Growing a Community – What it takes to create a safe networking space for women.

In 2016 I took over my local chapter of Girl Geek Dinners.

Girl Geek Dinners is a global initiative started in 2010 in the UK. The objective was to bring groups of women together to talk, network, and learn over dinner. There are chapters all over the world and each runs differently based on the needs of the community.

The Kitchener-Waterloo chapter has been around since 2012 and has grown to 1200 local members! This growth can be attributed to the extremely hard work of community volunteers and company sponsors, and living in a city with a large concentration of tech -based companies and schools.

The Girl Geeks model is successful because of it’s flexibility; Speakers, topics, location, and food can vary each month. In the last two years there have been events ranging from “The Science of Cheese”, to “Localizing Software”, to “How to be assertive in the workplace”. They have been hosted in museums, restaurants, and company common areas. The day of the week changes each month based on events already happening.

The events now sell out in just a few short days. Is there a secret to keeping this community group successful and impactful?

1. Gather feedback often, and act on it.

This group is by the community, for the community. It doesn’t exist to make money. It exists because the volunteer team passionately believes in creating a safe and fun networking space for women. Feedback is gathered through several channels including Slack groups, private chats, in-person questions, annual surveys, and email.

A few examples of actionable feedback that has been received (edited for brevity)

  • Why does Girl Geeks not run events on the weekends for mothers or those who may not be able to attend during the week?
  • Can it be clearly stated when a talk is technical or not and at what level.
  • I cannot find a sitter, can my child come to this event with me?
  • I feel like there have been too many panels and not enough technical talks and workshops.
  • I didn’t like the food from last event.

2. Accommodate everyone.

Every event must be accessible for those with mobility challenges – or clearly state the restrictions. This includes looking for stairs and steps, making sure washrooms are available and near, and that there is appropriate seating.

Every event must have good food for everyone. Ask your guests what their dietary restrictions are and work with your local caterers. Ask for the ingredients to be listed on all containers. Common things to simply avoid ordering are meals that contain nuts/seeds and/or pork, and to make sure there are gluten-free, lactose-free, and vegan options for your guests. If you have alcohol, also have a non-alcoholic option and have someone with a smart-serve serving to make sure your guests don’t drink to excess.

Every event must have room for everyone. Don’t oversell your event space. It’s better to turn people away than have too many guests.

3. Say thank you.

Thank you! To the volunteers, the speakers, the community, the sponsors, the caterer, the organizers, and the city you live in. Take the time to send messages, notes, and small thank you gifts of appreciation. If you’re known as someone who is great to work with, you will attract amazing opportunities.

Network with other community organizers and support their events. Remember that you’re not in a competition, you’re here to improve and support your local community.

Check out Girl Geek Dinners Waterloo Region on Meetup, or find your local chapter on the global Girl Geek Dinners directory.

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