HackForHer: Microsoft Hackathon targets ‘the world’s biggest emerging market’

 |   Jake Siegel

Sometimes it’s tough to wrap your mind around big numbers. Consider $18,000,000,000,000. That’s $18 trillion–and the projected income for women worldwide by 2018.

Still too abstract? To put that in context, the growth in income for women between now and 2018 represents twice the combined projected growth of India and China in the same timeframe.


That eye-opening stat helps illuminate why targeting girls and women can be smart business, said Christina Chen, general manager of the Emerging Devices Experiences team. But Microsoft, like most companies in the tech industry, could do a better job.

Enter the HackForHer initiative, part of Microsoft’s //oneweek Hackathon this year. It encourages all hackers to keep the needs and concerns of women and girls in mind as they tinker on their projects.

“HackForHer is an opportunity for creativity and self-expression on experiences that serve women and girls well,” said Chen, who is cosponsoring the initiative with Kiki Wolfkill, executive producer for Halo, and Emma Williams, general manager of design in Bing. “Women are the biggest emerging market, and I’m eager to beat our competitors by better serving this lucrative market segment.”

Chen and the other sponsors hope 1,000 employees participate in the initiative.

A lot of people think if they’re not software engineers, then hacking isn’t for them, Chen said. Not so.

“Code is great, but ideas are what matter,” she said. “Hacking is about coming together with people and quickly putting together creative solutions. Everyone at the company can and should hack.”

Some men might assume they don’t have any insight to offer, Chen said, but that’s another attitude she wants to change. “Men and women need to work together if Microsoft is going to successfully serve this enormous segment.”

Chen stresses that employees don’t need to scrap their existing ideas to join HackForHer. Just think about how they can make their project more inclusive. Say a team wants to improve communications when natural disasters strikes. Do it, she says, but consider specific concerns women and girls might have that men don’t.

Or perhaps a project involves location data from devices. It will already need to think about privacy and security. But it can gain a more targeted aspect by adding a lens thinking about the different concerns women might have with that location data.

“A HackForHer doesn’t have to be just for her,” Chen said. “By looking through the lens of how to better serve women and girls, we will come up with innovations that ultimately help everyone.”

Microsoft employees worldwide can participate in the initiative. In India, focusing on female customers isn’t new; employees have been working on the theme of “Code For Her” for four years, said Chitra Sood, director of strategy and business management in Microsoft India. Those efforts have spawned apps such as the Stipator, Coach Alfred, and Personal Emergency Profile, which are available on the Windows Store.

“HackForHer is a great opportunity to bring together the vibrancy of the growth hacking culture with looking at the needs of the potentially the largest emerging customer base in the world,” Sood said. “Last year we saw phenomenal participation in the Hackathon from India, and with great initiatives like this one, I am sure we will see a lot more.”

Microsoft’s internal Hackathon site already lists several HackForHer projects including Bias-Free Hiring and Skill Assessment, which aims to use technology to help Microsoft recruiters and hiring managers find the best candidates in the most bias-free way possible, and Dyslexicon, which aims to create a bridge to the world of written words for people who struggle at school or in the workplace with dyslexia.

Michelle Holtmann is the project organizer for both. She’s eager to get hacking again, having fallen in love with the experience of last year’s Hackathon.

“You get to work with people you may have never met before, dream big, then try to make it real,” said Holtmann, a principal program manager. “How cool is that?”

Jake Siegel
Microsoft News Center Staff