The Grace Hopper Celebration is a place to find a community that supports your identity as a woman in tech. With more than 8000 attendees this year, you can find almost any demographic you want. There are some formal events where you can connect with women of color and LGBT communities. You can also look for others that share your technical area, or open source interests, or career aspirations. We all have multiple identities, and having support can dramatically increase our enjoyment of the journey and ultimate success.
Here are excerpts from Patty and Valerie’s GHC stories on finding and nurturing their community.
When I attended my first Grace Hopper Celebration in 2006, I was amazed at the number of technical women I met from so many different companies and institutions. I immediately realized what was missing in my workplace. As one of the few technical women still doing technical work and as a Latina, I felt isolated both by gender and ethnicity. By fate or serendipity, I attended a GHC Birds of a Feather session, Latinas in Engineering, moderated by Gilda Garreton, Dilma da Silva, and Cecilia Aragon. We pulled our chairs into a circle and shared our stories; I remember listening to Claris Castillo talk about the challenges she faced during her MS and PhD and being moved by her resilience and certainty when others doubted her abilities. Raquel Romano collected email addresses so that we could keep in touch. Post-conference, the six of us kept in touch as we looked for way to stay connected. The Anita Borg Institute graciously offered to host us under the Systers community. Thus, Latinas in Computing was born!
My road to finding the right supportive community was long and accidental. I encourage each of you to find your own supportive community. Look for mentors, find a birds-of-a-feather group, build your own group. A supportive group helps everyone in the group succeed. These groups can be focused anything that you personally identify with. Some possibilities are: technical, gender, cultural, location, and professional. Look for local meetups with a few people or attend GHC with several thousand women in computing.
I can recall meeting Anita Borg for the first time when I was in graduate school. Anita talked about her research in Operating Systems and the initiative to start the systers listserv. She told the story of how systers was started with all of the women at the conference meeting in the bathroom. After that lunch, I immediately joined systers.
In 1994, Anita invited me to lead a birds-of-a-feather session on women of color at the first Grace Hopper Celebration in Washington, DC that June. I accepted with great excitement. We had approximately 10 to 15 participants attend the BoF and the bonding was great. We launched the systers-of-color listserv with Anita’s public support for place to discuss issues unique to women of color.
The women of color in computing continued organizing BoF sessions at Hopper 1997, Hopper 2000, and Hopper 2002. The attendance at these sessions was growing with each conference. For Hopper 2004, which was held in Chicago, we held our first Women of Color luncheon. The attendance was approximately 200 participants. This was excellent. The Hopper Conference has continued having the Women of Color lunches each year. In 2007, the Latinas in Computing group was started. In 2011, the Black Women in Computing group was started. Then in 2012, the two groups, along with representatives from other women’s groups, with leadership from the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in IT (CMD-IT), organized the first Women of Underrepresented Groups one-day track. Anita’s impact of supporting the systers-of-color listserv has had a major impact on many women from underrepresented groups.
The growth to the Women of Underrepresented Groups in Computing has paralleled my growth with the Grace Hopper Conference. As mentioned above, I started working with the Hopper Conference as a leader of the BoF on Women of Color for Hopper 1994, the first Hopper Conference. For the second Hopper Conference in 1997 in San Jose, I was asked to be a part of the program committee, for which I happily accepted. I was then asked to be the Program Chair for Hopper 2000 in Cape Code. I went on to be the General Chair of Hopper 2002 in Vancouver, the first Hopper outside of the United States. I then handled fundraising for Hopper 2004, which was held in Chicago.
My growth with the Hopper Conference, in particular my close interactions with Anita Borg and Telle Whitney, helped me in many different ways. First, the leadership experiences with the Hopper conferences have been invaluable. Second, the personal interactions with Anita and Telle have been phenomenal. They are exceptional role models and inspirational leaders. Lastly, the exposure to senior women in academia and industry through the Hopper Conferences has been very rewarding. This exposure led to me becoming a Department Head and helping to co-found the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference Series. Now my role as Executive Director of CMD-IT, in addition to be a professor at Texas A&M University, is enhanced by my continued relationship with Telle.
I really miss Anita, especially her great support and significant encouragement to do bold things. As my way of continuing Anita’s spirit, I want to encourage and support you in your efforts to do bold things that will have a significant impact and inspire others.