Grrls! Grrls! Grrls!
It started at St. Mark's Place over coffee in 1995. The Manhattan neighborhood was the nest from which the Webgrrls would eventually fly, providing a forum for women involved in or interested in new media and technology. The original Webgrrls exchanged job and business leads, formed strategic alliances, mentored and taught each other the skills required to help women succeed in an increasingly technical workplace and world. The Webgrrls still fulfill this mission—only now, internationally.
The grrls included Eileen, a production editor with Holt Publishing; Carlotta, a Unix System Administrator with Pencom; Shelley DuVal, a transplanted Texan (ISO a job); Phoebe Legere, composer and artist, Cindy (also known as Dolphin) and Cybrgrrl.
According to the Webgrrls, "Webgrrls was a spin-off of Cybrgrrl, an online alter ego. When she first created a web site in January of 1995, she was hesitant to put her photograph on the Web so she drew a cartoon caricature of herself, put a hot pink cape on her, and called her Cybergrrl. [the creator] thought Cybergirl sounded too young and Cyberwoman didn't have the right attitude and sense of humor. When she linked to other women's Web sites from her own Cybergrrl.com site, she called them Webgrrls for women with web sites."
Soon the name took on a broader meaning to encompass the network or "web" of women worldwide which had begun to form and grow at a rapid rate.
In an interview conducted with John Nastasi, Melissa St. John, a senior interactive media developer at America Online's Digital City New York, describes her job as such: "We're developing new technologies for the New York site on AOL and on the Web. And now that we bought Netscape, we have content on Netscape.com, Compuserve.com, and all these other portal sites. I'm responsible for coding and functionality mostly - I don't do any graphic design."
St. John is a typical Webgrrl, either embroiled in networking and coding or actually laying down design online. And with chapters spread internationally—everywhere from Aarhus, Denmark to Boise, ID, Webgrrls consider themselves a powerful arm on the World Wide Web front. Webgrrls is to the technology industry what N.O.W. was to feminists in the 1970s. In a word, Webgrrls are intent on not only advancing women's roles in the industry, but also standardizing practices across the board.
According to Webgrrls, "While the Web and Internet business organizations exist in every community, often the ratio of men to women is roughly 80 percent male to 20 percent female. Sometimes, only a handful of women are in attendance at these new media networking groups. Webgrrls has set out to provide a non-competitive, comfortable, supportive and nurturing environment where women can learn from other women about technology."
Similarly, the group reports, "Often when women come to a Webgrrls meeting, it is the first time they have been able to talk to other women about technology. Many women who attend Webgrrls meetings and join Webgrrls work in environments inhabited by mostly males. Others are relieved to find an atmosphere where they are not intimidated and are able to express their vulnerability in not knowing something without the fear that it will compromise their position in their job or in the industry. Others appreciate the ability to support and teach other women, being the role models and mentors that they never had."
Webgrrls has created both virtual and face-to-face networking communities where women make and are given the opportunities to learn, teach, mentor and help each other develop their professional and personal opportunities. Having all-female spaces can be a positive experience for the women who participate, allowing them the opportunity to be part of a community that focuses on sharing and giving, a rarity in any professional business setting.
The Grrls information Web site similarly provides a cross section of tech tutorials, career advice, design galleries and industry forums for members. Webgrrl Sarah Saunders recently contributed, "End-to-End Web Site Monitoring," an article on accessing Web servers remotely, whereas Erin Henderson Outzs deconstructs the fine art of tech-speak in, "Avoid Geek-Speak."
For more information, log in to www.webgrrls.com.
-Natalie Hope McDonald