Organizing a meetup for underrepresented people

I recently decided to put together a group for women in technology in Madison, where I live. The group is for designers, developers, and everyone in between, is all ages friendly, trans-inclusive, and open to people of any ability level. I wanted to create a safe space where we could help each other learn, mentor/teach others in our community, cowork, practice speaking in front of people, and help each other submit talks to conferences. 

A lot of people were sad that I wasn't holding it online like some of the other groups/events I've run (sorry, everyone!). I want you to have a place where you can do these things, too, so let's hook you up.

Why not just have the group open to everyone?

Most groups that exist are already geared toward everyone, so those spaces exist. Creating a meetup that is geared toward a specific marginalized group provides a safe space for those people. It gives them the space to get to know other people like them in the community to feel like they have people to lean on when they are experiencing issues that the community at large doesn't necessarily face. 

How do I find other groups in my area?

Check sites like meetup, ask on twitter and facebook, and ask people in the area. I'd also suggest talking to people in online groups like DevChix, PyLadies, SYSTERS, etc to see if anyone else in your area would be interested or has created something already. Some groups are nationwide/international, like Girl Develop It!, and may be able to refer you to a local group.

If you can't find anything, ask me on twitter - I may be able to hook you up with people near you.

Otherwise, start your own group!

But I don't know enough to start my own group!

The only thing you need to know about starting a group is how to send email. I started my group by emailing a handful of other women in my community and asking them if they'd be interested and all of them were! Ask on Facebook, Twitter, and any other place you think people may be interested.

If live in an area where it is hard to find other people to attend, you can hold your meetings online. Start a discussion group (I personally prefer google groups, but there are many free and easy to manage ones online) to have ongoing discussions and set up a time each month to do a google hangout, skype call, or similar.

For groups meeting physically, find out if anyone needs special accomodations (ride sharing, child-friendly spaces, handicap accessible + handicap parking, quiet spaces, alcohol free venues, etc) so you can use those requirements to find an appropriate place to host the group.

If you have few enough people, you may be able to get by just hosting a coworking session once a week/once a month. A friend of mine and I met once a week for a couple years this way - we'd meet at a coffee shop, talk about blog posts or books we'd read, help each other with code, and work on projects.

Next, decide on a location. Universities/colleges, coffee shops, restaurants, community spaces, and offices (especially of local tech companies!) tend to be very open to the idea of supporting groups that foster diversity in their communities. If you can't find a space for free, you can ask around to local businesses, non-profits, and larger tech companies to find out if anyone would be interested in sponsoring your group.

Then, decide on a date. Create a doodle and find out what days and times work best for everyone. Try to hold your group on the same day of the month (always on the 12th, always on the second Tuesday, etc).  

Finally, decide on the structure. Your first meeting you can talk about the kinds of things you would all like to see the group do. The things my group is focusing on include:

  • providing a safe space for people to ask questions
  • mentor or teach about the things that you know
  • help group members find mentors
  • practice speaking in front of a group (we hope to have at least one person do a presentation at each meeting)
  • help each other write proposals for conference talks and encourage each other to submit to them
  • share what we know with each other so we can all be better at what we do

You might consider setting up a website, a meetup group, social media accounts, or physically advertising your group in public spaces (like the message board at universities and coffee shops) or by contacting local tech companies.

Keep in mind

Ask the group to help you organize, whether it's sending out reminder emails/calendar invites, creating a schedule for people to speak, or just manning the doors to let people in.

Remember that it doesn't have to be perfect! Regularly ask for constructive feedback and let the group evolve as needed.

How to be an organizer

This is a funny little presentation by Matt Gauger about organizing groups and events:

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