Women, Technology & Grace

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Women, Technology & Grace

GHC 2015 -- Houston Texas
Grace Hopper Celebration 2015

Just the break I needed ... attending the Grace Hopper Celebration seemed like the perfect place to get inspired

Oh man, was I ever ready for a break. I had spent the last thirty years trying to figure out what to be when I grew up. And now, here I was ... with a chance to be what I wanted to be. I'd always wanted to be a mouse in an IT guy's shirt pocket, watching and learning and doing cool stuff with technology. (Notice my reference to "an IT guy," we'll come back to that later.) Well, I AM that IT girl. Now what the heck do I do?

When I looked into the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) it seemed like the perfect place to get inspired and uncover career roles that might drive my passion. It could help me find my fit in the tech world and learn things I might bring back to our team at Infinity Interactive. The Grace Hopper Celebration is a production of the Anita Borg Institute that celebrates women in computing and envisions a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies they build it for. Seemed like a good place to start.

Walking out of the airport, I was taken aback by the thousands of women, of all ages, from all over the world. All of us headed to the same destination, GHC. It was the inverse of my normal daily environment where male employees outnumber the female employees 26 to 2. As I waited for my taxi, I overheard two women laughing and talking about the airline steward who came up to one of them and whispered into her ear, "Can you tell me what is going on here? We can't stop talking about it. It is like a mass exodus of women. Where are you all going?" Such excitement and commotion. Everyone around was ready to go wherever we were all going. Houston was being invaded.

What Stood Out To Me

When we assembled on the first day our number grew to over 11,000 women and a few male allies waiting to be inspired. We were. Truly great inspiration.

Grace Hopper Mosaic by Charis Tsevis
Grace Hopper Mosaic by Charis Tsevis

Like when Clara Shih (CEO & Founder of Hearsay Social) presented. You felt the pulse of the room quicken with everyone focused, listening as she imparted wisdom. She called us all to march right alongside her in the effort - for each of us to choose to help one person. To be bold enough. To step up and own the challenge. The future is up to us.

Blake Irving (CEO at GoDaddy) gave a transparent & engaging speech on their company's progress towards gender balance and pay equality. Particularly the "ah-ha moment" they had in response to charges of objectifying women in their ads. As GoDaddy mapped a plan for change, they realized they were advertising to the wrong audience. The majority of their target customers are women entrepreneurs. As Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Hopper is quoted as saying, "the most dangerous phrase in the language is, 'we've always done it this way.'" Lesson learned.

I admired the calm commanding way that Megan Smith (US CTO in the Office of Science and Technology Policy) brought her team onto the stage with her, encouraging them to each share how they are embracing technology and the impacts they are each making at the helm of technology within our government. She referenced Meryl Streep's UNH commencement speech, talking about "The New Chivalry - which could be a new hash tag - it's when men do awesome things to support women." Noting that male allies for women in tech are crucial, and that the 21st century "is all about together", which is indeed so true.

Finally, one moment that deeply touched me was during "The Mentor's Call: A Heroic Response to Women Leaving Technology." Diane Dowdell (Critical Thinking Instructor at Rackspace) received a standing ovation after giving her presentation. She asked if she could take a picture of all of us, applauding her, because her momma would be so proud to see it. And we continued to applaud her. Among the wisdom she imparted on us, this I remember clearly, was that we need to think differently. Passing knowledge is powerful, "It creates an army of leaders and supporters."


There were so many great topics, discussions and presentations; it is hard to share them all. Here are some simple calls to action and a few tidbits worth sharing that made it to my notepad:

Infinity GH Posse
Infinity Interactive has a GH posse

  • Two powerful questions to ask yourself & give you permission to lead:
    • "If not me, then who?"
    • "If not now, then when?"
  • Look at your career as an evolution - be purposeful, step to the left out of your comfort zone
  • Relationships are thoughtful investments
  • Be mindful
    • Know yourself, be yourself, be true to yourself
    • Be comfortable in your own skin
    • Be authentic
  • Make better mistakes tomorrow
  • Test your perception, it may be skewed
  • And most of all, ignore that crazy roommate in your head. The one always giving negative feedback and making you feel like an impostor

Now What To Put Into Play Back Home - "Everything"

I am back at my office feeling blessed because of the team I work with at Infinity Interactive: I have many male allies and supporters. Yes, we sometimes think differently and have spirited debates, but that's what happens when you have a team of individuals with unique histories and backgrounds. I may not have totally figured out my exact spot to land in the world of technology, but that is quite okay because I enjoy diversity in my role, and know that together, anything is possible.

I felt so inspired to not only share the information I gathered while at GHC with our team, but to share it even further. With whomever will listen. This is where the "IT guy" remark comes into play. I too had unconscious biases. Most IT professionals I know are men. I need to reprogram my brain to be consciously aware of how these biases, if not checked, can affect how I perceive things, the decisions I make, and my interactions.

We can all start here. Let's change and influence a future where both men and women are recognized equally for the roles they play in shaping our futures, and acknowledging them for the efforts in our history (thank you Megan Smith). Not just here in the technology industry, but in all industries. At home, in schools, with our children. Everywhere.

Wondering Where To Start?

We can all improve the diversity of our workforce, and gender is only one aspect. A simple way to begin is by incorporating some suggestions made by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) to improve our hiring processes, such as:

  • Check for any unconscious bias we might have in our workplace - we can start by reviewing the language used in job placement descriptions
    • Pay close attention to the imbalance of masculine and feminine language in your hiring descriptions (superlatives or extreme modifiers)
      • High-powered
      • Results-driven
      • Action-oriented
      • People person
    • Simplify the language and remove unnecessary language and required criteria that is not necessary to start the job
    • Remove gender specific pronouns (manpower, chairman) and add criteria to open to a wider range of candidates. That can be as simple as changing "5 years' experience required" to "3-5 years' experience required" adding greater flexibility of applicants
    • Reformat the job description layout combining bullets to shrink up long lists, making it easier to read and absorb
      • Management Skills: Communication, Presentation and Relational Skills
  • If we rely on referrals for hiring, then we need to be deliberate in making referral suggestions, as our circles often resemble us and are not always diverse

Would I Attend Again?

Sheila Faulkner - #FacesInTech

I came away from GHC feeling inspired, enlightened, and motivated to sift through all I learned and heard while at the celebration and get to the nitty-gritty of what it was that was pressing me to share my experience. I was happy when I realized that this is one of those moments when you know things need to improve and that it was within my reach to do something. Even if only in small increments. To share what I learned. To help someone. To change the way we see things within our often narrow focus. To see things like Anita Borg, "envisioning a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies they build it for.” Such an exciting thing, how could I not want to be a part of it?

If the same holds true for me in 2016, and I want to:

  • Be inspired
  • Get in on the knowledge transfer
  • Succeed in a male dominated workforce
  • Influence more diversity in the field of science and technology
  • Learn more about industry standards, best practices, what other scientists are doing and meet them face to face
  • & experience the ”new chivalry” so I can pass it on

Then my answer is yes. Maybe I will see you in Houston Texas for GHC 2016.

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