Takeaways from “Progress and the Power of Community” event at Philly Tech Week 2020
The mission is clear: diversify tech. The road to achieve it, however, is full of obstacles. This short piece will not be spent on all of the obstacles that women, and particularly women of color, face as under-represented groups in the tech industry, but it is still worth calling attention to it: the numbers are staggering.
What this piece will touch upon is the commitment to building community and elevating the voices that are changing these statistics, often with little means, but always with intentional determination.
I had the pleasure of participating in Philly Tech Sistas’ session during this year’s virtual Philly Tech Week (#PTW20) which Apostrophe was proud to sponsor. It was the Episode 2 premiere of The Chasing Grace Project: “Progress, The Power of Community,” It was followed by a panel discussion and virtual mixer. The film and discussion highlighted the challenges faced by women in technology, and moreover, the community of thoughtful and powerful women that are serving as catalysts for change.
There are several reasons that I wanted to participate in the event, but there are two that rose to the top: to show up, and play an active role in the community.
Find opportunities to show up.
For the last several months, conversations around building more diversity within the tech community have been prioritized as the nation has demanded the acknowledgement of the incredible racial and economic divide that is evident across all sectors and industries. Important to note, these chasms are often more pronounced for non-male identifying people of color. The lack of opportunity as a result of our societal digital divide is top of mind for Apostrophe.
“As a white male founder of a company almost 15 years ago in a space that often felt white and male, diversity and inclusion was not top of mind. As the years ticked by, it became more and more of a top priority for us to reflect the diversity of the amazing city we call home - Philadelphia.” Excerpt from the announcement of Apostrophe’s formation in 2019
This lack of diversity in our industry and even in our own small organization is not lost on anyone at Apostrophe, and it bears repeating that we need to continually seek out ways to make a positive difference to make change. When an opportunity arises to support the work of organizations like Philly Tech Sistas, it is important to take action.
Earlier in the year, our organization, like many others, held open discussions and pledged to educate ourselves and engage with others out there doing important work against systemic racism. It was at this time, and early in my role at Apostrophe, that I actively sought out groups advocating for female representation in tech. I found Philly Tech Sistas (PTS) and reached out to its organizer, Ashley Turner. Early in our conversation, I stressed that we were looking for more than an avenue to donate time and resources. We wanted to pave a two-way highway. Our team is admittedly not diverse, and we are actively looking to change that. Building relationships with organizations we can invite into our conversations to provide us with feedback and diverse perspectives is something we value. As our company grows, an organization like PTS can help us identify great future talent, which is also part of their mission. So, when given the opportunity to sponsor Philly Tech Sistas at this event, we made the commitment to do so with enthusiasm. At the end of the day, it was more than supporting the organization. It was a great opportunity to show up and follow through on our commitments.
Find a place within the community.
Cultivating and maintaining a community takes work. You must participate, put in what you expect to receive from the community experience. The imposed in-person limitations of 2020 on meetups, networking, and conference engagement are necessary, but the virtual experience often does not add up to the type of connections made at those in-person sessions.
But this is just an excuse. Another Zoom meeting is certainly not as exciting or engaging as a trip downtown to meet with other humans in the same space, and it requires a certain kind of attitude: Don’t just roll with it; make the most of it. That is what I told myself, and I needed to hear it. By attending my first Philly Tech Sistas event, I committed to do more than show up. I committed to pouring my energy into the screen and engaging with others who were determined to do the same.
💡 Tip: When in small groups at virtual events (ie. Zoom breakout rooms) and the intention is to interact and network, be sure to have your name displayed. It is also completely acceptable to ask someone to repeat their name so you have a better chance of committing it to memory - and then use the person’s name in your response. Not only does your memory thank you, but the recipient of your response feels that you are more connected with them. 💡 Learn more about workshopping remotely
Tapping into an additional reservoir of energy these days does not come easily. As a mom navigating new roads with a young son, the demand of finding time and balance is at an all-time high. For example, prioritizing an epic lego build (for the tenth time today) after he's put his energy into virtual kindergarten is a must.
But as I said before, just as it does with family, participation in a community takes work. So I joined other women, leaders, mothers (and more) at the virtual event and I am happy that I did. I was inspired. I listened to and learned from other women in the tech industry, and I spoke. It was refreshing, and I’m on a mission to do it again.
Overall, the session was well organized and expertly executed. I learned a few things, I listened to stories, I made some connections. The message from Philly Tech Sistas and The Chasing Grace Project resonated loud and clear. We must be inclusive and transparent. We must participate and we must act in order to build a better future for all. These are solid key takeaways in terms of a virtual conference. However, there was a little something more. It is an ember that was not there before, or that was simply sectioned off and not prioritized in the chaos of 2020. It is a motivator that was brought to the forefront. A welcomed obligation to continue to support forward progress, use my platform to create opportunities, and be an active member within the community.
If this has inspired you to act, visit Philly Tech Sistas to learn more about the mission and find ways to lend your skills and strength to the platform. If you are looking for inspirational stories, check out The Chasing Grace project.
If you have an event that you think I would love, reach out! In the meantime, I hope to see you around (the screen) sometime soon.