Django Girls make the male-dominated world of IT more accessible to women

An announcement regarding a Django Girls meeting at Hackerspace in the Athens neighborhood of Aghios Eleftherios on Saturday sounded more like a pop group fan club’s get-together than an event addressing a socially and economically challenging issue: the employment of women in today’s dynamic industries of information technology and telecommunications.

Two young Greek scholars, Penny Travlou, a lecturer in cultural geography and theory at the University of Edinburgh, and Natalia Avlona, an independent researcher with a law background focusing on intellectual property as well as issues relating to technology and feminism, joined forces in order to bring to Athens an international initiative which began in Berlin last year. The project, Django Girls, aims to make the male-dominated world of information technology more accessible to women.

“Django and Python are two broadly used programming languages with which websites and specialized applications are developed on the Internet, while Django Girls is a series of intensive seminars for women of all ages without any prior experience,” noted Travlou.

The Django Girls story began in Berlin, where two Polish software specialists, Ola Sitarska and Ola Sendecka, decided to take action against women’s digital illiteracy. The percentage of women employed in telecommunications globally, for instance, is estimated on average to be at about 40 percent of the work force. Nevertheless, this figure varies from about 10 to 52 percent from one country to the next.

While there are no official figures regarding the number of women employed in the fields of telecommunications and information technology in Greece, research points to a certain kind of framework. For example, according to research conducted by the National Documentation Center, out of the 70,229 people employed in the research and growth sectors, 29,879 are women (42.5 percent). This figure is higher than the European Union average, which stands at 34.8 percent, while in the fields of telecommunications and information technology the figure stands at just 21.7 percent. Furthermore, the female work force tends to be restricted to the lower ranks of any hierarchy, given the existence of the glass-ceiling phenomenon which keeps minorities and women from rising to the top echelons of the corporate world.

In the broader field of research, men outnumber women on 63.3 percent. However, when it comes to technical staff and technical support staff, the number of women exceeds that of their male counterparts with 51.6 and 54.5 percent, respectively.

The two Polish programmers decided to use Django and Python because both are open source code platforms and not subject to copyright, a factor which may have a positive effect when it comes to women developing their own business ideas. In 2014, the female presence in the local market’s top management was on the wane, with only one in five companies in Greece headed by a woman – out of a total of 23,450 registered companies, about 4,600 firms (19.6 percent) were led by women.

So far, over 60 women have submitted applications for the Django Girls seminars in Athens, with only 24 expected to make the final cut. According to Avlona, the majority of these are “unemployed middle-aged women who wish to acquire skills that will allow them to re-enter the employment market.”

While the workshop’s methodology aims to serve the notions of empowerment and emancipation, the Polish programmers developed a 24-chapter manual which is used in various seminars around the globe.

“The events are aimed at women with no prior knowledge or experience. Anyone can organize this kind of workshop,” noted Travlou.

“Traditionally, it is men who produce technology and women who consume it. We are entering men’s space with the aim of developing an active women’s community,” added Avlona.

In Athens, the Django Girls seminar is billed as an intensive affair whose participants, although novices, will finish their day having developed their first website.


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