Does the world really need another tech conference? One dedicated to getting women up to tech speed? I was a TechUpforWomen skeptic.
“Why should tech issues for women be any different than those for men,” I thought.
Then I attended the day-long TechUpforWomen, a show that according to its founder, Dawn Pratt, was created “to take the fear factor out of technology and empower women in every career to surf the technology wave.” I didn’t come out shouting rah-rah for women, but I did come out a lot smarter about technologies that hold the most potential and how women can be uniquely qualified.
Is it the ambiance?
It’s important to note the conference ambiance. As Abigail Posner of Google said to me, “this was not your typical “women who lunch bunch.” Held in the bowels of the Jacob Javits Center, there was nothing fancy, or particularly girly about the conference. No gaudy banners. No special effects. Just some Javits standard turkey sandwiches and chips for lunch. But, women sat with rapt attention for the 8-hour lightning round of talks and information.
The normal rule of the conference-going thumb is that the most beneficial part takes place in the hallways or bathrooms. Not here. In quick bursts of knowledge-transfer, women shared their expertise (ranging from laying undersea cables to trends in AI and 5G) This was sprinkled with coping strategies for workplace journeys and driving inclusivity.
Women searching for tech-chops in a series of non-stop mainly Ted-talk like presentations from smart women to other smart women. The talks ranged from Disney’s Dana McGraw sharing some of the thinking behind the Disney+ launch, Lauren Dillard, sharing how Nasdaq keeps up with the unrelenting pace of technology, and MasterCard’s Dr. Alissa Abdullah, talking about the harrowing future of cybersecurity from her perch at MasterCard. Its emphasis was on women in pharma, fintech, data services, AI and workplace collaboration.
Guilt is not an emotion
On the inspirational side, Dana Look-Arimoto didn’t disappoint. With mantras like “guilt is not an emotion” and “hope is not a strategy” she set the pitch-perfect tone for why women are often so miserable in their working situations. Claiming there is no such thing as life/work balance, instead, Arimoto urges finding a harmony that’s uniquely your own.
Randi Zuckerberg’s disarmingly enchanting tales of corporate failure was reminded women not to be fearless, as much as to believe a little fear goes a long way. Being scared, she advised is a motivator. She championed women jumping ahead to consider working with emerging technologies: sustainability, AI, VR and streaming media so that “women would not find themselves behind the curve again”.
Adding a touch of bling and social good to the conference was the lunch break led by Jill Fitzburgh, Co-Founder of the Center for Gender Equality. Spotlighting women high-tech fashion designers like Sylvia Heisel’s 3D printed couture and ThunderLily who’s sensor-embedded fashion reacts to the environment gave women a look at next gen fashion while supporting a worthwhile cause.
The Center funds programs that help women who have suffered from domestic abuse enter the workforce. Often as programmers and web developers. The women are being trained as software developers and website creators.
I’m thinking that women need the safety and security that a predominantly women’s audience provided. At TechUpforWomen, whether they were older women seeking to maintain their leg up in the fast-paced world of technological change or young women seeking the next leg of an often circuitous career journey, the common bond was a search for real knowledge.