Planning Female-Only Events

Amanda Blum of HowlingZoe recently co-organized a RailGirls PDX event.

For event organizers, attendees present new opportunities, challenges and room for innovation. The better you understand your attendees, the better the innovation.

This weekend, I co-lead a RailsGirls event in Portland, Oregon. Compared to my usual events, this was quite small — just 60 attendees — but I realized halfway through that many decisions my partner and I made were shaded by the fact that all the attendees and coaches made this a female-only event.

Event t-shirts
I have a stack of unwearable tech event t shirts: either the fit was ridiculous, the graphics misplaced or ill-designed for women. A few key points we considered in our shirts:

-Choose a woman’s fit shirt, but not a babydoll style.

-Choose a brand that accommodate a wide range of sizes, from XS to 2XL that are “true fit”.

-Stock extras on both ends of the spectrum.

-Don’t put graphics on shirt backs because they get hidden under hair — we went with a sleeve print.

-Be considerate that front-of-shirt graphics — best designs go straight across ⅔ up the shirt.

-Don’t place graphics on the stomach area.

-Consider that women are unlikely to want the same color palette.

-Don’t condescend by choosing pink, but try to avoid “sport gray”, browns, and dark greens/blues.

-We chose a long sleeve, but short sleeve v neck or scoop neck styles both flatter women.

Badges
As an organizer, I love giving the badge extra identifiers: meal types, shirt size, etc., and that’s not just for female-only events. That said, no woman wants you to print her shirt size on a badge — I developed a numbering system of 1-5 instead. “1” stood for 2XL, and “5” stood for Small. I also stocked a few 3XL, even though it didn’t appear on the entry form, and judiciously handed them out without saying anything to women who needed them. I also choose extra-long lanyards so they wouldn’t hang right at the chest line as they so often do.

Food
Normally, I am a proponent of ‘real food’ for conferences and I avoid sandwiches, pizza and buffets. At many tech conferences I serve BBQ or Mexican food — hot and substantial — and always have a delicious vegetarian/vegan/kosher option. Because this was a female-only event, the numbers for vegetarian elects was way up, to 40% of our attendees. We went lighter in our options, while making choices more detail oriented.

Breakfast

-Yogurts instead of doughnuts

-Portion everything 20% smaller

-Multiple vegetarian options instead of just one — we offered vegan pumpkin scones, vegetarian yogurt and vegan doughnuts.

Lunch
Consider pre-made salads, but substantial and interesting. Choices were Chinese salad for vegans, Greek salad for vegetarians, and Cobb salad for omnivores. Ensure all options still have protein and are low carb.

Snacks

-Smaller portions: instead of chocolate bars, go with Hershey’s kisses.

-Have a few fruit options.

-Homemade cookies (peanut butter, chocolate chunk and vegan oatmeal raisin were popular at our event)

Drinks
I knew my co-lead was out of the loop when he insisted we buy 5 Hour Energy for the drink bar (unused except for a bottle or two). For drinks we stocked up on Vitamin water, unsweetened iced teas and Snapples. We skipped soda and energy drinks — not a single person requested them. Coffee was always available. Our afterparty choices were guided as well — lighter beers: Hefeweizen, hoppy options, wine and cranberry vodkas. We stayed away from PBR, dark lagers, super strong IPAs and all other hard liquor.

Content
It should go without saying that female-only event planners should absolutely avoid a speaker or presenter who will use offensive speech or off-color remarks aimed at women. Strive to have a balance of male to female speakers, but at female only events you should be particularly considerate of this.

Attendees

-Group activities work exceptionally well at women-only events.

-Women are not as likely to speak up — you’ll see them raising hands to speak.

-Ensure that “wall clingers” are introduced to others via activities or staff.

-Ask for feedback often and have a clear path for attendees to offer it.

Sponsors
Consider the marketing materials that your sponsors will use and ensure that none are offensive, not that any sponsor would utilize booth babes at a female-only event… Keep it on your radar and be sure to approve sponsor materials.

Additional considerations

-Most women carry purses. They won’t want to carry a secondary bag, even if it contains swag.

-Stock bathrooms with niceties: aspirin, tissues, hygiene products, breath mints.

-Women tend to be notetakers. Have content like links, online resources or printed content to take home.

Thanks, Amanda!