Grace Hopper Celebration 2017

 

Some experiences gained and more thought given...

 

I attended the annual Grace Hopper Women in Computing Celebration 2 weeks ago. It definitely felt like a celebration with all the corporate afterparties with the endless free swag (thank you Google for the 3 free Google Homes).  Having the chance to physically meet and ask advice from women who are in a position you want to be in 5-10 years from now is invaluable.

After attending my first GHC last year, I felt like I saw things much clearer this time since the novelty of it all wore off. While everyone was enjoying building their own successes at the conference, I got analytical too.

Firstly, during the Wednesday morning keynote, there was a slide that showed gender pie charts of a few of Anita Borg Institute’s company partners like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google. Obviously the The speaker Diane Greene of Google Cloud pointed out that the difference between this year’s and last year’s percentage of women at these companies. First of all, I feel like there always needs to be a clarification of whether the women accounted for are truly engineers and women with technical skills or if the companies are covering their asses by including women in their HR department. I don’t have anything against women in HR but there have been many instances where companies shadily include more women in their reports.  And then the main question I had was if all these companies were partnering with ABI, how come there was little improvement? The keynote left me wondering what exactly are some of ABI’s initiatives and what are they planning to do to achieve better results next year?

Secondly, the recent event of ABI ending their partnership with Uber made me feel uncomfortable attending the conference. What is the value of these ABI partnerships when a company could get instantly dropped if they are experiencing tough times? AnitaB.org’s mission is to “learn more about the work we’re doing to help women in tech succeed.” But just how authentic are Anita Borg Institute initiatives to diversify the workforce? When Susan Fowler and other women went public about being harassed at work, ABI ended their Uber partnership. So how is that behavior a reflection of being a true ally to “programs who want to help women grow, learn, and develop their highest potential? How is ABI’s ignoring a partner’s problem and ending the relationship supporting their mission statement of helping women in tech succeed? If anything, it would turns making accusations into an even more difficult internal ordeal since the victims would be affecting their women coworkers. Uber was not allowed to participate in this year’s conference, which meant that remaining women Uber employees were excluded in representing themselves at a conference that supposedly genuinely promotes women in tech. How is silencing any woman in tech a step in the right direction? From what I gather, it seems like ABI can’t be bothered to get their hands dirty to help other women in more difficult situations have a better tech experience and career.

Lastly, how is charging an arm and a leg for a ticket helping diversify the women in the workforce and giving women more opportunities? Sometimes the women who’ve gone through more shit than others have less resources but are just as (if not more) inspirational with their personal stories and advice. Why do strong women need to pay so much to spread inspiration or be inspired? Gayle McDowell, author of Cracking the {Coding Interview, PM Interview, Tech Career}, wrote a piece about her decision of not speaking at GHC because she had to pay for herself. Where’s the accessibility to inclusion? Why not be more socioeconomically diverse, since thats is a primary influencer of tech experiences? 

The main problem ABI is trying to overcome is to make tech more accessible to women “in general”. But they need to put more effort towards including women who come from different backgrounds. Everyone knows that the problem is that voices and perspectives from a women are not as loud or magnifying in tech as white cis males in tech. But taking it one step further, the voices and perspectives from women of different unique backgrounds are even less loud and aren’t magnified enough.

At the end of the day, ABI does provide a platform that celebrates and inspires women in tech. However, that platform is a bit hypocritical, exclusive, and not transparent enough. I think its healthy to ask ourselves if this is the best we can do. Because of where my passion is leading me, I doubt I’ll attend another GHC soon and instead, I hope to be a part of the Women in Product conference next year.