Grace Hopper Celebration 2019

This last October, my co-worker Sarah Jane (SJ) and I had the privilege of attending the annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), the largest gathering of women in technology. Over four days in Orlando, Florida, 25,000 attendees were offered workshops, presentations, mentoring opportunities and a massive career fair, all focused on the value of intersectional equity in technology.

As I walked into the keynote, my first conference experience, the energy in the room was contagious. Music was blasting while inspirational statements flashed on the monitors. Teams clad in matching femme empowering t-shirts surrounded me. I was immediately inspired as our first speaker, Brenda Wilkerson, the President and CEO of AnitaB.Org, shared this year’s GHC theme of “We Will”. “If not us, who?” she asked the crowd.

Equity means we care for, take responsibility for, and advocate for everyone. Lack of equity is exclusionary, short sighted and expensive.

Brenda Wilkerson, President and CEO of AnitaB.Org

One of the guiding principles of my company is Ownership- acting on behalf of the entire company, even if it’s “not my job”. Thinking about the long-term value to the company. The notion of taking responsibility for advocacy made so much sense.

As a first-time attendee I wasn’t sure what to expect. I attended the first-timer orientation, pre-registered for every professional development session I could squeeze into my schedule and networked at every opportunity. In reflection of my time spent at GHC, one common theme really resonated with me: I will own who I am. Seems simple enough, right? Well, things aren’t always as simple as they seem.

Hearing other successful women share experiences I could relate to was empowering and left me inspired to challenge myself in embracing who I am. Dr. Natalya Bailey, CEO of Accion Systems and an Abie Award Winner, shared a story about one of her earliest investor meetings. Instead of receiving feedback on the content of her presentation, she was told she needed to take lessons to address her high-pitched voice. Another female business owner, Amy Kalokerinos, shared ways she “flips the script” when she’s characterized negatively, such as aggresive instead of being a “go getter”.

“When I was invited to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration, the excitement I felt was palpable. I didn’t know what to expect or even begin to imagine the size and magnitude of this conference,” said SJ. “Once there, I focused on being a Woman in Leadership and attended several tracks focused on this, including discussions on Imposter Syndrome, harnessing your superpowers, and celebrating your achievements, #iamremarkable. I found that I was not alone in my doubts and fears, and that what sometimes seems like an insurmountable task is something that is shared by many. We all add value.”

Sarah Jane Vickers, a GHC19 attendee from Amazon Web Services

One of the key takeaways SJ walked away with was to trust in her own ability, to use your voice and not to let your fears win over. She was inspired by the possibilities to influence those around her to be their best selves. For me, sharing my experience with SJ and others I networked with was one of the highlights of the conference. It deposed the myth of feeling like I was alone in my experiences and provided opportunities to reflect on how to tackle adversity in the future.

Networking with other women in technology and sharing experiences and advice is an invaluable professional development experience. SJ and I shared ideas about how we could bring the “GHC” Gospel back with us and positively influence our organization. For anyone interested in attending GHC, here’s some advice from my lessons learned:

  • Coordinate with other attendees in your organization and book travel and accommodations early. It’s a great time to connect with peers and network with others.
  • Pre-Register for sessions so that you don’t miss out on anything. When you pre-register, pay attention to the locations of each session. I had to do some power-walking to make it on time to a few.
  • Schedule time into your schedule to eat and plan for long lines.
  • Commit to a plan on how you’ll share what you learned with others

“We Will” was embedded throughout the keynotes, Abie Award speeches, and break-out sessions. These “We Will” statements are powerful call-to-action.

We will put the spotlight on women in tech.

We will not let anyone tell us we don’t belong. 

We will not let others undervalue our abilities and accomplishments. 

We will actively share women’s contributions in tech. 

We will not allow women’s accomplishments to be erased. 

We will persevere and become the shoulders others can stand on.

We will be recognized for our contributions.

We will make women in technology the norm. 

We will celebrate our successes. 

We will know our value. 

We will help each other.

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