A “one-off comment” isn’t enough to get John Paller’s attention. As the founder and executive steward for the ETHDenver hackathon, his goal is to create a space where “diverse intelligences” can mingle, and he gets plenty of feedback. But one issue he heard repeatedly last year proved a barrier to entry for multiple ETHDenver hopefuls—a lack of on-site, affordable childcare.
“I had a couple of speakers who were new moms, and they were just like, logistically, this is a pain in the ass,” he tells BREAKER. Another mother who wanted to attend ETHDenver last year objected that the event wasn’t “flexible” or “parent-friendly.” She and event staff ultimately worked out a way for her to attend, but not before they received some useful yet “colorful” commentary from her about the event’s exclusivity, says Paller. “I pay attention to those opportunities to improve.”
Now, ETHDenver is the first and only ETHGlobal-affiliated event that provides free childcare for attendees. The tweet that first announced the news in early December got an exceptional amount of engagement for the otherwise fairly quiet ETHDenver Twitter account, with 56 retweets and 330 likes. ETHCapeTown replied, “We’ll be needing your expertise come April 2019.” Maybe ETHDenver is starting a trend.
Last year, according to Paller, only 21 percent of ETHDenver attendees were non-male (some identified as transgender or nonbinary). “Compared to less than five percent at your typical blockchain event, it was pretty damn good,” says Paller. Less than five percent sounds very low, but anecdotally, it rings true. A female colleague of mine recalls a perennially empty women’s restroom at the ETH SF hackathon she attended, and as a reporter, I’ve been one of very few women at multiple crypto industry events.
When asked whether he believes offering free childcare services will increase female attendance at ETHDenver, Paller says, “Yes, 100 percent. No doubt about it.” He was surprised to learn that a handful of people would be traveling from out of town with their children because of the offering. “We thought it would be local folks who would take advantage of it,” he says.
It’s not only women who’ve been asking about childcare at ETHDenver; one of the VIP speakers is a single father on “child duty” during this year’s event, which takes place from February 15 through 17. And it should be noted that childcare, while often seen as a “women’s issue” is decidedly not, since parents come in both genders. That said, the effort is part of an overall attempt to increase diversity at the hackathon. Paller counted “five or six” different “diversity outreach partners” working with ETHDenver to get a wider range of attendees in 2019, but it hasn’t been easy to attract new demographics.
“What we found was the bigger you go, the harder it is to keep up the ratio with the women, because there just aren’t as many women involved in the technical side of blockchain development,” he says. (Last year’s event had about 1,500 attendees; this year’s so far has more than 2,000 registered.) “The goal this year was 30 percent [non-male attendees],” says Paller, “but if we hit 25 percent, that’ll be great.”
Free childcare at a more than 2,000-person event full of multiple speakers, activities, food trucks, and distracted coders seems like a logistical nightmare. To make this doable, ETHDenver is using a licensed childcare provider called Nanno, which organizers came across during Denver Startup Week. Paller expects Nanno to look after between 25 and 35 kids each day in an area attached to ETHDenver’s venue, the Denver Sports Castle. Lunch will come from the many food trucks shilling pizza, tacos, and sushi throughout the event.
“There is not an age restriction on the childcare per se,” Hannah Oreskovich, ETHDenver’s communications steward, tells BREAKER, “but we are encouraging youth 13-plus to join our Apprentio workshop, which is a nonprofit that works with youth education in blockchain.” The workshop will take place on the last two days of the hackathon, and kids ages 13 through 17 will be invited to participate in scavenger hunts with cryptocurrency awards and learn from people involved with organizations like Women4Blockchain, CryptoKitties, BlockGeeks, CryptoChicks, and UNICEF Ventures.
Hackathons (or “buidlthons,” in this case) go for days at a time, and free childcare at ETHDenver only goes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. To make it easier on parents, buidlthon participants who are staying nearby with their kids will be allowed to go back to their hotels overnight and continue coding/buidling there.
Ultimately, it’s the cost of childcare that can prove most prohibitive for parents hoping to attend multi-day events like ETHDenver, where this year corporate sponsors will cover the cost. “Look, I’m married, I’ve got two kids,” says Paller. “If you look at what a sitter would cost [for the duration of ETHDenver], we’d pay $200 out of our budget.”