Grace Hopper 2019: Feeling Included and Free in the Tech Industry

Posted on 10-29-2019 by
Tags: relx , grace hopper , data science , inclusion , florida , diversity

“Looking around, I saw brilliant, inspiring professionals who looked like me.”

When I decided to pursue a career in technology, I knew what it meant. It meant challenging problems, a thriving job market, and the ability to shape the products of the future. I also knew that it meant I would often be the only woman in the room. The tech industry runs steadily at around 25 percent of its workforce identifying as women.i As we look through higher levels of leadership, that number dwindles even further. Only 7 percent of founders and 5 percent of CEOs identify as women.ii As disheartening as that is, we still must recognize that this is an improvement over previous generations.

My grandmother couldn’t have dreamed of doing the kind of work I’m doing, or being respected by her male colleagues the way I am. Yet, in my meetings with other tech leads and managers, I find that I am often the only woman in the room. I’ve grown to think of this as expected. Being the only woman in the room doesn’t strike me as strange anymore, and I no longer feel a sense of nervousness or discomfort when I walk in to a meeting knowing that mine is the only female perspective this group will hear. I knew what it meant when I got into technology, and I do not regret the choice.

But walking into the Grace Hopper Celebration, I was knocked off my feet. The narrative was flipped. Twenty-five-thousand technologists gathered together and the vast majority of them were women. When I went into rooms, I was not one of a few women in the room. We were the room. Men are welcome to attend GHC, but they are the minority. For the first time, ever, I got to experience what most men in tech feel every day. Looking around, I saw brilliant, inspiring professionals who looked like me. I felt safe and comfortable in ways that I didn’t even realize I was missing.

When groups of women gather together, we can see the wonderful diversity of the female experience. Young women, mature women, women of all races and ethnicities, women who are parents, women who are child-free, women who love to dance, women who love to race cars, all of us were able to be our complete and unique selves. Not being the only woman in the room means that I am free of the pressure of speaking for anyone but myself.

Not being the only woman in the room means feeling included. There is shared knowledge in our experience. From the physical discomfort of cervical cancer screenings to the emotional discomfort of being unheard and unseen, everyone in the room has shared pains, indignities and fears. Having those shared experiences sets the groundwork for meaningful connections and deeper collaboration.

Being in a place where more than 90 percent of the attendees were women was amazing. I wonder if this is how men feel every day. Still, it’s not how I would want to live my life forever. Having a diverse range of perspectives is important, and that includes men’s voices as well. But I wonder if most men even realize how the workforce is skewed in their favor. I knew it rationally, but until I saw the status quo flipped on its head, I didn’t truly understand. So, to my male colleagues, know that I don’t wish for you to be the only man in the room. I want us to all feel represented and seen.

Kate Farmer is a Data Scientist for LexisNexis Legal & Professional. RELX and LexisNexis Legal & Professional celebrate the strengths and gifts their people through #DiversityAwarenessMonth held in October. Grace Hopper Celebration is the world's largest gathering of women technologists. It is produced by AnitaB.org.

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i https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2017/nsf17310/digest/about-this-report/

ii https://www.businessinsider.com/fortune-500-companies-women-ceos-2018-8

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