Geek Girl’s Josefine Hedlund on getting women on the stage

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Josefine Hedlund has never been afraid to experiment. As a little girl, whenever the TV broke down in the Hedlund family home, her dad would ask her to fix it, by poking and prodding at buttons to see what they might do, even though the “more natural” option might’ve been for her father to do it himself, as she says, laughing.

I’ve never been afraid of technology. I’ve always been happy to learn things.

The 31 year-old Swede founded Geek Girl Meetup in London in order to spread that confidence to other women. The organisation, originally founded in Sweden, holds regular networking events for women working in tech, and promotes female role models in the industry.

Getting women onto the stage

Geek Girls London chapter’s third anniversary is coming up, and Josefine has met with me to talk about the lack of diversity in the tech industry. Only 2 in 10 tech employees are women, an issue that hits close to heart for her, as a feminist working in the tech industry. For the past four years, she’s been at digital agency AnalogFolk, and is now a senior producer.

Sitting in the agency’s painfully cool open-plan offices, we’re surrounded by men. This is hardly a new situation for Josefine Hedlund, who says that she’s regularly the only woman in meetings.

A Geek Girl Meetup in September 2014.

A Geek Girl Meetup in September 2014. (Photo: Alessia D’Urso/ Flickr)

“I almost don’t want to say it, but I think it’s about confidence. Girls think they can’t do it,” she says.

Combating this lack of confidence is the driving force behind Geek Girl.

Thinking back to why Geek Girl was founded, she remembers going to tech conferences without a single female speaker.

“And we thought, ‘we know lots of great women in this industry. Where are they? Why aren’t they on the stage?’”

Starting at an early age

With Geek Girl, she encourages other women to get up on that stage. So does she happily get up and speak herself?

“I’m getting better. I don’t like to stand up and talk in front of people, but I force myself to do it. And it does get easier the more you do it.”

Josefine Hedlund Geek Girl by Sofia Villanueva

Josefine Hedlund (Photo: Sofia Villanueva for 1984 London)

A big part of tech’s diversity problem stems from women getting discouraged early on, she says, with young girls being made to take sewing rather than coding in school. Luckily for Josefine and her older sister, their parents were always encouraging.

“There was never anything strange about us being interested in technology, or sitting in front of the computer, playing Pacman or chatting on IRC,” she says.

“I think I’m quite confident as a person today. I’ve had a safe childhood, and was often in a leadership role, so I feel comfortable taking up space.”

Feminism “feels like a harsher word here”

Josefine has been living in London for almost five years. But she grew up in Sweden, where she says gender inequality is less of an issue.

“Everything is more divided in the UK than it is in Sweden. Even kids are divided, into girls’ and boys’ schools, and girls’ and boys’ sports.”

For Josefine, who likes to relax by playing football, this has caused some raised eyebrows amongst colleagues who were surprised she hadn’t grown up playing netball instead.

Calling herself a feminist feels different in the UK too, she says.

“It feels like a harsher word here. There still seems to be this vision of the ‘man-hating feminist’ cropping up.”

What makes a role model?

With Geek Girl, she certainly takes a more positive approach. It’s about promoting female role models. Josefine’s own role models are Heidi Harman, Geek Girl’s original founder, and Alice Bentinck, founder of several Silicon Roundabout start-ups.

And being a role model isn’t just about doing good.

“It’s also someone who’s good at talking about the mistakes they’ve made and the experience they’ve gained from making those mistakes.”

So has Josefine made any mistakes of her own? “Oh, tonnes!” she says, laughing.

It’s all about daring to experiment.

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