Media coverage and "conversations" about women in technology kept the tech-world gender gap front and center in 2017. However, they are hardly enough to lift women to equal status overnight.
Guys, 2017 was a women’s year, starting out with the Women’s March in January. That uprising and a controversial memo penned by an ex-Googler triggered a series of debates on “women and tech.” Articles began to pop up about the misogynist culture of Silicon Valley, Hollywood, the U.S government, etc. — until the year ended with a viral tsunami called #metoo.
In short, “the woman card” got a lot of play last year.
While the spotlight shining on the gender gap was both welcome and overdue, we also found, unfortunately, that decades-old stereotypes about women were hardly dead.
Worst of all was the canard that women are not proportionally represented (and leadership) in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce because they’re not interested or because they’re biologically and emotionally unfit to do science. You hear that, Madame Curie?
Media coverage and “conversations” about women in technology have kept the tech-world gender gap front and center. At EE Times, we prepared a global report on Women in Tech: 25 Profiles in Persistence. Our goal was to get up close and personal with women in tech, to understand what motivated their professional choices, how they got to be where they are, and what people and forces helped them along the way.
Band and bond together
However, I’d be the first to acknowledge that these efforts are hardly enough to lift women to equal status overnight. Women in tech need to bond and band together with their sisters.
For instance, here’s Sudha Kasamsetty, the founder of VerveCon — an educational conference designed for “women in tech.”
Kasamsetty, an engineer by education and training, who formerly worked at companies such as Google, Tellme Networks and SurveyMonkey, has used her wits, spunk and experiences persuading backers and volunteers to launch VerveCon’s inaugural conference at Santa Clara Convention Center in California on Feb. 9, 2018.
The conference expects 300 to 350 attendees. It will feature top-notch guest speakers from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Slack, Uber and others covering a range of topics on emerging technologies including AI, BigData, IoT, Data Science, Containers, UI Building. The conference bills itself as an opportunity to “refresh and upgrade” skills and learn “how to apply them” and “be relevant” in an ever-changing landscape.
I met Sudha last November through a mutual friend. From my own experience, I know that organizing any conference is a challenge. It's not for the faint-hearted. Doing it in Silicon Valley, where conferences spring up day in and day out, struck me as bold.
But most important, I was impressed by Sudha’s methodical, engineer-like approach in envisioning this gathering. She saw VerveCon as an opportunity to solve problems of women — or their absence — in technology enterprises.
She styles the mission of this conference as “engineering education.” She believes that arming women in tech with the most up-to-date industry and technical knowledge is the only way to advance their careers in the STEM workforce.
Asked about her inspiration for VerveCon, Sudha told me, “I am an engineer and I have been to many conferences myself. I have always felt that women’s participation is very low in technical conferences, sometimes less than 3 percent.”
This prompted her to create a survey and reach out to 300 women. She said, “One of the shocking facts that came out of the survey is that women rely three times more on reading technical journals rather than attending a conference to update themselves with latest technologies.”
The survey revealed that it’s hard to find corporate budget for women engineers to travel. To make the matter worse, women themselves are now conditioned to believe that attending a conference has little impact on their careers.
Sudha hopes to change this perception. She said, “That’s where I got connected to the cause. We are bringing this conference to the heart of Silicon Valley at the Santa Clara Convention Center.” She explained that every talk will be interactive. The goal is that every woman who attends can go back to work and apply what they’ve learned at VerveCon.
The VerveCon program shows 30 talks and five panel discussions.
For example, its dedicated career track provides attendees an opportunity to learn how to be more assertive, while exploring their leadership potential. Further, Sudha has put together an after-conference “issue-based mentorship” program. Those who attended VerveCon can follow by requesting to be paired with a mentor who, ideally, can help “take the next step in their career or find a solution to a vexing program,” according to the organizer.
Asked why this conference, Sudha made it clear. “We all know we need more women in tech. But we also need the women who are already in tech to spend more time together to build a strong community — particularly in Silicon Valley.”
Describing the Valley as “where tech seems to permeate everything we read, touch and talk about,” Sudha noted that a forum like VerveCon is needed “particularly in these times when we are hearing brave voices of women coming out of the dark to talk about the pervasive problem of sexual harassment at work. There is strength in numbers.”
So why is the conference called “VerveCon?
Verve means enthusiasm and energy, Sudha said. VerveCon, thus, is “for all the enthusiastic women in tech.”
I’ll be attending the conference on Feb. 9th, moderating a couple of panels. I’m looking forward to meeting with lots of women engineers to share our experiences and hear their stories.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times