Leigh-Ann Fowle, 29, founded the Johannesburg chapter of the Girl Geek Dinners in 2011. She wanted to network more in the technology industry, but found there were no events in the city aimed specifically at women.
So, after finding out about Girl Geek Dinner events in Cape Town — part of a broader international movement — she started the Johannesburg version. The events now regularly host more than 150 women in the technology industry, who come to network and listen to their peers.
Girl Geek Dinners were formed 10 years ago as a way for tech-savvy women “to connect, support and empower each other”, according to the organisation’s website.
Since then, the bi-monthly gathering has grown to more than 60 cities around the world.
The events started in London in 2005 when technology junkie Sarah Lamb, frustrated at often being the only woman attending tech events, decided to start the organisation, initially focused on the British capital.
Since then, the concept has spread across the world, including to New York, Munich, Seoul, Shanghai, Madrid and, of course, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Fowle organises the Johannesburg events with the help of Kirsty Sharman. Fowle runs The Written Word, a marketing and communications agency, while Sharman heads up Webfluential, a South African digital agency that uses online influencers to market brands.
Sharman, 28, was one of the first attendees at the Johannesburg events and has always had a passion for technology.
Having taught herself to code, she often — like Lamb — found herself at tech events dominated by men. She saw the dinners as a place where women could feel “comfortable discussing technology” among themselves.
Sharman and Fowle proved a good match and realised their skills were complementary.
From the initial event in Johannesburg, which was attended by about 30 women, it now often attracts 150 or more.
The event usually sells out in 30 minutes, says Fowle. “We started with word of mouth and news of it spread through social media.”
They realised it was important for the industry to accelerate the growth of the dinners. “Where else would you find a 20-something social media rock star connecting with a 40-year old businesswoman with years of experience under her belt, but keen to learn how to market her business through social media,” says Sharman.
“We are also able to connect women from various business sectors, not just those playing in the digital space, and were able to learn how they use technology in their industries. Women feel comfortable asking for advice at our dinners.”
The dinners have a number of aims, according to Fowle. They include showing women different career options in the field, highlighting female role models and creating a place for women to network.
Guest speakers at the events have included well-known women such as media personality and business news anchor Bronwyn Nielsen, blogger and communications strategist Sarah Britten and former T-Systems boss Mardia van der Walt-Korsten.
“The event allows us to profile women in the industry to speak about their own career experience or their area of expertise,” says Fowle. “We’ve created a powerful community and formed strong connections on a business and personal level. The fact that we’ve increased in size and that women keep on coming back means we’re occupying a unique space and contributing to the success of women in the industry.”
And, yes, men are allowed to attend — but invitations are hard to come by. Any man fortunate enough to crack the nod should expect to be outnumbered at least 20 to one. — © 2015 NewsCentral Media