Week before last I had the absolute honor of attending the third annual White House LGBT Tech & Innovation Briefing. Out of the 3500+ individuals who were nominated, I was one of 200 LGBTQ tech professionals who were invited to the Whitehouse to discuss how the tech community can tackle issues affecting LGBTQ people.
Solving Problems with Tech
The morning started with US CTO, Megan Smith welcoming us having us a mini state of the LGBTQ + Whitehouse state of the union. The theme that Meg spoke about throughout was, “Celebrate. Accelerate”. How to we celebrate the amazing accomplishments we’ve made so far but continue to partner together and continue to drive change, transformation and innovation.
Next we heard from a host of White House staff giving lightening talks about the environment, women and girls, health and mental health, the Tech Hire and Inclusion pledge, entrepreneurship and innovation, youth solutions and programs, federal statistics on LGBTQ people and criminal justice reform. What was astounding to me is how data-driven the White House really is. I was impressed at the strides they made so far, and the approach they are taking to keep things moving forward. However there is one big “but” in there… the government needs the best in tech to keep things moving forward – and especially those underrepresented groups (people of color, LGBTQ folks and women).
Afternoon Working Sessions
The second half of the day was really future-focused – we broke into 7 groups that aligned with the lightening talks from the AM. Our goal was to start working through some challenges and planning for what additional problems we wanted to solve for at the Nov TechUp summit (more info at the end of this post) and what additional topics should be covered within. I specifically participated in the Innovation + Entrepreneurship session with about 40 others.
My Key Takeaways
The fastest way to inclusion is to be intentional. Lesbians Who Tech CEO & Founder (who helped make this even happen at the White House) shared how she was intentionally inclusive in selecting who would receive a coveted invitation: 50% women, 50% people of color, 20% transgender and gender nonconforming people – all of whom were also diverse in terms of geography, skill sets, and company/organization. Her work paid off and the group dynamics were electric. Diversity doesn’t just happen on its own – you (we) need to be intentional about it.
You can’t solve problems for people who aren’t represented in the data. One of the lightning round talks was from DJ Patil, US Chief Data Scientist. He said, “We all talk about data and data-driven government… but if you’re not counted, how do we build for you”. You need underrepresented groups to be a part of the inclusion discussion or else you wind up with solutions that don’t fit the needs of the underserved groups.
Diversity is good for Problem Solving: Because we had such a diverse group of participant’s across all areas: sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, geography, and occupation – the problem-solving power seemed exponential.
Totally Amazing Whitehouse Tour
What’s a Whitehouse Briefing without an actual Whitehouse tour?! Our summit ended with a treat – unprecedented access to the Whitehouse. We had about 45 minutes to stroll through the Whitehouse, ask questions to our tour guides, sit in chairs, take pictures and really have a hands-on experience. Here are some of my favorite pictures:
More about the White House Tech & Innovation Briefing
For more information, watch a video of the morning presentation below here, and check out coverage of the event from TechCrunch (White House LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Briefing addresses national issues) and Recode (I joined a bunch of LGBT techies at the White House to help tackle some world-threatening problems).
From White House Briefing to Summit: TechUp Tech + Innovation Week Summit Nov 14-20
Since there was such an incredible response to participate, With White House + TechUp (the group that helped plan the event at the White House) decided to turn the would-be summit into a leadership briefing. Which will be followed up by the TechUp Inclusion + Innovation Week Summit November 14-20 2016. You can find more information here.