Google has a secret, invite-only Slack group for women going to their conference

Before Google I/O starts next week, Yasmine Evjen already knows which parties she should go to and what happens at the coding labs. She even knows what’s going to be stocked in the bathrooms, including no-crease hair ties, dry shampoo, and Tide-to-Go Pens. 

Evjen is a digital designer and developer in Phoenix, Arizona, but for the past month, she and hundreds of other women in tech have been chatting online in an invite-only Slack group.

This year at Google’s I/O conference almost one in four attendees will be a woman. With that, comes a new set of logistics and a new community to build. 

In Slack, the popular workplace chatting app, the women attending Google I/O are discussing everything from what should be questions during an icebreaker to the latest Game of Thrones.

There are channels, which are basically topic chat rooms, for everything from Game of Thrones to android development to Latina women in tech.

There’s even one called “Hair” for talking about hair styles and awesome colours. 

“Being a woman in tech can be isolating, which is why it’s so important for us to band together and share our collective experiences, passions, and wisdom,” said Sienna Aguayo, a software engineer at Indiegogo, in an email.

“I’ve been surprised by how many random topics have come up that connect us — and it’s not just tech stuff, it’s thing like Sailor Moon, Neko Atsume, Japanese food and culture (ok, so maybe a lot of us just really like Japan — I majored in Japanese so I’m no exception).”

The Slack channel is also a way for Google to connect to women. Natalie Villalobos, who heads up Google’s Women Techmakers program, launched the Slack group a month before the conference so the attendees can talk to each other in a safe space ahead of time. No members of the media, even female, are allowed in the group, and it’s limited only to I/O attendees.

“I go to conferences myself and sometimes you arrive and it can feel like a big airport. You don’t know anyone, no one talks to each other. You have your own agenda, getting from point A to point B,” Villalobos said. “I wanted to create a community and culture that provided more for these women going into I/O, so by the time they got to I/O they already felt like a community.” 

Villalobos used the Slack channel to discuss logistics, down to what will be included in the women’s bathrooms. She’s also polled the group about what to include in an icebreaker game, and the women responded with coming up with their own icebreakers, like riddles or computational examples.

“I want Google I/O to feel like it was made for them,” Villalobos said.

These are small details, but can make a difference to conference attendees, especially first-timers like Evjen and Aguayo who have a better understanding of what to expect.

“Going to I/O for the first time, I’m going by myself,” Evjen said. “It relieves the stress of not knowing what’s going to happen.”

It’s also about the networking opportunities. Evjen joined the Latina women in tech group and was immediately happy to hear that’s not alone as a female, Latina mother in tech. 

Aguayo is a part of other women in tech groups like Hackbright Academy and the Android developer community, but she said this is the most active community she is in by far.

“Perhaps it’s the very real date of I/O that has put an impetus on people to connect with each other fast,” Aguayo said. “I’m interested to see if the community continues after I/O is over — I imagine it has enough traction and momentum to do so.”

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