It's no secret that there is a serious lack of women coders in the world, as well as a lack of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Streaming music service Spotify, though, recently sought to buck the trend by hosting a hackathon where women were well-represented.
Spotify's effort was a success: half of participants were women.
But how did Spotify do it, especially considering that, in general, women tend to stay away from such competitive events?
First, the company sought to find out why women stay away from hackathon events, and arrived at a solid conclusion: the hackathon culture is mostly male-oriented. The experiences of women participating in such events are usually so off-putting that they don't want to participate in anything similar ever again. Another reason? Women often aren't even invited to hackathons.
So when Spotify decided to host its own hackathon, the company organized it differently from traditional hackathons. The invitations and marketing materials used "gender-neutral" colors and they reached out beyond the usual hackathon target market by promoting the event at universities and community groups.
The results of this marketing and promotion were decidedly different from most hackathons: 57 percent of applicants were male and 43 percent were female. In all, Spotify accepted 40 applicants and broke them into teams of four, with two women and two men on each team.
The event itself was also organized differently: the company served healthy food, along with the usual energy drinks and less healthy snacks. Spotify hired a diverse group of speakers and allowed judges of the competition time to meet each participant, removing the 90-second pitch most hackathons give to competitors. Also, Spotify got rid of the prizes associated with most hackathons and gave all teams equal time.
"Instead we held a demo session where teams demoed their apps in a science fair fashion," writes Sofie Lindblom, design operations at Spotify. "Coaches and participants walked around the room, tried the prototypes and asked more in-depth questions. This relieved the stress and enabled people to focus on process, learning and end results."
Spotify is obviously onto something. Studies show that diversity results in teams that perform better financially and demonstrate higher productivity.
"Many of our participants had never been to a hackathon before," writes Lindblom. "This tells us the importance of being open to everyone, and to nurture and grow a technology scene where everyone feels welcome and comfortable."