Community is a word I’ve heard more since working in tech full-time than at any other point in my life so far. As I spoke to more people across the sector and started my speaker series #TechTable on Twitter Spaces, I noticed that whether it a women in tech group, a bootcamp cohort, or founders circle, communities help many of us get to where we are through support, education and friendship.
Back on 12th May (yes, I know, I’m a bit behind!), I spoke with two of my favourite community builders Mark Birch and Erleene Lyder on #TechTable about all things community – what it means to them, why they get involved and why you should (or shouldn’t) join one. Here’s some of my key takeaways from that chat:
- Networking ≠ community participation. “Networking is a one-to-many interaction”. You, yourself, are creating and building relationships, sharing your knowledge or asking that of others. When thinking of a community, the aim is that everyone has equal access to the community and the relationship you’re building is a group
- Communities should be created with a purpose, shared values and/or identities. If you have something that unites you, your community becomes a powerful mechanism for taking action, for movement, and growth
- When leading or building communities – lead from the ground up. We often start by building on our existing relationships, but as this grows your community will necessarily become many-to-many and everyone should feel empowered to contribute, make suggestions and challenge the community’s actions (and objectives)
- As a result, we have a code of conduct for our communities. This helps establish a sense of trust and safety. Without it you’re not being “respectful” to those within the space. It’s important that the humanity of someone who leads a community understands that balance – and it will always be a delicate balance
- “Making a community open to everyone, means that it’s open and welcoming to no one” (paraphrasing Carl Shirky). The difference between (and balance of) exclusive and inclusive is a difficult one in community building. We spoke about how, for example, we can accommodate for non-binary folks in women in tech spaces through inclusive language or messaging as well as self-identifying channels to ensure intersectionality within communities are safe. Many in the audience shared that they valued community spaces that had a clear, shared values and created a safe space for everyone to share a common interest (or challenge it) without disrupting the “flow” of conversation
- To do this, community leaders must be able to articulate the community’s goal – why it exists – in the face of challenge. Naturally, we extended the discussion as to why women in tech communities exist and are “thriving” online in recent years and the criticism many of these spaces receive from those who feel “excluded”. In the UK, only 19% of the tech workforce are women, with 77% of Director-level roles filled by men. Our spaces don’t exist to argue, but to create safety for the women present, to inspire new women in their careers, to challenge our industry together and create movement for positive change. A community must exist not to keep people out but to safeguard and support those within them. Community leaders should avoid “speaking on behalf of” and instead re-iterate the community’s mission to newcomers or perceived “outsiders”
- Communities should exist without judgement. Listeners shared experiences of “good” communities they were members of and all the examples referenced spaces where they could learn without judgement, ask the “stupid” questions, be “fearless” and ultimately, grow their learning
- How do you focus on which communities to join? Join by invitation and join by what you’re interested in. It’s important that what they want to do aligns with what you want to do. Think about what you’re seeking from that community and does what you’re seeking match the community’s goal. If it doesn’t that’s OK. There will be one for you
- Everyone is a mentor, everyone is a mentee. No matter your experience we can all learn from one another and this should continue to underpin your community experience throughout your membership
Thank you to everyone who took part in #TechTable and has supported me in this series. The next session is an AMA on Wednesday 21st July at 5pm (BST).
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