“This conference is GIGANTIC!” was my first thought upon arriving at Grace Hopper. This year’s attendance was around 10,000 folks, mostly women, and the largest conference besides SXSW that I’ve attended. Like many tech conferences, GHC had an invaluable app that showed a stream of comments from attendees as well as a schedule and other information. Once I signed in, I spent a lot of time networking and finding folks from out of town as my chosen track “Open-Source” was largely bereft of personally relevant content. Like most of the tracks, the content was focused around introductory ideas and concepts more suited to students just entering the tech world. GHC also boasted a huge job fair, and walking around was pleasantly surreal as it was comprised of 99% women, unlike just about any large room I’ve been in.
My panel was very well received. It took place in an 500 person auditorium (super daunting), but our attendence was closer to 150. I spoke with my book’s editor Elissa Shevinsky, Ellen Spertus from Mills College (late of Google), and Dom DeGuzman from Twilio. Our topic was how to work with and around HR when you are in an oppressed or marginalized group, and despite the rather somber subject, there were laughs and later tears as our attendees came to talk to us and thank us. I was able to discuss the very important role of intersectionality when doing feminist work, and participating in diversity/inclusion discussions. I also brought to light some practical ways to include and help trans folks.
Two particular highlights in meeting people were Isis Anchalee, who started #ilooklikeanengineer, and Megan Smith, the CTO of America. There was also an LGBT (though I’m not sure why the G existed for a women’s conference) meetup at the convention center, and the turnout of around 80 women was heartening.
Due to the nature of speaking and my suspicion that the conference content wouldn’t be incredibly applicable, I only attended one day of it. From talking to my friends, it sounds like I didn’t miss anything too great. I think Grace Hopper could still become a wonderful conference, but for now it is primarily centered on hiring and introductory talks for white and asian-american cisgender heterosexual women. It’s unfortunate that both the size, and leadership of the conference preclude many sessions that would be beneficial, or smaller talks that could be more intimate and informative. I filled out feedback forms with honest content, and I hope that GHC and Anita Borg take note, and that next year is marginally better.
I’ll end with a quote from a woman who spoke to me tearfully after my talk: “I was so happy to be here at a conference with women, but I’m realizing just how many of us it still leaves out and doesn’t help or include.”