Girl Geek Dinners: A Celebration of Women in Technology

Girl Geek DinnerBy Andrea Frascione, staff writer

MONTREAL (RPRN) 6/09/09 – The most recent Montreal Girl Geek Dinner was held in March, honoring two women for the important roles they play as females at the forefront of website building and re-design on an international scale: Kathryn Presner of Zoonini Web Services and Charlotte Riley of A.C. Riley Communications. Despite their prevalence in web design and media services, women tend to be more humble and seem to wind up taking second-place to the ever-promoted, successful males of this industry. Tanya McGinnity, a prominent tech girl living in Montreal, started this club/discussion group in 2007 after having been motivated by the one held in London, where it all began. She makes it her mission to regularly promote up-and-coming local ‘girl geeks’ on the same level as their male counterparts the world over…with the added bonus of drinks and yummy food, of course!

‘‘A while ago, I helped to organize Facebook Camp here in Montreal and as was true with many other tech events globally, I noticed a lack of women both in the room as well as speaking on the panels,’’ says McGinnity to RushPRnews, ‘‘As someone who is passionate about technology and bringing people together, I searched around for groups I could join that would help to raise the profile of women in the tech community, and found the London Girl Geek Dinners group, and was inspired by thTanya McGinnitye initiative.’’

Zoonini is celebrating its 11th year as a website developer and tech-savvy plethora of information. Looking back at their very first newsletter in May 2005, there is undeniable evidence of their forward thinking: blogging and domain names were its feature ‘geek-speak’ articles, some of which the average 2009 neophyte has yet to fully comprehend! With a background in communication studies, having worked for a number of years in film and television, Presner, decided to face a relatively new and exciting challenge in 1998: the Internet. Because of the net’s quick evolution from cool tool to marketing mainstay in the new millennium, she felt it advantageous to return to school and learn programming techniques, in the hopes of starting up her own company.

‘‘Girl Geeks provides women with a place that isn’t intimidating, where even someone who is shy can feel comfortable speaking her mind and ask questions without feeling as though she is being judged,’’ Presner told RushPRnews, ‘‘Despite it being a male-dominated field, the guys I have met at tech seminars would like to see more of an equal gender distribution.’’ She speaks of her experience at this ritual meeting as an environment where the ratio is reversed as compared to typical forums for tech talk – 95% female and 5% male. In stark contrast, the total number of female guests at the last internationally recognized seminar she attended for new entrepreneurs? Two.

Many men in this local tech community have been very supportive of Girl Geek Dinners, including Heri Rakotomalala of Montreal Tech Watch, and Felipe Coimbra from the Mtl New Tech group who is on the constant lookout for women to include as speakers at his events. Montreal’s co-working space, Station C, also offered a discount to women using their services during Ada Lovelace month.

Both Presner and McGinnity say that despite more and more women taking on prominent roles within the tech industry nowadays, there is still a major need for improvement in educating, mentoring and encouraging young women in order for them to gain confidence in their innate talent and hard work. One way these ‘girl geeks’ are moving to help improve this reality is by being part of a designers’ mailing list, devoted exclusively to women in technology.

Women Designers Group boasts a complete designer directory, discusses up-to-the-minute tips, tools, trends and faux-pas for female web designers, and even sponsors links to groundbreaking organizations such as Kiva, a foundation providing lower-income businesspeople with loans through on-line fund-raising. WDG also serves to promote smaller businesses, started-up by students, artists and stay-at-home moms, wanting to remain successful in their careers without having to sacrifice their more balanced family lifestyle. It began as a resource for women web designers and developers. The group originally comprised only 25 women, specifically invited to join because each one was an expert in some aspect of design, creating an invaluable knowledge base as inspiration for the group to go further. There are now over 250 members.

Despite the significant number of women working in web services today, it is still a pretty small, tight-knit group, which is what makes Girl Geek Dinners so important. It allows women to keep abreast of current tech trends and gives them a forum for discussion and self-promotion like no other. This phenomenon has now become an international success with groups based not only in San Francisco, London and Montreal, but also in Saskatoon, Toronto, Brussels and Barcelona. You go, Girls!

Next Montreal Girl Geek Dinner will be held Wednesday June 17 at Brutopia, Crescent street at 5 pm.

photo credit:  photo of Tanya McGinnity by Eric Quenneville at Quenneville Design .

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