Diversity in Tech
5 min read
October 8, 2021

What we learned at the 2021 Grace Hopper Celebration


Ademusoyo Awosika-Olumo

The 2021 Grace Hopper Celebration (vGHC21) taught us the many ways we can #DareTo live confidently, learn deeply, and celebrate where we are in our journey.

The 2021 Grace Hopper Celebration concluded last week, and we were overjoyed, inspired, and encouraged by the different perspectives and experiences, the technical talks digging deeper into different technologies, and the celebration of the accomplishments of women all across the country.

WNBA Player and Advocate Layshia Clarendon delivers a powerful keynote discussing intersectionality and advocacy to show up as your full self everywhere you go.

Layshia Clarendon headshot

This keynote stresses the importance of showing up as your authentic self in the face of adversity and discomfort. Layshia talks about their story of navigating their struggles with identity and how, on the other side of that discomfort, they are able to feel empowered to lead other people effectively. Layshia addresses the systematic reasonings behind why marginalized communities tend to shrink themselves into fitting into a particular mold within their organization and how detrimental that can be to one's emotional and physical well-being.

Layshia also calls out leaders and managers, expressing that they also need to provide the space for people to feel included and safe to be themselves. In their talk, they said, "The more whole, fulfilled, happy your employees are, the better employees they are." Taking care of the people who work within your organization by allowing them to be themselves and feel respected and appreciated is vital for overall team health because you need people to execute on a business's innovative ideas.

Layshia reminds us that living authentically can lead to better versions of ourselves and lead to more opportunities. They say in the keynote, "Being a whole and healthy individual makes you a better part of the sum." For them, this looks like feeling confident in their own skin, taking ownership and appreciation of their identity, and advocating for other people who may not be at the place yet to advocate for themselves. Layshia encourages us to live audaciously and to choose ourselves over anyone else's discomfort.

This past pandemic year has forced organizations to change the way they work in ways that people have been advocating for over the past few years. Now that we've had to adapt to a new way of working Layshia asks, "Will we change the way we do business? Will we give people positions of power who have varied experiences?". Layshia pushes for stepping beyond the reactive approach of diversity and inclusion training to adopting a more proactive approach to change the inner working within ourselves to respect other people's humanity.

vGHC21: Great talks from this week

  1. Kubernetes – The 5Ws and a H: Sakuntaladevi Vidhyasankar, Vice President at JPMorgan Chase, provides a deep dive into Kubernetes and how we can use it within our organization.
  2. Connected Ecosystems: Cloud-Enabled IoT Architectures, Use Cases and Challenges: Deepti Gupta, a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Smriti Bhatt, assistant professor at the Department of Computer and Information Technology at Purdue University, discuss their research involving creating smart health technologies that use the Internet of Things Platforms.
  3. The Imposter | Lessons Learned From the Cloud: A Professional and Technical Journey: Mikela Wright, Software Engineering Manager at Capital One, talks about her experience building data pipelines to migrate to AWS as well as the imposter syndrome that she dealt with along the way.
  4. You Build It, You Run It: The Shift to a true DevOps Model: Sakthi Kasiramalingam, Director of Cloud Platforms at Discover Financial Services, and Bryan Payton, Senior Principal Enterprise Architect at Discover Financial Services, discusses how to shift to a true DevOps model while building cloud platforms.
  5. Building Your Own Table: Making Strategic Moves in Your Career: Michelle Thompson-Dolberry, Vice President of Inclusion & Diversity Strategic Relationships at American Express, and Minda Harts, CEO of the Memo LLC, discuss how to be strategic with the moves you are making within your career once you have a seat at the table.
  6. Building Your Career Beyond Your Job: Deborah Liu, CEO of Ancestry.com, and Vidya Srinivasan, General Co-Char of vGHC 21, discuss why you need to have career sponsors so that you can advance and leap into senior and executive levels.
  7. Turning Failure into a Data Point: Payal Kadakia, Executive Chairman & Founder of ClassPass, talks about the journey of how ClassPass went from a $1 Billion valuation to fitness studios shutting down due to the pandemic forced her to rethink her overall business model and how the failure can allow you to pivot in a way you didn't think before.
  8. Digitizing Endangered Language Texts: How NLP Can Help Language Revitalization: Shruti Rijhwani, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University, talks about digitizing endangered languages with neural NLP models adapting to learn from limited data.
  9. Meaningful AI: the New Frontier of Predictive Analytics: Eden Canlilar, Lead Data Scientist at Booz Allen, talks about the science and art of creating a truly meaningful AI experience for individual users.
  10. Dare to Fly: Turning Your Pain to Purpose: D’Yanna Craighead, Senior Manager of Technology at The Walt Disney Company, discusses the ups and downs of growing personally and professionally, especially as an underrepresented minority within tech, and how people can be better allies to drive change.

After over 300 sessions spanning five days, we are grateful to have been able to engage with participants and learn from the talented speakers. We can't wait for the next one.


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