Nearly 200 people packed into OfferUp’s Bellevue office Tuesday evening to discuss an ongoing topic: Women in Tech. New Tech Northwest, a local online community and Meetup group started in 2013, led the discussion for the second time in as many months.

New Tech Northwest founder Brett Greene. Photo courtesy New Tech Northwest.

New Tech Northwest founder Brett Greene. Photo courtesy New Tech Northwest.

The tech community’s response to the event and discussion was positive, New Tech Northwest Founder Brett Greene said, adding “There’s a really good buzz. (We had) a lot of people register earlier, which is not usual. They usually wait until 24 hours before the event to signup,” Greene said.

Early registration numbers and sustained conversation online validated Greene’s hunch that there would be enough local interest to having open and frank conversation about gender and diversity in the workplace, and Greene said NTNW is working on future events to help satisfy that need.

“It’s a place to come and have that conversation with a lot of different people with different perspectives,” Greene said. “The more diverse voices you have in those conversations, and the more opportunities there are to have them, the quicker things move along to a better place for everybody.”

Presenters at Tuesday’s Eastside event included Maria Dykstra of TreDigital, Leslie Redd of LearnBIG,  David Andrews of Hack for Her, and Anna Steffeney from LeaveLogic.

Steffeney started the presentations with a poignant story about her experience with maternity leave in Germany. When he had her first child while living overseas, she received on year of mandated, government-paid leave, followed by three years of job-protected leave provided by her workplace. When she gave birth to her second child, she had returned to work in the United States and took three months of maternity leave offered by her employer.

The U.S. continues to be one of three countries worldwide that does not require paid parental leave.

It’s because of this experience Steffeney began LeaveLogic, a Seattle-based startup that offers internal and external options and resources for parental leave in one place, simplifying the process for soon-to-be moms and dads.

Steffeney pointed to poor parental-leave benefits as one fixable culprit of the gender pay gap.

“Reduce the pay gap by offering universal parental leave, and ensure men are taking paternity leave,” she said, explaining that one reason women are paid less than men for the same work is due to time spent away from work during child-bearing years. If men were to take paternity leave as women take maternity leave, the field would level considerably.

The night’s only male presenter, Hack for Her’s David Andrews, used quantitative data to argue moving away from products designed for women and gendered marketing tactics. Hack for Her is a new Microsoft-based initiative to build and design products with gender inclusiveness at the forefront, instead of retrofitting products for women.

Andrews pointed out that women control 75 percent of consumer spending, so leaving out the needs of women when it comes to design and functionality is just bad business.

“But essentialism doesn’t work,” Andrews said. “You must leave gender data intact to build a product that is good for everyone.”

Andrews said research shows men are more responsive to marketing that describes features as “latest-and-greatest,” and women are more interested in utility and how the product will make their lives easier. “So if you say, ‘This phone, with these megapixels and this storage, will allow you to zoom into the picture this far,’ that is gender inclusive.”

Overall, the event featured dynamic presentations, robust question-and-answer sessions, and positive feedback following the event and on social media.