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What I Learned at Grace Hopper: Collaboration Is Crucial for Improving Gender Diversity in Tech

- November 9, 2015 - 0 Comments

In October I had the privilege of attending the Grace Hopper Celebration for the first time. I am truly in awe of how transformative and inspiring this conference is.

Grace Hopper is the largest event for women in computing. It’s a place for women to come together and get inspired by other women who are inventing and innovating. After three days of amazing keynotes and technical sessions, I can honestly say that I have never been more proud to be a woman in tech!

Where My Girls At?
I started my career in 2008 and quickly became passionate about improving gender diversity in tech. The photo of my first team may help you understand why. Taken within my first few months of joining a large tech company, it’s a great snapshot of a typical lunch outing with my team. Believe it or not, this was not a staged photo. I was really the only woman in attendance.

boys

I am a firm believer that we need more women at the table in tech – literally and figuratively. When it comes to solving problems and spurring ideas, we can benefit from a diverse population in order to get the best results.

What I loved witnessing at Grace Hopper was how strongly the theme of collaboration was emphasized throughout the many talks I attended. To improve our gender diversity stats in tech, we need a whole lot more collaboration – and all kinds of it!

Men Need to Mentor Women
When Lean In author and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg walked on stage for her plenary session, she recognized her good friend, Alan Eustace, in the audience. Sheryl and Alan worked closely together for years at Google. She says he was well known for his ability to collaborate well with people at every level, and for being a strong proponent for gender diversity. In fact, Alan personally encouraged Sheryl to give her first Grace Hopper keynote in 2011. Alan eventually went on to become Google’s SVP of engineering. The moral of Sheryl’s story: Being a strong collaborator and an inclusive leader pays off. “Look where it took Alan,” she said.

Women Need to Cultivate Sisterhood
Of course, we need more than just men supporting women. It’s just as critical that we cultivate our “sisterhood.” Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani spoke on a concept she refers to as “sisterhood” which quite simply refers to women supporting other women in their development.

Studies show that women who experience discrimination early in their careers often respond by distancing themselves from other women. This research won’t come as surprise to many of us who have been working in tech. We need to be mindful of this tendency and break the habit.

Ladies, let’s remember how important it is to pay it forward! I am with Reshma on this 100%!

While collaboration across gender lines plays an undeniably important role in improving diversity, physical distance between colleagues can also make it difficult to feel connected and part of a community. In my experience, using video conferencing to collaborate with remote colleagues has made a big difference in forming meaningful connections.

While I was in the Cisco booth at Grace Hopper, I met a new college grad named Vanessa who was just a few weeks into her role at IBM. She asked me to demo a video call with the DX70, a personal desktop endpoint.

After the demo, she shared that her manager and team members are all remote. She told me about how disconnected she felt from her team and that she was struggling to get up to speed. So far, she had only been using good old-fashioned phone calls to speak with her colleagues.

Working with a distributed team is not easy. It takes effort to make it work effectively. And without the right technology, it can feel impossible.

Adding video collaboration for your key discussions can help you form stronger connections and stay agile no matter your location. I can attest to that.

My take-away from the Grace Hopper Celebration is also what I’ve learned in my experience as a woman in tech: It is only with deliberate and meaningful collaboration across gender lines that we can make strides in improving diversity in tech.

And in our 24×7 global economy, distance no longer has to be an obstacle to collaboration when we have powerful tools like video conferencing at our fingertips. As members of the tech workforce, each of us can — and should –make it a priority to help support women to create a more diverse, and thus stronger, workforce.

What part will you play in moving the needle? I would love to hear from you!

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