This past weekend, June 23-24, marked the inaugural run of the WeRise Women in Tech Conference in Atlanta, GA. The conference was hosted by the ATL chapter of Women Who Code, a “global non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers” (source). It was attended by 400+ people of all colors, backgrounds, and variants of humanity. I had the pleasure of not only attending the conference, but also speaking at the conference.
This was my first women-focused conference.
I was skeptical.
And I was very pleasantly impressed.
As a long-time lady programmer, I’m accustomed to and even comfortable with my place in a male-dominated field. In high school & college, I was always one of the few females in my math and science courses, but I was okay with that. In fact, in many ways, I was comfortable & happy. Guys didn’t expect much of me, and it was always fun to show them how good I was at this stuff. When I entered the professional IT world, I began to experience “light” discrimination due to my age and gender, but nothing that stopped me from moving forward. Either I didn’t experience overt gender bias or I wasn’t aware of it (perhaps I ignored it so as not to be consumed/ruled by it).
In fact, I have experienced bias throughout my career, but I have made great efforts never to let it get in the way of my forward progress. I’ve prided myself on my independence and my resulting success. It has been a challenge, but I have surrounded myself with men and women who are supportive and encouraging of my capabilities and endeavors, and left jobs when I hit the proverbial ceiling (glass or otherwise). It has been only recently that I’ve discovered the women-in-tech community, and have begun to appreciate what they have to offer.
This conference made me realize that is something to this “women supporting each other” thing.
My “ah-hah” moment on the diversity vs. inclusion definition came during a short keynote over lunch on day 1 by Scott Hanselman. He spoke for about 15 minutes on diversity & inclusion, and he really got to the heart of the difference when he pointed out that the Magic School Bus kids grew up to be the Captain Planet kids. He totally caught me off guard. Both groups of kids were diverse, but just because you have the right look does not mean you are inclusive.
Meaning…inclusion means you create a company/culture that values what diversity actually brings to the table: different voices, opinions, and experiences.
And this point resonated with me the rest of the conference.
The speaker line up was well-rounded and included people from all walks of life (men and women), and the attendees reflected a similar pattern. People from the LBGTQ community joined as well as people of color and a smattering of ages, experiences, and nationalities. It was amazing to meet so many different people with a passion not only for technology but the technologists themselves. Some people I met are just starting out their technology careers, while others have been in tech for a long time.
There were lots of talks about how to overcome imposter syndrome and how to make a place for yourself “at the table.” There were also some really great technical talks that didn’t have an overt empowerment focus, which I really appreciated (the technical part!). What I found most interesting, and most surprising, was that none of the talks came with a “she-woman, man-hating club” attitude. And I say that’s surprising not because this group is known for that type of behavior, but because SO MANY OTHER groups have a tendency to devolve into “she-woman man-hating” behavior, which is completely counter-productive to the women-in-tech movement.
I spent the bulk of 48 hours over Thursday night to Saturday night with women of all backgrounds, focuses, and goals. We shared struggles, differences, experiences, and quite a few laughs. I met Sandra who reminded me that even the slightest attention to aligning myself with a goal will get me closer (or maybe even hitting it directly!). I met Jamie who has a very different struggle as a transgender woman in the IT world, and pushes forward regardless of who might try to get in her way. I met Jen who has been paving the way for women like me to get better at pitching to VCs and growing the lady startup community. I met Safia who reminds me of me in my early 20s, putting herself out there and building things in her own way. I met Melinda, Stephanie, and countless others who are only starting their journeys, and who are hungry for success and need good mentors to help them grow. I met Sarah who is leading a community of women who code and growing that community. And I met Scott who has been a kind of role model for me since I started writing .Net in 2003…most importantly, I learned he’s a regular human being with his own struggles just like the rest of us.
Throughout the weekend, one thing united us — our love of tech and our support of each other in our tech endeavors. It was really incredible the motivation that I came home with. It is not to change the world, but to change my corner of the world.
Thank you, WeRise and Women Who Code ATL for putting this together.
I will be back.