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Hello Diversity! Hello Equal Opportunity!

The virtual hackathon “Hello Diversity!” will take place on November 6 to promote equal opportunities for women and men at work. Register by October 30, 2020, to take part!

Oct 29, 2020

A hackathon is a great way for small teams to find creative solutions in a short amount of time.

A hackathon is a great way for small teams to find creative solutions in a short amount of time.
Image Credit: Fauxels / Pexels

Digitalization is turning the workplace as we know it upside down. But one thing hasn’t changed: the gender pay gap. In Germany, the difference in pay between women and men is one of the biggest in Europe, while women continue to take on far more of their fair share of caring responsibilities at home. Can digitalization make a difference and create new opportunities for gender equality?

On November 6, 2020, a new event, “Hello Diversity!”, will be taking a closer look at this issue. The event, created and led by Janina Sundermeier, Professor of Digital Entrepreneurship and Diversity, will take the form of a “digital ideation hackathon” – a virtual meet up sponsored by the Berlin University Alliance where small teams come together to work on ideas and solutions for greater gender equality in the workplace. If you would like to take part, you can register up to and including October 30. In an interview, Janina Sundermeier explains what participants can expect of the day.

Janina Sundermeier, a professor of digital entrepreneurship and diversity, is the organizer of the “Hello Diversity!” hackathon.

Janina Sundermeier, a professor of digital entrepreneurship and diversity, is the organizer of the “Hello Diversity!” hackathon.
Image Credit: Personal collection

Professor Sundermeier, the word “hackathon” conjures up the image of Silicon Valley software programmers working around the clock to beat their competitors in the search for the next Google or Instagram. Why did you choose this particular format for your event?

It’s true that the word “hackathon” has certain associations attached to it. Somewhere at the back of their minds, a lot of people probably have a picture of some nerdy guys locked away in a darkened room all weekend, eating pizza while churning out algorithms.

But I like to think that hackathons have broken free of their nerdy image. Since the beginning of the pandemic, for example, there have been all sorts of hackathons associated with a more social attitude, like “The People vs. the Virus” or “We Want Our Schools” and so on. That sort of hackathon came into being because people wanted to do something for society. They could see that we were in crisis, and they wanted to find tools to help us respond more effectively. 

But we decided on this format mainly because we didn’t want to be just another discussion group. We wanted to come out of the event with real outcomes and specific actions we could take. The whole point of a hackathon is to work in small, creative groups in a relaxed atmosphere within a set timeframe, focusing on specific problems and identifying specific solutions.

What will happen on the day?

We’ll start the day with a brief panel discussion to get things moving and identify current urgent challenges. The panel will be made up of six experts who will be discussing gender inequality at work. Among the panelists are the initiators of “He for She,” a solidarity campaign funded by the United Nations where men and women work in partnership to end gender inequality.

Participants can apply for one of ten challenges that will then be the focus of the interdisciplinary teams on the day. The topics include “Stereotypes,” “Workplace Cultures,” or “Male Perspectives on Gender Inequality.” During the day, the teams will work with experienced coaches who will help them develop their own strategies and present them to a jury at the end of the event with prizes going to the ones judged most effective.

But the ideas don’t stop when the hackathon does. We’re working with some amazing partners, including Profund Innovation from Freie Universität, who will support the teams to follow up their plans with actions. We can also offer support to participants who would like to submit their solutions to the Berlin-Brandenburg Business Plan Competition.  

Who is the intended audience for the event? And who is eligible to apply?

We haven’t defined a precise target audience. But we’ve been surprised nonetheless at the diverse range of people who have already signed up. It’s also good to see that it’s fairly balanced in terms of gender so far. A lot of students have registered, but also researchers, self-employed people with their own businesses, activists, and even employees from various companies.

We’re especially pleased that teaching staff at Freie Universität and other universities have included the hackathon as part of their curriculum! At first, we limited registration to Berlin. But there was so much interest that we widened participation to the whole of Germany.

Sören Maahs conducted the interview.

The original German version of this article was published on October 27, 2020, in campus.leben, the online magazine of Freie Universität Berlin.

Further Information

The online hackathon “Hello Diversity!”  on “Gender Equality in the Workplace” will take place on November 6, 2020, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The registration deadline is October 30.

The “Hello Diversity!” conference was initiated a year ago by Janina Sundermeier. The name comes from a tradition in the world of IT where each new programming language was launched with an application called “Hello World.”

“Hello Diversity!” is about the relationship between digital technologies and diversity. Diversity is about more than just gender equality. One of the aims of the conference was to create a space where people could talk openly about the challenges that arise in relation to diversity at work.

The conference presentations are available online. The conference also led to a spin-off podcast that discusses the theory and practice of diversity in the context of setting up a business.