Elevating Civic Tech at the 2020 Grace Hopper Celebration

For the first time, the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) took the largest gathering of women technologists in the world and brought it online for a fully virtual conference. With 30,000+ attendees this year, the conference brought women together to rally around the AnitaB.org mission of intersectional gender and pay parity in tech. This year’s celebration inspired unity and purpose in its theme, “Together We Build.”

Fitting with the theme, this year’s GHC placed a special focus on civic technology and the crucial contributions technologists can make in public service. In civic tech, talented innovators enhance government technology to better serve the public. Through improving technological infrastructure and creating solutions to gaps in public services, civic technologists build a more sustainable future for the United States, and the world.

A panel featuring the Director of Talent at the U.S. Digital Service and three current and former Presidential Innovation Fellows discussed civic leave sabbaticals — opportunities in which technologists take temporary leave from their workplaces in order to contribute their skills to the government. These sabbaticals offer technologists a pathway into public service without sacrificing their job security, which gives the government more opportunity to benefit from the brightest technologists in the workforce. While many tech companies have taken the lead in explicitly offering these sabbaticals to their employees, the panelists encouraged technologists at companies without such policies to advocate for their adoption.

Started largely in reaction to the Healthcare.gov tech crisis, various programs for bringing technologists into government have helped transform outdated government technology to more effectively serve the public. Jennifer Anastasoff, Executive Director of the Tech Talent Project, moderated a fireside chat with Lisa Gelobter, previously the Chief Digital Service Officer for the Department of Education, and Sabrina Williams, who worked with the U.S. Digital Service. Both women had been unaware of opportunities in civic tech until being recruited by the White House or a program like the U.S. Digital Service. Previously from high-income corporate tech careers, Gelobter and Williams were transformed by their experiences creating systemic-level change through government tech. Both women left their civic service with a new requirement for future jobs: meaning. As shown by these women, civic tech fellowships inspire technologists to continue impactful mission-driven work after their tours of duty.

GHC 2020 also had sessions that emphasized strategies to increase meaningful diversity and inclusion in tech.

One promising strategy encourages a wider use of apprenticeship models in order to broaden the hiring pool outside of four-year degree holders, a practice currently adopted by companies like Accenture and Aon. Currently, tech companies recruit primarily from a relatively small number of universities, often spaces in which Black and Latinx students are vastly underrepresented, and open roles often require 5–10 years of previous experience in addition to degree. Apprenticeship models allow the recruitment of candidates with strong soft skills, who then build their hard skills and experience during employment. The model benefits all involved: 94 percent of apprentices retain employment with the companies that take them on, and apprentices can out earn their non-apprenticeship peers by $300,000 in the course of their career.

The 2020 Grace Hopper Celebration elevated the potential of transforming our futures through civic tech leadership and diverse innovation in tech. Through other flagship GHC events like PitcHER and the Abie Awards, as well as through programs delivered year-round, AnitaB.org continues to empower technical women and their allies to transform policy and practices that increase diversity, inclusion, and equity throughout technology, education, and the workforce. To learn more about the United States of Technologists, a joint project of AnitaB.org and the Tech Talent Project to bring in 10,000 new technologists into government, visit www.USofTech.org.

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We envision a future where the people who imagine and build #technology mirror the people and societies they build it for. #womenintech #diversityintech

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