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Philly's first LadyHacks lures women into the hackathon movement

Nationally, computer science programs award more masters degrees to men than bachelors degrees to women.

This statistic helped inspire "Visualizing the Gender Gap," a graphic representation of educational and professional outcomes for men and women. The project was one of several activist platforms created during Philadelphia’s first LadyHacks, a mostly-female hackathon held last weekend at WHYY in Center City.

"A lot of the Hackathons you see are competitive," says Tristin Hightower, co-organizer of LadyHacks. "We wanted to remove that element. We were trying to address stuff that impacts [women] as an under-represented group in tech."

Other projects included Miss Conceptions, a click-through info graph addressing female stereotypes; Power Solvers, a game aimed at increasing tech appeal to 11- to 15-year-old girls; Hacking the Gender Gap, a program that tracks positive and negative tech experiences by gender; STEM everywhere, a regional resource for Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) youth education programs; and SheTechPHL, a comprehensive guide for women looking to engage in the local tech scene.

The event had 64 female and one male participants. Most came from non-technical backgrounds (SheTech, for example, was produced by four English majors) and the teams received mentorship from local female leaders including Yasmine Mustafa of Girl Develop IT Philly, Gloria Bell of Philly Startup Leaders and Tracy Levesque of Yikes. Sponsors included Chariot Solutions, Azavea, Skout MediaMonetate, Yikes and Philly Tech Meetup.

Hightower and fellow Girl Geek Dinner member Sondra Willhite developed the concept as a solution for lackluster female participation in Philly’s hackathons. Eighty percent of attendees admitted that they had never contributed at a tech event before. By the end of the hackathon, most said they planned to participate again in the near future.

Hightower and Willhite will follow up with surveys to see if these newbies do, in fact, continue their pursuit, particularly with regards to the upcoming Philly Tech Week. Additionally, they're re-evaluating the event -- with help of attendee feedback -- in hopes of creating an annual LadyHacks.

"Hackathons have this stereotype that it's all the coders getting together and just coding," says Hightower. "But that's not all they can be. All these other people need to be involved—and can be involved."

Source: Tristin Hightower, Sondra Willhite, Lady Hacks
Writer: Dana Henry
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