Q. How can we encourage more women to participate in hackerspaces?
A. Stop being a**holes. It's that simple, but I'll expand on it. The ownership of breasts, ovaries, and/or uterus is irrelevant to the ability to think logically, plan a project, present ideas clearly, use mathematics, code, solder, fabricate, or do anything else that might be going on in a hackerspace. (It becomes relevant only if and when a female member decides to do some bio-gyno-hacking on herself so that she can bear a genetically engineered baby-superweapon. That isn't an issue yet.) It is as irrelevant to hacking as is the social construct of "race" or someone's genetic makeup/ethnic background.
Women, like everyone else, want a welcoming and comfortable environment. An African-American potential member would probably look askance at a hackerspace that flew the Confederate battle flag. Likewise, a weekly rape joke competition would create what is known as a "hostile environment" for potential female members.
It's a delicate issue, especially since hackerspaces are often home to people who espouse various libertarian/Objectivist/anarchist/radical honesty philosophies, who see this as an assault on free speech. What those people don't realize is that those philosophies and the willingness to employ them usually come from a position of enormous privilege and safety that not everyone shares. Curbing one's tongue to make others feel more comfortable isn't censorship, it's courtesy. It's also good business for any organization.
Q. Why should "your boss" (in the abstract sense) care about hackerspaces?
A. Hackerspaces and the people that come out of them are innovative. Innovation is an attitude, not having "Skill Set Q with Toolkit X in Area B." Businesses that do not innovate -- they die.
Q. Where do you think hackerspaces are going?
A. As I hinted at earlier, hackerspaces are going to become more and more indistinguishable from "crafting groups" or "art groups." As hardcore tech types become more exposed to various arts and crafts, they will see how visual design, auditory design, and so on can be incorporated into their projects. And as crafters/artists become more comfortable with tech and the tech becomes more accessible (Arduino being a perfect example) more tech will be used by them. I think that what goes on at Splat Space is a perfect example of this.
Hackerspaces are hubs of intellectual and creative energy, centers of entrepreneurial activity and an amazing avenue for learning and education. Participating in a local hackerspace offers benefits to every member of the local community, including individuals, for-profit businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies.
Everyone can participate and learn a new skill, invent a new gadget, make a piece of amazing art, teach a class, and make new friends with a wide range of interests. Outside organizations may participate in the hackerspace to recruit talent, find help building a project, recruit volunteers to teach robotics to disadvantaged children in rural schools, or get a demo of an interesting new piece of gear they are considering purchasing.
Simply put, everybody should give a crap about their local hackerspace, or start one if there isn't one. Hackerspaces are truly the defining example of win-win.
This article, "Why you should care about your local hackerspace," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Keep up on the latest developments in application development and read more of Andrew Oliver's Strategic Developer blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.