Last week, I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. The celebration is produced by AnitaB.org and presented in partnership with ACM. This year, the conference took place in Orlando, FL, and I wanted to share the experience with the technology community.
What is The Grace Hopper Celebration All About?
Even though we have seen the American economy expand by $2 trillion dollars since 1970 due to the women’s labor movement, women still only account for about of 25% of roles in technology and mathematical occupations. It’s vital that women get involved and engaged in STEM careers, and are encouraged and welcomed to do so.
GHC is a stepping stone toward a brighter future and aims to get women into STEM and careers in tech. This year I was asked to moderate a panel about ethics in Artificial Intelligence. The other panelists were women technologists from Microsoft, Amazon, InterDigital (a technological R&D company) and a high school junior who, at the age of 16, has already founded a non-profit with the mission of empowering and inspiring young women to pursue leadership roles.
My viewpoint from the perspective of a Microsoft partner offered an outside lens into a conversation that wouldn’t normally happen among competitors. In fact, for this year’s event, Microsoft submitted 22 session pitch ideas, and the panel that I moderated was the only one that was accepted. Speaker submissions have a 0.0001% chance of being accepted, which makes the competition fierce when it comes to influencing women who seek to empower other women in STEM.
GHC joins together women from major tech companies who are typically competitors, bring multi-generational women in STEM into one forum and appeals to women and girls of all ages who are inspired by those who have gone before them to pave the way in the world of STEM.
My Experience At GHC
Because Ethics in Artificial Intelligence is such a weighty topic with swirling opinions and much grey area, and because we only had an hour, we limited ourselves to data, the concept of fairness, privacy and societal implications. Ultimately it’s not about what AI can do but rather what AI should do and we need to continue having these conversations. The panel’s theme was about working together toward our shared responsibility for collective action in a future where AI is used responsibly.
At the end of our session, easily a dozen women stood up to ask questions about where AI is headed and the potential mitigations along the way. If you’ve attended any tech conferences you’ll know that audience participation is akin to pulling teeth, so this was a welcome, if unexpected, response.
Positive Aspects of GHC
The conference featured a Career Fair which was a major draw for the younger attendees. People lined up hours early, unlike with other tech conferences where the expo hall is mainly a place to score free promotional items and dodge vendors trying to sell you things. The women at GHC wanted to network and further their careers.
In spite of some setbacks, the conference was a success and the future of Anitab.org is bright. During the week, I heard rumblings about a conference they’re starting to organize in Nashville, which would be a positive proliferation of the idea to the increase women in the STEM industries. If you’re interested in women in leadership I’d encourage you to subscribe to InspierHER podcast by Mihika Iyer.