Being in the minority: my experience at the Grace Hopper event

  • Posted on November 5, 2014

This is a guest blog post written by Avanade alum, Eddie Pate.

I've blogged before about the importance of experience.  I've also challenged people to go outside comfort zones to have those experiences and then open their eyes wide to take in all that comes from those experiences. Based on my own recent experience, I have a new challenge for you.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference (GHC) at the Anita Borg Institute. I took a team of 15 Avanade employees and walked away with a lot from the conference.  Here is the context of the event, the experience I had and then the new challenge for you.

The Context

The GHC conference attracted 8,000 women from some 39 countries. Yes, 8000! It was amazing to ‘feel’ the energy and passion for IT, unpacking women’s issues in the workplace, comradery, growth, and turning stereotypic assumptions about women in IT on its head. It was a striking experience seeing that many women in registration lines, lunch lines, conference rooms and meeting halls. At one point, all of this energy was bundled up at a company’s booth who had a “coding ninja” contest going and there must have been 50 women gathered around the booth working frantically at coding and solving the challenge. It was intense.

The Experience

I was one of 480 or so men or about 6% of the conference participants.  I’ve often said that if you want to get as close as possible to what it is like to be a true “minority,” put yourself in a situation where you are one of a few amongst many.  It is very cool to have that experience IF you open your eyes wide and take in the lessons it gives. Feel everything that comes with being one-down or isolated or seriously out-numbered. If you really want to understand what it is like for women to constantly be the only one in a meeting or on a team or on a project, go experience it for yourself. Feel what it is like to look around and not see anyone like you. Fortunately, in this experience for me, I wasn't hit with micro-inequities constantly or made to feel inadequate because of some stereotype vulnerability mechanism - I really only experienced part of what women in IT potentially face every day (being a minority in a male-dominated industry). I can tell you though, there is nothing like being a few among thousands to get you to think beyond your own experiences and to, in some senses, walk in the shoes of others.

The Challenge

This is an easy challenge for you. Go find your opportunity to experience what it feels like to be one-down or to be a true minority in a situation. Surround yourself by others who are different from you and learn from that experience. Look around and be aware of what you see and feel……you can’t help but grow from that.

Below are photos I personally took at the event so I hope you enjoy them.

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