I went to the Hopper Down Under conference in Brisbane this week — a truly inspiring experience. I’d put in a submission to present a panel of my tech community meetup group, Men Championing Change and it was accepted so it was extra exciting for me to be there.
The Grace Hopper Celebration, run by non-profit Anita B.Org in the US, is huge. I mean seriously huge. Over 20,000 attendees from 78 different countries. And most importantly this conference is for women technologists! Oh how we need this in Australia. And the good news is it looks like being a permanent fixture here. Amen to that.
If you don’t know who Grace Hopper was, she was one of the most influential computer scientists of all time who developed the first human-computer code compiler. A quirky, playful and witty character who became known as the “Queen Of Code”.
Despite what seemed to me to be minimal marketing of this conference and a clunky website, the attendance for this first-time ANZ conference was surprisingly good — around 700, so a packed room for the opening keynotes was buzzing. It’s hard to express how truly special it felt to be in a room surrounded by 700 female technologists. Next year I hope it will be double that.
The chant #WeAreHere echoed around the room and suddenly that made so much sense.
The keynotes themselves were an absolute highlight of the two days, including those who were stand-outs for me;
> Professor Genevieve Bell, 3A Institute (3Ai)
> Professor Sue Black OBE, Durham University, UK
> Dr. Jacqueline Copeland-Carson, AnitaB.org
> Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, Australia’s STEM Ambassador
The organisation of the event was excellent and the many tracks had something for everyone, at every stage of their career.
I was nervous about our panel session because a 2014 panel of Male Allies at a Grace Hopper Celebration got sledging in the press after they were sabotaged by the Union of Concerned Feminists, led by Leigh Honeywell who made and handed out homemade BINGO cards to the panel’s audience, inviting them to call out cringeworthy platitudes women in tech are sick of hearing. The fact that a New York Times article quoted their prank frankly sent shivers up my spine.
We decided to be upfront and print a version of our own BINGO cards and gave our audience full permission to call us out on it. Thankfully, no one shouted “BINGO”! But my explanation and assurances that Men Championing Change are not a bunch of guys abseiling in to save poor damsels in tech with mansplained platitudes of how “we’re all in this together” and the like, went a long way and all was well.
Our discussion was frank and honest, with all four panellists sharing their thoughts, opinions and experiences on the subject of what men are doing about gender equality in tech. Ted Tencza (VP of Engineering at Prospa), Roisin Parkes (CTO, Gumtree Australia), Joel Hynoski (Head of Engineering, Canva) and Dan Draper (VP Engineering, Expert360) are all active members and contributors of my meetup group. They’re not Diversity & Inclusion experts but they are passionate about taking action to advance women in tech. And I think that came across and resonated with most of the folks who attended our session.
I left the conference tired but fulfilled. I also came away inspired to drive forward with the purpose of my company, Project F, in helping companies to achieve gender-balanced tech teams. Literally, no one has nailed this yet, but I know they can and I know how.