Tired of the Excuses? Throw Diversity-in-Tech Assumptions Out the Door at #LWTSummit
“I love walking into a room where nobody looks like me,” said Lisa Davis of Citigroup during her talk “How to Leverage Your Most Compelling Advantages” at the third annual Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco last week.
Flying in the face of the awkwardness many of us have adopted when we’re “the only whatever it is in the room,” it was just one of the many assumptions challenged during the four-day oversold event boasting a record-breaking over 1500 attendees.
And I needed it. I countered this exact sentiment in a recent film in which I admitted that I’m often not sure if it’s ok to be out as a lesbian in technology. Such self-censorship comes at a tremendous loss to freedom and creativity personally, for business, and for us all. The Lesbians Who Tech Summit is a conference that removes that entire burden and serves as a revelation and a liberation.
Kara Swisher, afternoon keynote and long-time Silicon Valley commentator at Re/code, challenged us even further (as is her way). She suggested there is, in fact, no such thing as unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is the term often used to rationalize why well-meaning homogeneous groups of people don’t tend to choose diversity while hiring.
“There’s nothing unconscious about it,” she said. “If you’re ten white men at Twitter and you didn’t notice, you’re [insert expletive],” a reference to Twitter’s flap last fall over the mostly-white-male makeup of its board (a situation they’ve been working on transforming ever since).
“They sit around and feel bad, and they never do anything about it,” she continued, referring mostly to the homogeneous crowd of tech founders and board members in Silicon Valley and beyond, but homogeneity – let’s be clear — especially in higher levels — is a problem most tech companies share, apparently helpless to effect meaningful and lasting change.
So let’s talk about what we CAN do. If this is a situation you want to transform, here are three things you can do, all insights from the last few days at the Summit:
Leverage your compelling advantages.
Recast your role, like Lisa Davis, who loves being in a room where nobody looks like her. Only woman in the room? Only queer? Only person of color, differently-abled, differently-aged, differently-sized or gendered or anything else? Make that your absolute strength. This goes for everyone. We all have a freak-flag to fly, even if you feel you’re the straightest, whitest person in the room. Fly it.
Look outside your tribe.
If this speaker list does not look like any tech conference you’ve ever been to, it is living proof that you do not need to accept excuses. We’re here. During these jam-packed days we were treated to amazing talks by technologists from every stripe including rocket scientists and NASA engineers, researchers, software engineers, data scientists, user experience experts and beyond — mostly women, many transgender, with a huge percentage of women of color. “Be responsible for questioning that post-interview report that ‘she’s not a good fit,’” said Caitlin Kalinowski of Oculus (Facebook). If you’re hiring, did you also know that referrals are the enemy of diversity? Referrals from homogeneity lead to homogeneity. Look outside your tribe.
We heard this refrain often: “Don’t give up: This is not easy,” said Jenn Van Dam from alphalab during Saturday’s sessions. As Kara Swisher put it: “I work harder than anyone else.” All the people at the tables, at the Career Fair, in the break-out sessions, hackathons, Tech Crawl, and on the show floor would probably agree. Tireless and fearless Lesbians Who Tech founder Leanne Pittsford would agree. And the ultimate tireless advocate, 86-year-old Edie Windsor, still working on human rights and as a role model for technologists everywhere — would agree. Work hard.
How SAP Worked Hard:
After three days of a solid SAP sponsorship of Lesbians Who Tech, I can say for a fact that this is true: it’s hard work, but it’s the best work ever, and I think the small army of my peers who joined me there would also agree. Here’s some of how we worked hard:
- SAP sponsored the event as one of the top-ten sponsors. We’ve sponsored Year One and Year Two of the Summit, but this third year is easily our banner year of engaging at Lesbians Who Tech.
- We sent 12 lucky colleagues including 5 dedicated recruiters who worked their butts off standing for literally two days at the always-crowded SAP table, talking the entire time to eager candidates both in the Recruitment Zone on Thursday and Friday and in the Career Fair at Twitter on Saturday.
- Of the over 1500 attendees at the Summit, we estimate we reached at least a thousand people at the tables alone.
- Jenny Dearborn, SAP Chief Learning Officer and executive sponsor of Pride@SAP, spoke at a breakout session with over 100 fully engaged people about The Power of Data Analytics. We distributed over 150 copies of her book Data Driven.
- Three of us demoed TripIt and Internet of Things at the Thursday night Tech Crawl, never stopping for a breath or even a sip of water in the unabating crowds upstairs at the Castro Theatre.
- Two mentors dedicated themselves to the Social Good Hackathon on Saturday at Earnest on Market Street, in which at least 35 hackers worked on a range of projects: from meetups that let you to connect locally with your diverse peers, to how to dedicate a portion of your earnings, to social good causes, to supporting Nuns on the Run.
So yeah we worked hard. You can too. Then you’ll be tired, but no longer tired of excuses. Which rocks.
Before I leave you with a few more images from the Summit (also known as: what our tech companies could look like), I invite you to stay in touch with me if you’re also interested in making a difference. We’re right here.
PS: I’m considering a diversity-related hackathon later in the year at SAP Silicon Valley. Let me know if you want to pitch in.
I am so so so proud to say I worked alongside you, blogged alongside you, participated in Tech Events alongside you dear Moya. Your advocacy, intelligence, commitment and compelling advantages are an asset to SAP and the tech industry at large. So very thrilled to read this event summary. Jealous that you got to meet Kara Swisher ;-).
Thanks for making inclusion a fact rather than a concept.
Thanks Marilyn - sending your kind words right back to you! Sad that "worked" is in the past-tense, but I hope we keep it up together because you'll always be the trailblazing role model at SAP. As for Kara Swisher: Alas I didn't meet her directly ("She scares me..." is what most people say about the experience 🙂 ) but since she's been to all of the Summits so far (last year she interviewed Benioff) it may only be a matter of time! Stay in touch!
Wonderful blog Moya! It sounds like (per your blog and tweets) it was an excellent event and am glad you were able to attend. I love the phrase
Well done and to echo Marilyn's previous comment, I am so glad to know you as you are such an amazing person.
RIGHT Karin? We all have that flag, at least I believe we do! Thanks for being a huge inspiration yourself within the SAP community and beyond!
Great article! I did not know an event like this even existed!
Hopefully I will have the ability to attend such an event in the future
please keep in touch with me Camille! there is more to come! depending on where you are in the world, Lesbians Who Tech has chapters worldwide. plus we'll continue to collaborate right here in the Bay Area! hope to meet you soon.
Thank you Moya!
I am in NJ but I do travel to Florida (Tampa area) quite often. 🙂
Please keep me posted!
Thank you for all that you do, Moya! I loved reading about the incredible success of this event and I look forward to continuing to work together in 2016 to spread more messages like this.
YES! hackathon? 🙂