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How an all-women engineering team is helping hotels through COVID-19

A team of women engineers from hotel revenue management company Duetto recently won the Women Hack the Crisis event for their hotel concept that connects those in need with places to stay.

The event, hosted by the Expat Woman and billed as a global all-women virtual hackathon, was designed to address the gender gap in technology (only 20% of hackathon participants are women) and help find solutions to challenges women are facing now and after the COVID-19 crisis.

Of the 10 teams across 11 time zones, Duetto’s team of five engineers took first place for Hotel Haven, a platform that enables companies and donors to “gift a room” to women and those in need due to the coronavirus crisis.

Hotels can sign up to show they have availability, and donors can gift rooms to individuals who have signed up for support.

Jessica Clayton, Duetto senior product manager, says the Hotel Haven idea was inspired by a former Duetto customer who was interested in partnering with local organizations. “We’d been hearing stories about hospital workers who were sleeping in garages because they didn’t want to go back to their families, but simultaneously, they couldn’t necessarily afford a hotel room for an unbeknownst period of time,” she says.

“We were trying to think of ways we could help out, and that inspired the idea of a donation-based approach.”

Clayton believes Duetto’s concept stood out in the competition because the team was able to pull together a live demo in just one week. “The technical team we have is fantastic, and these women did not sleep … to create new databases to be able to actually run through a live, functional coding demo.”

Sabrina Jackson, director, product management at Duetto, says it also helped that the concept was simple. “[For hackathons], it has to be something that in two minutes, it can be easily explained and people really understand the purpose.”

Jackson says that while Hotel Haven is still in the concept phase, the team is starting to connect with various women’s groups as well as potential hotel partners to develop a proof of concept.

“This wasn’t about making money, this wasn’t about trying to profit from this,” she says. “It was truly just figuring out how we can connect these hotels that are desperate to bring in people in for the right reasons, these people who may not have the means right now or even know that’s an option.”

Advancing women in tech

Clayton says the hackathon experience was “extremely inspiring” because it paired a panel of well-known all-women judges with women across the globe working together on a project.

She says that since the competition, she’s connected with many participants to discuss women in technology and career paths, which is an important step toward fixing the gender imbalance that exists in travel and technology.

According to multiple studies, having women in leadership positions at technology companies is associated with better team dynamics, stronger financial performance, greater productivity and increased innovation. Yet, according to Deloitte, just 14% of executive-level technology jobs are held by women.

Jackson adds: “The more that women see female leaders in positions, the more they’ll be able to see themselves getting there. I think as we start to see that shift, we see more women getting into the C-suite and you’ll see more women participating and getting into these fields.”

Both Clayton and Jackson believe education at a younger age is critical to getting more women involved in fields like computer science and technology, and part of recruiting women into those areas comes down to how courses are marketed.

“I went to a college that was known for studying language, yet computer science was not considered part of the language suite,” Clayton says.

“I love languages, and I remember taking my first Python course through Hackbright Academy years later and realizing it was just another language I could have learned alongside my Spanish classes. … It’s called ‘computer science,’ and you know, I didn’t like chemistry. I look at Python, and it’s definitely a language. It’s something I can make and build.”

Jackson says that regarding the hackathon, Duetto was supportive of the project and initiative. “The feedback we’ve received and the response we’ve gotten from this simple idea has been amazing,” she says.

“We were truly coming at this from the [perspective] of, we want to bring some positivity somewhere. So hopefully something good comes out of it.”

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