Women In Comms

No Frat Party Here: 12,000 Computer Scientists Convene in Houston

More than 12,000 people will descend on Houston next week for a technical conference on computing. It may sound like any of the many tech conferences the industry hosts, but this one has one key difference: 95% of the attendees will be women.

The women are some of the best and brightest technologists and computer scientists from across the globe, and they're convening in Texas for the 13th annual Grace Hopper Conference, an event inspired by the legacy of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, who was one of the pioneers of computer programming (and an original woman in comms!).

According to Elizabeth Ames, vice president of marketing, alliances and programs at the Anita Borg Institute, the show's host, 12,000 attendees are expected, 50% more than last year, and 95% of which are women. The three-day conference sold out in just eight days. (See More Women in Tech Is Critically Important.)

The conference will feature keynote addresses from leading female executives like YouTube Inc. CEO Susan Wojcicki, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and US CTO Megan Smith; technical tracks on industry trends like the Internet of Things, security and open source; a jobs fair and a community fair to bring together community organizations focused on women. Ames says that for the first time the conference will also have an entire track on organizational transformation -- training on how to develop an inclusive company. (See What Is Your Company's Gender IQ?)

Her goal for the event is for attendees to walk away feeling encouraged, inspired and like they are a part of a bigger community -- something they don't always feel in male-dominated companies. (See McKinsey: Women Less Likely to Advance at Work.)

"There are a lot of women here," Ames says. "When you bring them together, they donít feel isolated; they feel encouraged and inspired and more apt to stick to their studies in computer science and complete degrees and stay in the field. They build a network of other women and are part of community."

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is a diamond sponsor of the conference this year and has a similar goal for the 300 female technologists it's sending to the conference to learn and network. According to Liz Centoni, chief of staff for Cisco's head of engineering and lead of the vendor's Connected Women's program, the goal for the company overall is twofold: advance and retain technical women at Cisco and attract other women who can see Cisco as the most promising destination. She will be leading a session on creating new user experiences for the Internet of Things.

"We want to create interest and excitement and anticipation in the audience and show there are areas in the tech stack to look into further, and Cisco is a great place to do it," she says, adding "It's not just about building routers and switches, it's about making an impact on the world, whether for a social cause or solving a business problem that provides significant economic benefits from it."

Light Reading will be attending the Grace Hopper Conference next week in Houston. Check back to Women in Comms online for updates, news and insights from the show.

As with every year's show, Ames says she is blown away by how much intellectual horsepower these women bring to the table that perhaps isn't being tapped into the way it should be. Through things like the frat-themed party at Twitter Inc. or the all-to-real "bro-grammar" stereotypes, women that have made huge contributions over the years have been made invisible, she says. They may be underrepresented, but -- as the Grace Hopper Conference brings to light -- they are there, and they're in tech roles and senior leadership positions. They just don't get the visibility they deserve. (See A Vast Valley: Tech's Inexcusable Gender Gap and Championing Change: It's a Cultural Thing.)

"It's a shame and contributes to the stereotype that it's all men all the time," Ames says. "It's not. That's something you'll see at the conference. You'll look around and go, "Holy cow, there are women doing amazing things in technology every day and yet you don't hear so much about them."

Men will actually be welcome to the conference as well, but they only make up about 5% of registrants -- few enough that the women tend to take over the men's bathroom for the week.

"One thing about Grace Hopper is I love having men come and say it's their first experience being in the minority. 'I was intimidated and afraid to speak up in the minority.' That's a great insight for them. Then they get the tables turned and see what it's like in that situation, and it does make you a little bit more attentive."

ó Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

danielcawrey 10/9/2015 | 2:41:51 PM
Cisco Kudos to Cisco for sending 300 employees to this event! It's good to see larger companies making an effor to work on this problem. I've never heard of this confernece before, and I am surprised this doesn't get more coverage in the media. With the backing of big companies, hopefully that will change. 
mhhf1ve 10/9/2015 | 8:33:06 PM
Why Houston? Just curious.. how did Houston get to be the location? I understand why maybe Las Vegas wasn't chosen, and I guess the organizers wanted it to be somewhat centrally located in the US..
Phil_Britt 10/11/2015 | 3:49:33 PM
Re: Why Houston? mhh,

Though I don't have insight on the details behind choosing this location for this conference, as a veteran of numerous telecom and financial conferences, I can tell you that the choice often comes down to price. New or expanded facilites will offer discounts to early bookers to get expanded or new facility capabilities "on the map." Of course, there has to be enough available hotel space, easy enough access from other locations and other factors to be considered as well.
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