In a time where scientific institutions and tech companies are struggling to find diverse talent, hiring managers could do well to scan the speaker list and attendee roster from the second annual Lesbians Who Tech Summit, held in San Francisco recently.
The summit, which attracted 1,200 attendees, most of whom were queer women and many of whom were non-white, created an alternate universe where a white male engineer in attendance could easily experience what being in the minority is like.
Amanda Krieger, an integrated circuit designer in Engineering at Berkeley Lab, says it was empowering to be among so many other women who worked in tech, to hear others’ stories of overcoming adversity, and to feel that she was a part of something bigger.
“The presenters are inspired and passionate, and when you look around at the audience, you can see that there’s a fun, enthusiastic community here,” Krieger says. “I mean, there’s dancing and hi-fives—that kind of engagement doesn’t happen at other conferences. And at the same time, we are all intelligent, motivated, creative women, with impressive accomplishments to show for our efforts.”
Krieger, who designs detectors for electron microscopes (“some of the best cameras in the industry,” she says), suspects that attendance at typical tech conferences is at best just 20 percent women. In contrast, the three-day Lesbians Who Tech Summit, which started Feb. 26 and was open to anyone—male, female, straight, gay, bisexual, cis- or transgender, queer or ally—drew mostly female attendees.
Moreover, there were a disproportionately large number of transgender women as speakers and in the audience, notes Krieger. In her experience, there are more trans women in tech than one would expect based on their number in the general population. It was heartening, she says, “to see so many of us at a single event.” (Read the D&I profile of Krieger here.)
In addition to the usual product announcements and recruiting, activists and political organizers spoke, rallying attendees to maintain or increase their visibility and voices in their organizations, to bring their unique experiences to bear on solving important social problems like gun violence and food waste, and to help foster diversity in the tech community.
In the afternoon, there was a pitch slam where five founders presented their companies to a panel of judges. The winning pitch was made by Stephanie Lampkin, a Stanford and MIT Sloan graduate who founded Blendoor, a software-based recruiting tool that taps into the LinkedIn profiles of people who self-identify as “diverse” candidates and opt in to the tool. The hope, Lampkin said, was for organizations and companies to use Blendoor to broaden their pool of job candidates outside traditional networking circles, a factor often cited as a barrier to increasing diversity in workplaces.
The final afternoon keynote featured Megan Smith, the chief technology officer of the United States and former Google vice president, interviewed by the Lesbians Who Tech founder, Leanne Pittsford. Smith discussed her position as CTO for the U.S., her initiatives to increase technology awareness and appreciation, and the high rates of racial and gender diversity she’s experienced while working at the White House. (Read a recent New York Times piece on Smith’s work as U.S. CTO here.)
For her part, Berkeley Lab’s Krieger found attending the summit to be inspirational and motivational. She even got a chance to talk with Smith after the keynote. Krieger says she’d like to attend the summit again next year, possibly with a larger Berkeley Lab contingent.
“Many of these women are younger, enthusiastic, and extremely talented. And many of them also have a thread of social justice running through their work and are pursing projects that benefit marginalized communities,” Krieger says. “The work we do at Berkeley Lab fits nicely with these values, being both highly technical and oriented toward addressing global problems and profound scientific questions.”
In fact, the LWT Summit could fit in nicely with Berkeley Lab’s future plans for diversity and inclusion, says Lady Idos, senior analyst for the Diversity and Inclusion Office. “The Lab will soon launch its Ambassador Program, an initiative aimed at increasing our presence at conferences geared toward underrepresented groups in STEM,” she says. “The LWT summit would be a great addition to this program, leveraging the rich diversity found right here in the Bay Area, and tapping into a pool of talent with unique life experiences, cultures, and perspectives. We often hear that diverse teams outperform monolithic teams, and enabling high performance through diversity and inclusion is a vital part of bringing science solutions to the world.”
Read a summary on the LWT Summit from Buzzfeed here.