Welcome to The Girls Club

Discovering an oasis of empathy in Houston

I am standing in a sea of women in the Alaska Airlines terminal at SeaTac. It is positively buzzing and I am pretty sure that we are all going to the Grace Hopper Celebration. I’ve been on a plane countless times before but not like this. On the flight, a woman sitting a few rows behind me has women approach her on two separate occasions for a selfie. It’s like a movie where a large group of people who know each other travel together. Rows of seats no longer limit movement or conversation. The otherwise anonymous experience of air travel becomes an intimate event. I am literally sitting next to Radia Perlman who asks me, me, if she can dry run her deck on cryptocurrency. Of course I say yes. I am getting a rush of inspiration knowing that I am on my way to the right place, a celebration of the community of women in technology, to which I belong.

The girls club is my provocative take on the reality of something far more serious and important. The girls club is not exclusive for exclusivity’s sake. Like feminism, it was born out of the idea that we all have a place. Community is innate. The branding and the calendar event are the formality. Moving together, any group can foster a community of support and have a larger voice. More voices mean more volume. Soon, you become an accomplished force. I am experiencing that volume when I join 20,000 other women in Houston for Grace Hopper.

As a longtime staff member of GeekGirlCon, I am often asked, “Can men attend?” and “Why do women need their own events?” To each I say, I’m so glad you asked. If you support our mission statement, you are already part of the community. For other communities and events, there are times when others are not welcome. (See: It’s My Struggle — Give Me Space.) But the important question is, do you believe in celebrating the accomplishments of women in their field? To understand why women even need their own events, you have to put on your empathy hat.

Imagine you are at an event without female representation. Without female speakers, content curators or influencers. Perhaps they don’t feel welcome. For this exercise let’s not get stuck in the why but what the effect is. Where do the inspired women go? What is their venue? Where will other women hear their stories and meet others just like them? Do women wait until these inclusive events exist to participate? How does the momentum for such change even start that process? We have some work to do, but thankfully, we are seeing the creation of those events.

I believe that a girls-only club isn’t the goal but a milestone. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, create it.

And this is exactly how these things happen.
 
A wonderful transformation occurs when the digital community becomes the real community. I’m energized by my interactions with women who understand what it’s like to work in gaming or whose job and tenacity reflect my personal goals. Their dedication and achievement renews energy and purpose for my own journey.

Microsoft’s Bonnie Ross, Helen Chiang, Kiki Wolfkill and Shannon Loftis share, The Video Game Industry Needs YOU! at The Grace Hopper Celebration

This particular girls club has an unique conversational vibe, where unspoken rule number one is, “let’s cut to the honesty.” I overhear conversations between women laid bare. Respect decoupled from formality. There is no place for pandering. The energy in each conversation is action, “I have passion and the skills, what next?” And, “This is my situation, so what’s really holding me back from my goal?” Feeling welcome brings out unseen confidence from a range of ages and experiences.

The conversations and topics that dare to present themselves are a community oasis for many.

Collectively, we understand that we are not alone and that our experiences are not an anomaly, good or bad. We understand that together we have a stronger voice.

I feel these connections are a basic human need that community helps fulfill. By attending and participating, I support the community that keeps events like Grace Hopper alive and well. Community can be defined in many ways but at its core, it transcends differences like a magic Venn diagram, revealing shared areas of connection. If I see a topic or idea outside the overlap, I can work to create that inclusive space. This is one way I give back.

As I walk though the sea of women in Houston, I realize that the George R. Brown Center is not really my destination. It’s an intersection of many unique journeys that gain velocity through community support. Girls Club is in session for just a few days here, but it will generate ideas and momentum that will live on in the larger tech communities we return to.

John Plocher & Katy Dickinson (under the CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US, edited for style by me) capture the closing ceremonies at the 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration at the Toyota Center in Houston.

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