Lesbians Who Tech (LWT) is a seven-year-old organization dedicated to increasing the visibility and representation of queer women in tech. The organization's flagship event, the LWT Summit in San Francisco, is my favorite, must-attend conference, held annually in the city's Castro neighborhood. I’ve personally attended this conference five times, but this year I was especially proud to be there because New Relic was a sponsor.
The Summit always boasts excellent speakers with top-notch expertise talking about diverse topics, but most compelling for me is the friendly vibe and amiable camaraderie that's virtually impossible to find elsewhere—LWT is a real community. The LWT Summit is now one of the largest LGBTQ professional events in the world, and the organization welcomes some 40,000 members in more than 40 cities across the world. LWT also offers the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship (named after the trailblazing lesbian technologist) for queer women and non-binary and trans people; and runs include.io, which connects underrepresented minorities with mentors and hiring companies. Suffice it to say, this organization does a lot, and the LWT Summit is just the tip of the iceberg.
Our sponsorship allowed New Relic to stand among some of the top tech companies in the world in support of this awesome organization. It also let us talk with LWT attendees about why working at New Relic is so great; illustrate how we’re making a small impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion in tech; and—most importantly—find inspiration from other people and organizations in attendance.
As one of 15 Relics who participated in this community, I wanted to share my thoughts on some of the most meaningful moments throughout the summit.
On both of the days I attended the Summit, an impressive number of people crowded the two recruiting areas, so colleagues at the New Relic booth were kept busy chatting with interested job-seekers and handing out our all-important, highly coveted swag. Over the years, more and more sponsoring companies have attended, with larger and larger booths, highlighting the significance of the event as a recruiting opportunity.
Amazing, inspiring speakers
On the first day, main stage events were kicked off by noted tech journalist Kara Swisher who interviewed Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, about the company’s policies and efforts around dealing with inappropriate content and comments targeting kids. Wojcicki explained how YouTube's large size and fast growth have made moderating comments difficult and how Google has responded by dedicating 10,000 people (wow!) to deal with problematic content across the company. I appreciated how Swisher pressed Wojcicki on diversity in hiring and last fall's Google walkout and its aftereffects.
Later that day on the main stage, Swisher interviewed businesswoman Laurene Powell Jobs about her activism, philanthropy, and media investments. Speakers on many panels about leadership and innovation offered great advice; I was especially drawn to the energy and dynamism of Amy Taylor, President of Red Bull North America, and Shamina Singh, Executive Vice President of Sustainability at MasterCard.
Some of my favorite talks revolved around how technology intersects with seemingly disparate domains such as politics, activism, and the arts. I was particularly excited to see Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), the first lesbian elected to Congress and the first openly gay person elected to the Senate. She reminded the crowd that, "There are no followers; we're all leaders." The first black female Mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, took the stage to talk about the need for diversity in the city's tech companies, followed by Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter, and popular former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams spoke about a variety of subjects, including making tech more diverse and combating voter suppression.
I also enjoyed a talk by former Glamour magazine editor Cindi Leive about how Millennials are unfairly criticized for being entitled and how women should, in fact, claim what's ours. One of her slides read, "You are entitled to: safety, dignity, justice, freedom to be awesome." On the creative side, Danielle Feinberg, Director of Photography for Lighting at Pixar, gave a fascinating talk about her work on Wall-E and Coco.
Historic venue and the future
Part of the conference's appeal lies in its setting in San Francisco’s historically gay Castro neighborhood—the event was headquartered at the equally historic Castro Theater, just steps from the camera shop run by the late Harvey Milk, the pioneering activist and politician who became, the first openly gay elected official in California. Given the growing crowd at the 2019 Summit, the large number of breakout sessions, and the ever-more-impressive roster speakers, a move to a larger, more centralized spot in upcoming years wouldn't be surprising. If that happens, though, I am confident that the LWT community will make sure that the event won’t forget its roots.
As always, I came away with something from every presentation I attended, and I lamented being unable to make it to all of the ones that struck my fancy. I could easily have spent another day checking out subject matter tracks that I missed, from Engineering & App Development to How Data & UX Drive Product to AI, Automation, & Machine Learning. But having downtime to meet and hang out with Relics from other offices was invaluable, and it was great to make other new connections, too. I'm already looking forward to the next year's LWT Summit.
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