Repair is engaging and involves a wide range of activities. This means that everyone can participate in repair and contribute with one’s personal set of skills.
Still, based on the membership data on restarters.net, the majority of repairers are male. Our Restart Parties are meant to be actively inclusive and we want to make an effort in creating a space that everyone feels welcome in. Our Rosie the Restarter events have helped to get women and non-binary people involved with repair. But we believe we can do more.
This post looks at best practises from the CoderDojo, an initiative to involve young people in coding. They have done extensive research on involving more girls in their work. I believe there is a lot we can learn from their insights.
The post concludes with recommendations for hosts and restarters alike, sharing ideas for creating gender inclusive spaces.
This aims to be merely a starting point, as we believe this topic is best explored in conversation. So please share your ideas, experiences and insights. I am curious to hear about the situation in your local groups, about any interesting reading you might have or best practices you have identified!
Questions to you
- Which barriers to participation from women and non-binary people have you identified?
- What have you tried to overcome this? How successful were your projects?
- What are we missing? Which topics need to be included, which questions deserve more attention?
If this post speaks of “girls”, “women” or “female”, this is reflecting the language used in the original sources. While we hope to use these insights to involve also non-binary people in repair, we understand that we cannot assume the needs of non-binary people from sources speaking about including women.
Learnings from the Coder Dojo
CoderDojo is an initiative running free programming clubs for young people all across the globe. After they identified a gender imbalance in their clubs, the organisers did extensive research on the reasons and potential solutions. The full report is linked here and definitely worth a read! While their insights are based on working with young people rather than adults, I believe there is much we can learn:
Make an effort:
Initially, the majority of attendees at CoderDojos were boys. The organisers cared about having more girls attend, and they tried several ways of making this happen.
- Speak to your participants and to those who are interested but unable to attend
- Identify their barriers to participation
- Do they lack rolemodels?
- Do they have childcare duties that make them unable to join?
- Is your venue in a location that is difficult to access or feels unsafe to some participants?
- Make an effort to address the needs you found.
- Assume that the needs of all your participants are similar. Every person’s experience is different, so stay open to new ideas and inputs.
Create a spatial layout that makes all attendants feel comfortable. The CoderDojo organisers have experienced that grouping girls together with female mentors has helped. Never separate friends coming to the event together.
- Be mindful of the needs of your restarters and make sure that the event layout reflects their needs regarding space and people around them.
- Allow for female and non-binary restartes to stay together during the event, if they prefer. Let them choose the space or table they feel most comfortable in.
- Separate groups of female and non-binary participants during your events.
Create a supporting environment where questions are encouraged. This helps to make new joiners feel welcome. It also encourages participation from people who feel that they don’t have the necessary skills yet.
- Explain your thoughts and the changes you are making to your community. Encourage everyone to join the discussion.
- Ensure that all voices are heard, also those of people who are more shy or quiet in group settings.
- Call out behaviour that makes participants feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. Be clear that your events are actively inclusive.
Language and Imagery
Research has shown that some words and contents appeal to certain genders more. Words and descriptions that encourage cooperation, creativity and teamwork are more appealing to women. Phrases mentioning competition or showing skills are less appealing, so is jargon. Being mindful of how to write event descriptions helps making them attractive to all genders.
Similar things hold for images. Using pictures that show participants of all genders working together and enjoying the activities helps making the advertisement more appealing to everyone.
- Describe the event clearly and in non-technical terms, outlining what happens at the event and how much time commitment is needed
- Invite participants to bring along friends. Mention that children are welcome if they are supervised.
- Highlight the community approach, teamwork, creativity, learning opportunities.
- Use images of participants of all genders.
- Emphasize competition and “showing your skills”.
- Refer to your audience using superlatives such as “experts”, “wizards”, “ninjas”, “heroes” or “pros”.
- Use technical jargon if there is a non-technical way of saying the same thing.
- List strict criteria that participants have to meet.
CoderDojo has identified that female role models are great in making their events more attractive to girls. These role models can work together with the other female participants. CoderDojo recommends to make use of the strengths of these role models when creating a session plan.
Also, one does not have to be an expert to be a role model. CoderDojo has successfully encouraged girls who attend regularly to act as peer mentors for new participants. This has helped the mentors to gain confidence. New participants felt more comfortable in the space, as they can easily identify with the peer mentors.
At the same time make sure to not put too much pressure on your female and non-binary role models. Being in a male-centred space means that they might be used to being put in the spotlight. Check that they feel comfortable with any role you are offering them.
The CoderDojo organisers found that running all-girls events did not help to get more girl attendants to join the mixed events. They wonder whether these all-girl events reinforce the idea that certain activities are “not for girls”.
They have found more success with setting up these all-girls events similarly to the mixed Dojos. They invited current female Dojo attendants to be peer mentors for the all-girls dojo. They also found that series of events (e.g. monthly events or shorter summer camp-style series of workshops) have been more successful in attracting participants.