My Date With Diversity at the Tech Inclusion Conference

September 14, 2015

8:00 pm

At the beginning of July Wayne Sutton, General Partner at BUILDUP VC, reached out to me about a side project he had been working on for a while: Anonymously Ask a Black Person. I had the privilege to get Sutton on the phone and dig into the platform, and it was an incredibly eye opening experience for me, to say the least.

Not long after the article went live, Sutton reached out to me once again. This time, however, he looped in Change Catalyst’s founder and CEO Melinda Briana Epler because they were both interested in having me attend the Tech Inclusion Conference in San Francisco.

I was a bit nervous because, while I’ve been to countless conferences, I had never been invited to speak at one before. Specifically, Sutton and Epler wanted me to be on a panel to discuss the importance of the media in relation to building and sustaining a diverse and inclusive tech ecosystem: I was on stage with Carolina Echeverria (Univision), Kriz Bell (Anita Borg Institute), Morgan DeBaun (Blavity), and Selena Larson (Daily Dot).

You see, the entirety of the Tech Inclusion Conference focused on topics like this. The two day event was built with the express directive to get past a conversation about the numerous diversity issues in the world of tech. Rather, Change Catalyst opted to highlight what’s currently being done about tech diversity and inclusion, discuss initiatives that have worked, and explore new solutions in a collaborative environment.

Further, it was created for the entire tech community, from high grade engineers all the way to middle and high school students. One of my favorite parts was the conference code of conduct that the Tech Inclusion Conference held in high esteem:

“Our conference is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, age, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, ethnicity, religion (or lack thereof), or technology choices.

 

We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks, workshops, parties, Twitter, and other online media.

 

Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference without a refund at the discretion of conference organizers.”

That’s it: simple, succinct, and powerful. It’s a perfectly written code, soft handed in presentation but stern beneath the surface. Everybody was beyond respectful and adhered to the code. It was never an issue, and nobody felt threatened – quite the opposite, actually.

When I first showed up at Galvanize San Francisco, I was blown away at how welcoming everybody was. Quite literally, from minute one of being at the Tech Inclusion Conference, I felt safe and accepted, and I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only one.

That pervading sense of security made the entire conference relaxed, fun, engaging, and above all else educational. Over the course of Friday and Saturday I immersed myself in various speakers, sessions, and panels. The only real problem I ever ran into was trying to decide if I wanted to go to a workshop in the speakeasy – a smaller, more intimate venue – or head over to the main stage for a riveting panel.

One of the coolest things I witnessed all weekend though was the Youth in STEM Panel. There were six young people on stage discussing their personal journeys into tech, and I’m not lying when I say that they dwarfed my intelligence by a long shot.

But that’s kind of the point of going to a conference like this, isn’t it? You get the chance to interact with a wide array of perspectives, people, and ideologies, thus expanding the realms of your own intelligence and consciousness. I think that’s a true, pure embodiment of diversity.

I also think that Epler and Sutton would agree with me on that one: after all, that means their conference is living up to and in fact exceeding expectation. Which brings me to my next point. I know that the Tech Inclusion Conference was built to celebrate diversity in all forms, but it wouldn’t have even happened without Sutton and Epler.

They absolutely nailed it. The atmosphere felt safe and accepting, the production value was impressively high, and there was never a dull moment. More importantly, however, was the response I got from talking with other attendees.

Almost unanimously, we all realized each of us has a tangible power to change the sometimes draconian paradigms in the current tech industry. On a personal level, I’ve always known this to be true, but I don’t know if I ever believed it as much as I do after engaging with the Tech Inclusion Conference.

Collectively we owe so much to entreprenerus like Epler and Sutton: people who go out of their way to ensure that the rest of the world gets an opportunity like this. In my mind, they’re two fixed points in a sometimes chaotic ocean of diversity related issues, news, and talks: without them we would surely have a much harder time surviving at sea.

Not to mention, they’re two of the nicest people I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting in my life so far. So, thank you both for inviting me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my perspective. Most importantly though, thank you for helping to open up my mind. I can’t wait for next year.

Here are some tweets from the event in case you missed it:

Image Credit: I took this photo myself 

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Will is a Senior Writer with Tech.Co, based out of America's Finest City: San Diego. He covers all territory West of the Mississippi river, digging deep for awesome local entrepreneurs, companies, and ideas. He's the resident Android junkie and will be happy to tell you why you should switch to the OS. When he's off the clock, Will focuses his literary talent on the art of creative writing...or you might find him surfing in Ocean Beach. Follow Will on Twitter @WJS1988

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