Two years ago, Lin Classon was attending a tech conference when she discovered the one perk of gender inequality in the tech industry: empty bathrooms. She took to Twitter, saying “Something serious for 1sec. Every ladies room I’ve been in was near empty. Although I’m grateful for the gender inequality that affords me quiet, empty bathrooms at these conferences, I’d take a long line at ladies room instead for a change… I’ve taken so many pictures of empty ladies rooms and selfies at these conferences. It was funny, sardonic for a while. It’s getting more and more like tired news though. We could do better.”
That tweet inspired hybrid IT solutions provider Ensono, where Classon is director of public cloud product, to conduct a report about women’s experiences at tech conferences. The results are dismal. One in four women experience sexual harassment at tech conferences. Only 25 percent of keynote speeches in the last three years have been made by a woman. Seventy percent of women who have been on panels at a conference were the only women on the panel.
While some tech conferences are trying to create more inclusive spaces for all technologists, there’s still a long way to go. In the meantime, at least there’s Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), a yearly gathering of women (including transgender and non-binary) technologists put on by AnitaB.org. The event is currently taking place in Orlando, FL until October 4th.
The event is named for Grace Hopper, a rear admiral in the US Navy who invented the first compiler in 1952. This led to the creation of the COBOL programming language, which was one of the first high-level programming languages.
Without Grace Hopper’s contributions, programming as we know it today wouldn’t exist. “Admiral Hopper broke down walls in part by simply acting as if those walls didn’t exist,” said Dr. Rebecca Parsons, CTO of ThoughtWorks and member of AnitaB.org’s Board of Trustees. “She was her own person and refused to be defined by others and their expectations of her.”
Kesha Williams, AWS ML Hero, Alexa Champion, and Technical Instructor at A Cloud Guru, believes that GHC can be defined in one word: “empowering.”
“Where else can you find so many women software engineers, technical leads, and senior executives coming together to talk about what we do with technology and sharing our lessons learned? Nowhere! GHC is structured to enable women to gain career guidance, technical knowledge and application of that knowledge in the real world, and to build and foster professional networks,” said Williams.
According to Williams, Grace Hopper Celebration will be a four day event this year, making it longer than it was in previous years. First day events included the First Timer’s Orientation, Career Fair Hall Crawl, and the keynote session and other sessions, she explained.
The event also features mentoring circles. According to Williams, who will be a mentor this year, these allow attendees to get “one-on-one advice with an industry expert in small groups of 10.” There are 66 mentors this year corresponding to a particular topic, she explained. “Attendees choose a topic, sit at the corresponding table and chat with a mentor for 20 minutes. Every 20 minutes, attendees switch tables and chat with a different mentor on a different topic. It’s sort of like ‘speed dating’ but for technology concepts!”
Williams recommends that anyone in a STEM field who has “ever felt alone, isolated, or like you are the minority in your classes, office meetings, or software teams,” should attend as there will be thousands of women there with those same experiences.
“Women/non-binary technologists should attend GHC because it is the largest gathering of its kind in the world and there is no other experience quite like it,” said Parsons. “Spending four days soaking in educational sessions on both career issues and technology, and mingling with other talented technologists will leave you inspired and empowered. And you’ll discover new connections that may last a lifetime.”
For first-time attendees, Williams offers up some advice to help them get the most out of the event:
- Pre-register for the sessions you want to attend, as popular sessions will fill up quickly
- Add your resume to the GHC resume database in addition to bringing printed copies to the event
- Also, bring professional looking clothes in the event that you’re offered an interview at the event
- Bring an extra bag for swag
Hear from these women in technology about what their experiences at the event have been like and what it meant:
Imris Curry, computational mathematics major at RIT and a leader in RIT’s Women in Computing organization
“Last year was my first time at Grace Hopper, and I just remember being in awe of the spectacle. Thousands of women gathered to celebrate computing, with companies pulling out all the stops to build giant booths at the career fair. I was certainly overwhelmed, but I was also inspired by all the positive, uplifting messages around the conference. I had the opportunity to interview for and eventually get job opportunities with companies I likely wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise…I have attended other conferences, and Grace Hopper stands out above the rest in its positive messaging. The conference is not just about tech, but also about uplifting its attendees. It builds community in a way I don’t usually see other conferences do.”
Nancy Wang, co-founder and CEO at AWIP and head of product management at Amazon Web Services (AWS)
“Grace Hopper has become a mecca for technologies, diversity advocates, and corporations who are looking to draw from the well of collective talent. This year, I am honored to join leaders from GitHub, Heroku, and Facebook as speakers on a panel that will explore ‘Building Products for Developers.’ As one of the more underrepresented fields among tech (which itself is underrepresented), the infrastructure and dev tools space is one that is ripe for more inclusion. As a woman of color myself, I want to see the next generation of technical product managers at Amazon Web Services comprising of more women.
I look forward to participating in the Senior Leadership Track this year at GHC, which is a focus group that the executive women of GHC put together to create community and foster nextgen leaders. Recently, I have been asked by Amazon Web Services leadership to foster more D&I initiatives, and this will be a great forum for me to gain best practices from other corporate leaders.”
Gail Frederick, VP of Mobile and Developer Ecosystem, GM of eBay Portland
“For me, Grace Hopper is one of the most exciting times of the year. We are celebrating women in technology, and we are inviting a growing number of young women professionals into our ranks. Recruiting talent at the event is invigorating and rewarding for me as a tech leader. When I started in tech, there wasn’t a conference like this that I could attend that would encourage me, mentor me or connect me with larger companies – I had to figure it out on my own. Grace Hopper is different than other conferences, it has a strong focus on inclusion through mentoring, workshops and even senior management panels to help educate and grow our future technologists. It’s a privilege to be invited to this conference year after year, having eBay’s men and women continuing to drive diversity initiatives for the company and the industry.”
Ya Xu, head of data science at LinkedIn
“GHC is a celebration of all women technologists, whether they’re still in school or are seasoned veterans. There’s always something new to learn for each and every attendee—not every tech conference is so relevant to such a wide range of experience levels. One of my favorite GHC memories is helping a college student who stopped by our LinkedIn booth one year. She was interested in pursuing a career in data science, but was majoring in a different discipline. Together, we worked to chart out the courses and experience she would need to make the transition. I really enjoy the environment where I can have conversations like that, and then have my very next discussion be about mid-career management challenges with a senior engineer. It’s a great opportunity for us to all learn from people with different experience levels and interests.”
Kesha Williams, AWS ML Hero, Alexa champion, and technical instructor at A Cloud Guru
“In an industry where women tend to be the minority, imagine attending a tech event where you are the majority? An event that at its core celebrates a woman pioneer in the computer programming industry, Grace Hopper. An event where you will see women technologists innovating, creating, and driving change and growth in their organizations in a major way. I believe the true impact of GHC is that is has the ability to change how you see yourself, your career, and your overall existence as a woman in tech. You will no longer see yourself as a minority! You will see yourself as a CEO, CTO, VP, or a startup founder, and you will know that you are not alone. I find it very empowering to see thousands of women in tech; the experience can cause you to walk away with an increased sense of belonging and a renewed excitement for computer science and the future of tech.”
Neeha Bollepalli, technical lead at PROS
“I attended Grace Hopper Conference (GHC) for the first time last year and was blown away. The number one thing I noticed which made GHC stand apart from other tech conferences that I have attended in the past (O’Reilly Fluent Conference, QCon, NFJS) were the number of women and the diversity among them. I could see myself in the attendees, presenters, organizers and at once I felt understood and that I belonged.
The presenters ranged from college students, career beginners, seasoned professions, tech leaders to mom entrepreneurs. I could relate to them in so many ways, being a tech lead at my own workplace and a mom of 2 young children. I noticed these women came from very similar background as I did and were breaking barriers and leading the world in technology. They inspired me to do more and speak louder. I resolved to try harder at work and made a goal to become a GHC presenter in 2019.”
Frances Jurek, software engineer at PROS
“The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) is extraordinary. The first day begins with a stadium full of people in technology from all over the globe – and nearly all of them are women. To be literally surrounded by over 20,000 inspiring and inquisitive women is energizing. The three days are packed with fascinating presentations ranging from emerging tech to navigating your career path, yet the atmosphere is completely different than other tech conferences. Besides being far more diverse in more ways than simply gender, the vibe is more friendly, less competitive, and more about raising each other up to even higher levels. It’s a remarkable experience that’s difficult to put into words.
At both work and my daily tech life, I often think back to something I have learned at GHC. Whether it’s sharing what I learned about accessibility on the web, or how Google Safe Browsing is helping protect us, or even how to transform self-criticism into self-encouragement, the Grace Hopper Celebration has greatly impacted both my career and my life.”
Dolly Singh, head of talent innovation at ServiceTitan
“This year, at GHC19, I’ve been given the distinct honor of speaking for a select group of roughly 400 executive female leaders. These women are coming from all four corners of the globe to celebrate themselves, their peers and the progress of women in the world as a whole. I can’t help but feel like these interactions and opportunities are even more critical in the current political climate, when parts of the world appear to be moving backwards. It’s even more critical that we channel our voices and resist any attempts to defile our progress. My hope will be to bring energy to the women to whom I’m lucky enough to present to and take energy from all the amazing women I will hear from and meet.
The mathematical equation for Power is Energy divided by Time (P = E/T); GHC creates a space for us to bring together the energy (E) from thousands of remarkable women, and packing it into a dense time (T) and place, giving us collectively more power (P) than we could ever have alone. That is the true legacy of Grace Hopper, beyond her brilliance and her grit. She is not just an icon, but a reminder of our potential and our power as women; a power that is exponentially more powerful when we pool our networks and resources, and when we are committed allies and advocates for one another.”