You should definitely come to GHC’15

And what Telle said about Satya

I had an incredible time at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, 2014 in Phoenix, AZ.

Thamar Solorio accepting the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration Denice Denton Emerging Leader ABIE Award

This was my third time attending GHC. Every time I go, I feel fortunate and gratified to be present in one location with all the amazing technical women (8000 this year — double the amount of last year).

There is no shortage of fascinating talks, incredible and inspiring keynotes, and amazingly insightful and thought provoking discussions both in and between the sessions.

One of the most gratifying moments for me was when I stepped out of my comfort zone at a discussion on stereotype threat. When the floor was opened for speakers, I shared my recent concerns about the stereotype threat I experienced while becoming a mother in a male-dominated field. My heart was beating like crazy. The audience’s reaction? Hearty applause and encouragement. Amazing.

I also had the pleasure and honor of presenting my own research work, “Detecting Controversy on the Web”, in the ACM Student Research Competition.

Presenting my research at the GHC ACM Student Research Competition

One of my favorite parts of GHC every year is hearing the acceptance speeches for the ABIE Award winners, and this year was no exception. Among others, Thamar Solorio said she refused to choose between her research and supporting the women in CS community: that instead of an “either/or” choice, she views it as a “both/and”. Shortly afterwards, Ayanna Howard encouraged us to reach out and help others, since our actions today and yesterday have a lasting impact that we may not be aware of.

Ayanna Howard accepting the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration A. Richard Newton Educator ABIE Award

In addition to all this inspiration, since I have now returned for my third time, I strongly feel that I’m a part of this community. It’s a pleasure to think about how to improve the world as I run into old friends in the hallways, and make new ones on the dance floor.

I strongly urge women, and men, in the field to attend GHC. This is an opportunity for you both to be inspired, and to inspire others. Additionally, if you’re in the job market, it’s an opportunity like none other to get noticed and hired as a woman in our field.

And if you’re a man, you should think long and hard about how you can be part of this conversation. Or, just show up and listen. You may be surprised at what you hear.

Finally, it’s simply an unbelievably powerful thing to feel part of a community of diverse people (again — men and women) who are passionate about promoting the success of women in computing, and where you will not feel singled out. I hope each and every woman in our field has that opportunity, whether at GHC or elsewhere.

Bottom line: come to GHC

If you’re a student, I highly encourage you to apply for the multiple scholarships and travel grants that are available to attend GHC 2015, which will be held in Houston, TX.

(Also, if you are a first to third year grad student, you should definitely apply to Grad Cohort, which is a smaller-scale conference for graduate women in CS.)

Conversely, if you’re an employee of a tech company, make sure your company pays for your full ride to GHC! And if not — ask them, why not?!

Satya’s Mistake

So. One more thing.

You probably already heard about the controversy regarding Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, who was also the first CEO of a major tech company to attend GHC. His keynote discussion with Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College, lasted nearly an hour — you can see the whole thing online.

Near the end, he was asked a question about women negotiating. In an answer that made international headlines, he made a comment about how you (not just women, but people in general) shouldn’t negotiate their salary — that the system will compensate people fairly, or your manager will appreciate it, and the pay will be returned as “karma”.

Satya Nadella in conversation with Maria Klawe, GHC’14

I was sitting in the audience, and like many others, was quite unhappy about this very-bad-advice. Nadella has been in the hot seat since this statement — and rightly so, as women should absolutely negotiate their salaries (which they often fail to do). Many of the angry, funny and thoughtful responses revolved around the pay gap, and the incident was dubbed “the pay gaffe”.
“We should be so lucky” — Telle Whitney, ABI president

Notably, a few things happened after this.

First of all, Maria Klawe responded on the spot, said she disagreed with Nadella, and then proceeded to give some very good practical advice on how to negotiate properly (complete with her story of her own failures-to-negotiate in the past).

Second, Nadella retracted his statement on the same day and later sent an open letter to all Microsoft employees admitting that he made a mistake.

(By the way, it is also worth pointing out that encouraging people not to negotiate is the official Microsoft “party line”, repeated to men and women alike.)

Third, Telle Whitney (president of the Anita Borg Institute, the org that runs GHC) mentioned the situation before the keynote the next morning, and urged the audience to remember that Nadella did, in fact, show up — and as I mentioned before, he is the first CEO of any major tech company to do so.

Hopefully, he will not be the last. Whitney’s exact words were that “we should be so lucky” to have others like him.

I agree.

I mention this incident because reality is always more complicated than a sound bite. Nadella took a risk by coming to GHC, and now he understands something about women in CS that he didn’t before. We shouldn’t be punishing him for it.

If even he was not aware of the need for women to negotiate, it teaches us we have a long way to go. But also, his apology shows that people can learn and be more aware of these problems. May we be blessed by many more such men.

Gaffe or not, Nadella’s mistake has brought awareness of the pay gap to many people who had no idea it existed, and brought the conversation on women in tech up to the international news level.

That is not a bad thing. If you ask me, we should welcome such open discussion and be grateful that there are men willing to address our audience of technical women. And yes, willing to make mistakes that reveal their biases.

How else can we fix these problems?