it clear to women that they were welcome at the event and that women participating was a top priority. They also covered questions, like: what is a Hackathon; what is a prototype; and what is a pitch?
In a Hackathon, you’re building something in 24 hours. It’s not going to be even close to done, but confidently pitching an idea is harder for women because they often don’t want to pitch until it’s a complete or perfect project. It was a very intentional process to get women ready for the event. Hackathons are typically a 36-hour, overnight event and in Gaza that’s not a safe thing to do. We closed down the event at night and everyone, men and women, had to go home.
What are examples of other types of challenges women face in different parts of the world?
The topics people focused on were issues women faced in those regions. In the Middle East, people are focused on apps around women’s health and justice. In Europe and the US, people were focused on the topic of cultural bias. Somebody built an app in London around the Imposter Syndrome. In the Delhi, India Hackathon, they focused on menstruation and women’s sexual health. The winning team in Nairobi was an app focused on safety, and women can use the technology to alert others when they feel unsafe.
I hear women say they have a big idea, but don’t know where to start. I’m assuming AngelHack didn’t start everywhere at once and there was a scaling up process.
I joined AngelHack and immediately noticed we had 80% male participation. I thought, “This is crazy.” I was just naive enough to not understand how challenging it would be to change that number.
The first thing we did was to partner with Girls in Tech Globally. Through that, we were able to improve our female participation by 4%. But that wasn’t enough for me. Anything that isn’t double digits, just feels like I didn’t try hard enough.
Then my sales team said they felt we could get sponsors who would come on board who care about this issue. I was thinking that if we were going to do this, we would need to go to more than just Western cities. We needed to go to Africa, Australia, and reach women around the world. We were able to scale through our partnerships and sponsorships. My advice would be to surround yourself with people who push you to go further. Then find the right partners who will help you scale and believe in your mission.
As entrepreneurs we all go through a period of sustained “no’s.” What helps you recover after that?
I’ve definitely been in the Trough of Sorrow. I remember wondering, after one sponsor told us that Lady Problems was a terrible idea, if we should pull the plug on the entire thing. My strategy is that I give myself 24 hours to be whiney and depressed, and then I reach out to people I know who are going to make me feel better about myself. It may be your friend who’s going to be funny, lets you drink wine, and helps you forget about it for a second.
I also go back to our customers. Our event reached 2,000 women. If I gave up because a partner said, “no,” that’s 2,000 women we wouldn’t have been able to help. That gives me the energy to keep going. If you give up, you’re giving up on them.
Are men’s perceptions of women around the world starting to shift?
Of course we had haters and in some countries it was much harder to get things off the ground because of the resistance. But our partners gravitated toward supporting women in tech. They want to put their dollars toward it. That was exciting for me.
To have large-scale impact, you have to have big corporate at the table. I had the opportunity to work on ChimeHack, a series of hackathons in support of girls and women with Gucci. We had college-aged male students building apps for sexual safety for women on campus. They just didn’t comprehend feeling unsafe because they hadn’t had that experience. They didn’t fully understand concepts around consent. They hadn’t been exposed to these topics. But thinking through the user experience for someone else brought empathy. Often your user isn’t going to be a white male, so if you’re a great designer or engineer, you have to think about who your target audience is.
Do you have a personal vision of what you’d love to make real through your work?
When women are successful in their businesses and in the workplace, it has a downstream effect on a lot of the other negative problems in society. When more women are empowered, more people are going to be lifted out of poverty, children will be more educated. Women reinvest 90% of their income into their families and local communities, and this gets to the heart of other systemic problems.
If we can get more women in our Hackathons, more women winning, and more women running startups, hopefully those women are successful and then pay it forward to other women, families, hire employees who can then take care of their families. The overall goal is to combat poverty and empower women.
AngelHack, a female-owned, female-majority company, is the world’s largest and most diverse developer ecosystem, helping to drive open innovation of tech products, platforms and brands with extraordinary smarts, scale and speed. Known as pioneers of global hackathons for more than 5 years, AngelHack’s 125,000+ developers, designers, and entrepreneurs in 44 countries around the world compete to build, test and launch new solutions over the course of a weekend. To learn more about AngelHack, click here.
Quizlet, a sponsor of Women 2.0 at the Collision Conference, is the world’s largest student and teacher online learning community with over 20 million active learners from 130 countries practice and master more than 140 million study sets of content on every conceivable subject and topic each month.