Brazen Brigade creates community, visibility for women at PHL Innovation Picnic - Technical.ly Philly

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Jul. 3, 2018 12:22 pm

Brazen Brigade creates community, visibility for women at PHL Innovation Picnic

How glow necklaces shined light on tech's persistent problems with sexual harassment.

Members of the Brazen Brigade prepare glow-stick necklaces.

(Photo by Abby Lee Mosconi)

Last Thursday, at the second annual PHL Innovation Picnic, Brazen Philly launched its newly assembled “Brazen Brigade” to shine a light — literally — on women in tech and offer them a “safe place to land” at the industry networking event.

“Often these events can be tough for women to make meaningful connections and to feel comfortable, especially first-time attendees and those new to the field,” said Bonnie Bogle, the director of Brazen Philly. “We wanted to change that. And to go way beyond just giving it lip service.”

From a shaded table just outside the main tent, the Brazen Brigade set up a welcoming home base for female attendees to comfortably mingle, connect and network. Women of the Brigade were illuminated by neon glow necklaces and pink sunglasses to convey their approachability, and shared the accessories widely to encourage camaraderie and increase visibility of women at the picnic.

“I think our table was a great place to land for a lot of women who came to the picnic by themselves and wanted to network,” said Brigade leader, founding Brazen committee member and fashion-startup founder Liz Funk. “Some stayed with the Brazen Brigade for the entire length of the event, others found a ‘buddy’ and then circulated.”

It’s far from news that women are underrepresented in tech. In fact, it’s frightfully easy to find data and stories about rampant sexual harassment and lack of gender diversity in the tech industry.

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Though many female attendees at the PHL Innovation Picnic agreed this event was more diverse than others they had attended in the past, the overarching sentiment was that they frequently felt out of place at events and within the industry as a whole.

Brazen Brigade organizer Liz Funk. (Photo by Abby Lee Mosconi)

Brazen Brigade organizer Liz Funk. (Photo by Abby Lee Mosconi)

Brianna Wronko, CEO of Group K Diagnostics, reinforced this idea by saying, “When I go to these networking events, it’s mostly all men. It’s really nice to have some kind of an assembly of women that shows other females, especially younger females starting out in entrepreneurship, that there’s someone for them to talk to. I want this to not be an old boys’ club anymore.”

Cofounder of Boost Linguistics, Alex Dodson said, “I think mostly-male spaces can be intimidating, and oftentimes you think that you won’t be heard. Also, a lot of times I don’t care what dudes are talking about, to be honest. I don’t like Fast and the Furious, and that is what my coworkers were talking about on the way over here.”

Beyond feeling left out or outnumbered, the issue of safety came up, as well.

In regards to attending events in which women had low representation, Wronko also added, “It’s isolating, and it can be scary sometimes because let’s face it, there’s not a lot of great stuff in the news lately. So to know there are a lot of women around, looking out for each other and helping each other make connections, that’s what we need to make entrepreneurship what it can be.”

Across the picnic, far from the Brazen table and its fluorescent accoutrement, the idea that women feel more comfortable talking to other women than men came to light in real time. When her male colleague went to grab food, Sarah Claypoole, sales director for Dineable, found herself standing alone and asked if she could join a conversation taking place between me (a female) and two other women.

Later, when asked why she chose to come up to us in particular, she replied, “You seemed inviting. Alone, if I had to choose between a group of three women and a group of three men, I’d choose the women. It just felt more comfortable to come up to you. If I had my colleague with me, who’s a guy, I’d be more comfortable approaching a group of men.”

Being its maiden voyage in the event space, Funk was satisfied with the impact and engagement the Brazen Brigade had at the picnic.

“When women asked, ‘What are the glow necklaces about?’ we’d reply, ‘They’re meant to make women more visible at the picnic.’ To then have those women request their own glow stick — it was powerful,” said Funk. “On the most basic level, that was exactly what we were going for, to make it clear that there are women in Philly’s entrepreneurial and tech communities and that we’re an inclusive community.”

Brazen Philly intends on unleashing its Brazen Brigade at future events in Philly and beyond.

“We’re looking at what upcoming events we want to be a part of in Philly, and we’re also sharing information with other Brazen chapters — Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis, Denver, Detroit — so they can bring the Brazen Brigade to tech events in their cities,” said Funk.

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