First Ever Women & Non-Binary Focused AWS User Group

Warning: back-patting ahead.

At some Chicago AWS user group events, I am the only woman in the room. Luckily, I’m forced to stand in front of the group to at least introduce speakers and emcee the event, so people do at least see one woman. It’s not the most fun to be in such a minority all the time when I know awesome women work in technology, in Chicago, and with AWS.

The motivation finally hit me at the AWS user group leader event in Vegas at re:Invent. One fellow user group leader (a man, I think?) asked what everyone was doing to promote more women, inclusivity, and diversity in their groups. My only answer was as the organizer, there’s a guarantee of 1 woman at each Chicago event.

But what can I do about it? Well, something is better than nothing.

I spend the quiet part of 2017 year-end to start planning user group events. One thing I mentioned for topics was always a “women who use AWS” topic. Once I got used to the idea that the event would happen, I started adding it into the lineup and rotation for venues and sponsors.

It hit me: Galentine’s Day in February! I really enjoy the pure joy and optimism of Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation. Her creation, Galentine’s Day is a day for “ladies celebrating ladies.”

leslie-knope-galentines-day

I knew I needed help reaching lady speakers and lady attendees. I’m part of the Chicago Tech Diversity Slack group, so I asked the women there for help. I’m very glad I did. One of the first suggestions, and a point I should’ve thought of, was a to expand it to all women, non-binary, and trans folks in Chicago using AWS. The organizers of groups like Chicago Women Developers, Girl Develop It, and more offered many, many smart Chicagoans who could speak and another volunteered her company to host.

For the topic, I left it pretty open to the speakers with the caveat that they should explain any abbreviations or AWS services they mention. Above all I wanted a judgement free zone where experience with AWS was not a requirement.

Warm Fuzzies

It worked out better than I could have imagined. We got about 60% women/nb attendees at the event. The hosts made a point to mention the gender-neutral bathrooms and their company’s policies. A lot of the post-event feedback from first timers was positive. I saw so many new faces in the group!

I put many disclaimers on the event: “while this event is not exclusive for women, non-binary, and trans folks we do ask that you be considerate when you RSVP.” So it wasn’t ONLY women/nb but I really didn’t want some cis white guys to take all the spots and leave others on the waitlist. I was very relieved to see no waitlist and a majority of female names on the attendee list.

I loved how it was actually a fairly technical event. Each speaker has their own area of AWS and technology, but none of the topics were “women in tech,” “managing diversity” or any preach-to-the-choir subject. We just jumped right into the good stuff. It was a longer event, with four 45min+ talks but the Q&As were all great and everyone just seemed so exited to hang out together.

I hope the user group can become more equitable at every event. I want to work harder to get women, non-binary, racial minorities, and folks from all social backgrounds to both present and attend. Until then, I will definitely keep doing events with a “judgement free” disclaimer.

The wonderful speakers who shared their slides: 

MJ Berends, “how to develop for aws on your local machine using localstack / moto” – https://www.slideshare.net/awschicago/mj-berends-talk-women-nonbinary-focused-intro-to-aws

Devina Dhawan “Transitioning to AWS in a Hurry Without Getting Owned” http://bit.ly/2EnZU1q

Allie Richards “A tale of 3 AWS Migrations” – https://www.slideshare.net/AlexandraRichards4/a-tale-of-three-aws-migrations

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