In case you missed part one in this series find it here: My Path to Belonging in Tech.
If you had to close your eyes and picture a tech conference, what would it look like? I’m going to go ahead and assume (yes, just like I told you one shouldn’t do per my last blog) that you’re picturing a boring conference, except with more devices and people saying things like “We can analyze your data in real-time in the cloud with IoT and AI.”
You would be partially correct. Only partially.
Last week, I attended the Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco, easily the most inclusive (and badass, to steal from their tagline), energizing conference that I’ve ever attended. The conference was definitely technical complete with tech speak, however unlike your average tech conference, its attendees included over 5,000 lesbians, queer women, and allies across all areas of technology. We showed up as our authentic selves, each with our own purpose in mind.
The Summit was truly transformative and I’d go so far as to say it was a Rockstar event. It helped me realize what it means to be in a room that truly represents what I represent –as a woman, as a woman married to a woman, as a non-techy person deep in the tech world, as someone who believes that people have the power to change the world. This conference accepted me as I am which in turn helped to me to get so much more out of the content and sessions.
If you’ve ever been in a room where you felt like the odd person out or that you couldn’t show up as your authentic self, then my “lightbulb moments!” recap is for you:
- We belong. In tech, most women, especially queer women, and most queer women of color, don’t experience a feeling of belonging. But the thing is, we do belong! The speaker delegation included 180 speakers (50% women of color and 15% outside the traditional gender boundaries) who shared industry trends, career opportunities and next-generation technology with attendees. When the speakers look like you and identify with you, it’s empowering. They give you the confidence to stand out just as you are. Bottom line – we belong. There are women like me (like us) all over the world of tech, we just aren’t necessarily as visible.
- Conversation can change the world. Amazing things happen when you can bring your authentic self to work. Conversations can quickly go from a connection to lifting one another up when you feel like you’re talking to a good friend who identifies with you. You can have a dialogue about real issues that matter [to you]. For example, I spoke with Gaby Giffords and Mark Kelly from the Giffords foundation about how to use technology to solve big problems like gun violence or reaching and mobilizing underrepresented populations. Technology has the power to change the world, but no organization can go it alone. When you start a meaningful conversation from common ground, there is a potential to turn “What ifs” into “What’s next?!”
- Rich and personal content. There’s no such thing as work-life balance in tech. We like to call it work-life integration. In short, if you identify with something “outside of work”, it’s likely to catch your eye in the office as well. Sessions included “Mobilizing Global Change from the Palm of Your Hand,” “Enabling the Blind with IoT, Artificial Intelligence, VR, & the Cloud,” and “A Journey to 1M in Funding: Sexual harassment & Pitching,”. Speakers presented on topics that related to both their day job and their passions. The refreshing mix of personal and professional topics led to a memorable experience for attendees, incredible knowledge sharing, and deep insights into the tech sector.
While this conference spoke to me and 5000 other people like me, it’s the sentiment of belonging that matters. A feeling of belonging in both a personal and professional context isn’t a complex formula for success. When you feel included and heard you perform at your best. That said, it creates a dramatic contrast to the times in your life when you don’t fit in and you feel invisible. This scenario isn’t unique to me and it happens a lot.
So the next time you feel overwhelmingly comfortable, included, and like you have a seat at the table, I encourage you to look around. Does everyone feel the same way you do? Is everyone represented at your table? How much room are you taking up in the conversation? Can you do more to help others shine?
If we all take part in creating an industry that promotes belonging and authenticity, maybe everyone can feel like work is a truly transformative place to be.
Note: These conversations and views represent my personal engagement at the Lesbians who Tech Summit, views are also my own and don’t necessarily represent SAP in an official capacity.