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We asked Zuzana Kunckova about the story behind Larabelles and discussed the importance and meaning of diversity and inclusivity within the Laravel community with a number of cast members, including Jess Archer, Diana Scharf, Matt Stauffer and Laravel creator, Taylor Otwell.
So historically, the programing world has been primarily male and primarily white, especially in the US. And so what we have to do intentionally is say, “If we believe that that’s not the way it should be, if it should be open and accessible to everybody, that means we have to do really intentional work to make this change.”
The good news is there are people in the Laravel community who are actively trying to make a change, and it goes from organizers like people like Taylor. Also Ian Landsman, who runs a lot of the Laravel conferences really going out of their way to try to find speakers who aren’t just from the same traditional set of people we’ve also had.
There’s also a lot of people who are doing this work from the ground up as Zuzana Kunckova from Larabelles is a fantastic example because she found herself a woman in a primarily male space and said, “You know what, I bet I’m not the only one. I want to find other people I can connect with.” And so she made an intentional space for women and non-binary and trans developers to be able to be celebrated, to be supported and to have a network of connection.
I was looking for communities, so I like the Twitter community, but because I was a woman and I was quite older, I felt older than the other people, potentially, so I wasn’t like even me getting into tech, I started quite late.
I wasn’t one of those people that started as a teenager. I know young people getting, you know, learning how to code know. I started to code when I was 35 or 36 even. So, I was kind of looking for something, you know, I would have something in common with other people.
I wanted to hear the stories of people who started learning this framework and maybe they were in the same situation like, I was. Like having small children changing career later in life. But I couldn’t find anything, so I couldn’t find any Laravel ladies or nothing like that.
So I actually asked on Twitter once if there is some community for women Laravel developers that I haven’t found yet. And I was told, “No, there isn’t one. And why don’t I create one?”
But that was back when I was really, I knew Laravel for about three months at that point, and I wouldn’t consider myself a Laravel developer that point at all. So I was like, “Who am I to make a community? I mean, I know nothing.” But so I didn’t.
But it was always at the back of my mind, and it stayed there for about two years that I was expecting somebody else to make one. I was genuinely expecting somebody to come up with the idea and say, “OK, I’ve created community for women or for parents or something, and I would just join.”
But nobody did that. So for two years, it was kind of brewing in the back of my mind. And I run it by my friends and they all said, “Make one, do it!” I was like, “Well, I’m hardly a Laravel developer. Who am I to make a community like, I don’t know. I’ve never I’ve never made a community before. I don’t know what it means. What do I do?”
And I just said, like, “Just start on Twitter. See what people say. Make it a simple website and take it from there.”
So this is what I did like after two years of like thinking about it but doing nothing about it. Then I made the website in a day and Twitter account, and then I just went public. And I remember that day I was just thinking because I had like 300 followers on Twitter, like hardly anyone knew me. I was like, “If somebody just likes the post, that would be great. Maybe somebody replies, that would be a great success.”
But on the day, what happened is that it just went crazy. Like it was the perfect Twitter storm.
And I remember just sitting at home and thinking, “Oh no, what have I done?” Like, I did not expect – Honestly, I thought if I a few people comment, that would be great. But at the end of the day, it was, yeah, that day was crazy.
The conversation that started because of me announcing Larabelles, it was so eye- opening. So we had lots of people that supported us and encouraged us.
But there were also people who were questioning “Why doing the community for women, why do you need to like…. What’s the point? Why are you breaking up a perfectly good community?” So there were people who wonder, why would I be doing it? And they didn’t see the benefit and they saw more of it like a disadvantage. Like you are, you are separating group of people. And, you know, instead of uniting community, you are breaking it up. So that was eye opening for me because, well, I saw the benefit because I was really building Larabelles for myself, first of all.
But it was interesting to see or read what other people had to say about it and why they thought it wasn’t needed. And because of this conversation, it kind of helped me to focus my attention on certain things.
Some people would say, “Oh, we never, you know, our company’s emplying women, they never have any problems or they could get jobs like, what are you talking about?” It was interesting to see that this was somebody’s of experience, but other people would say, “Yeah, but I, you know, I am a woman and I find it hard to find a job. And even if I do find a job and then I’m the only woman in the company of 20 men and it’s not always comfortable.” So I think the first milestone was to that first day, that huge conversation that I read all the replies and kind of took note of what I would like to address.
Eventually. And then I went on to start the newsletter.
I think what Zuzana is doing with the Larabelles community is really, really good thing. I think it’s it’s definitely made me aware of that there’s more women in the community than I knew about. And I think it’s encouraged a lot of women to join.
I do remember when when she started the community, there were some members in the in the wider Laravel community that, you know, said, “We don’t need this. Like why? Why do you need a women only group in there?”
And I think they were kind of missing the point of what that helped bring. Ultimately, no community would need a special kind of minority mini group within the main group like its kind of, you know, it’d be nice if we didn’t have to have that.
But having those things is how we get enough women to where we don’t actually need those communities anymore. Do you know what I mean? So, yeah, I think like Larabelles and everything Zuzana is doing is it’s fantastic, and I really just hope to see it, you know, keep growing and growing.
To have a community for me about people like me, I think the reason I found it important was there is a lot of so there aren’t that many women developers or if there are, there are not very public, not on Twitter. So I couldn’t find any. I think when I was looking, I found two.
So I found Samantha Geitz, that I mentioned earlier, and I found Jess Archer. So these were two women developers that I found. And I was actively looking for, you know, somebody else. And I couldn’t find anyone.
So I thought it’s either that there aren’t that many or that there, but they’re hiding, they’re not very public and I want it. I didn’t want to be the minority. I wanted to have more people. I wanted to share my story with others. I wanted to read other people’s stories. I wanted to know it’s possible to be a woman in tech because back then it didn’t feel that possible.
Not because anyone would be stopping me, but because I just didn’t see women there. So I thought, “If there aren’t that many women developers, why not? What is the problem? Does it mean that it’s not for us? Or does it mean it’s like companies don’t hire women developers? What is it?”
First of all, I looked for people who worked with Laravel and then I want to give them the community so we can chat to each other and if you need help and if you maybe don’t want to ask publicly, there are people you can ask privately, so support.
The next step will be to have mentors, or to be a mentor. So if you are a Larabelle and you want to mentor somebody else, somebody who’s maybe just beginning, I want that to be the opportunity for each other, so that we will help each other.
But I think that if we want to make a difference, we want to bring more people into Laravel. So the next thing I’m going to be focussing on is maybe bringing more people maybe even new developers into Laravel.
The Larabelles movement is important because of course, you can say, “Yeah, if you have to want to be equal to everyone else, why have this Larabelles thing that is not for everyone?” But I think it’s still hard if you’re a woman or non-binary or trans to get into tech isn’t the same as a white guy, let’s say.
So maybe you say, “OK, I’m a woman and I will have a hard time at a company” and then you get empowered by all the other people that made it in Larabelles.
And the second one about Larabelles is we’re visible like, “Hello, we are trans and women, people and non-binary people, and we are there. We exist and we do tech or development like everybody else. There is no difference.”
“If I am a woman or not, I can do the same thing. I can be like, really good at what I do and I can be competent.” And I think as soon as we have like full equality for everyone, you won’t need anything like Larabelles anymore.
But I think we have a long way to go to until then.
To be fair, I was a little bit worried at the beginning that I wouldn’t find that many people, especially when we got quite public, people started talking about us and I would get emails from companies saying, “Oh, what can we do?”
I was like, “I hope I can prove to you that there is more of us.” But back in my mind, there was this little voice saying, “What if there aren’t and what am I going to do if I can only find like five women? And that’s it. What’s going to happen?”
And luckily, and I’m so grateful that I have been able to find all these women. So 20 so far and I’ve got more lined up. So that’s to me, is a huge success.
And I think just them asking these questions, this is a great step forward. So that’s that’s a huge milestone to me that I think kind of I don’t want to say that I did it, but I think by me creating creating Larabelles, it’s inspired people to have these conversations among themselves to maybe look around their companies say, “OK, why don’t we have that many women here? What’s happened? What can we do differently to maybe encourage more women to apply?” Because having more not just women, but having more diverse, uh, company, it’s better for the company is better for the product.
So that will benefit everyone.
So for me, those conversations and these companies and individuals approaching me, for me, that’s again, another huge milestone, because that means that people are now talking about it. And I believe that once we start talking about it, it can only improve.
And one thing that I’ve noticed, which was really great to see, is that the latest Laracon online, which happened in September, there were six women speakers and that was the most women speakers there were at any Laracon. And that’s been going on for I don’t know how many years. So that was I mean, again, I don’t want to say that it’s thanks to Larabelles. But I think at least partly it might be because now women have a place to talk and have a place that they can come to for support.
I think it’s always been a passion of mine for Laravel to be open to anyone because Laravel started as a project that was maybe not the norm.
So I think I’ll always have a soft spot for diversity and including people that may not be traditionally included in programing ecosystems because I feel like that’s really at the beginning of Laravel. So things like Larabelles initiative to get women more involved in the Laravel ecosystem, to get minorities more involved in the Laravel ecosystem is always going to have a special place in my heart. Because Laravel, it’s always been for everybody and it’s been, especially for people who may not fit in, like in the traditional programing ecosystems like that. It’s always is going to resonate with me because it goes back to the very beginning of Laravel sort of being something that doesn’t fit in the traditional story of what a framework is supposed to look like in PHP.
Laravel embraces diversity simply by encouraging people being nice to each other. And I think that’s that’s at the beginning of everything. People need to be kind to each other and respect each other.
I’m a woman. And I was changing careers later in life, so I was a parent as well. I had other responsibilities. I am a Muslim, I am a covered Muslim. So all these things invite comments from people and the fact that I felt comfortable talking to people on Twitter within the community, I think it speaks a lot about what the people are like because they never make me feel any less for anything like nobody ever commented anything about my hijab. Nobody said anything about my religion. People are just kind to each other.
And I think this is very important if we want to invite more people or if we want the larger community to be diverse, this is exactly what we need to do. We need to make people feel comfortable for whoever they are.
It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what you like. We are all here. We work with the same framework and we are going to respect each other and be kind to each other.
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