GHC Reflections: Sheryl Sandberg Keynote

Last week I had the joy of visiting the Grace Hopper Celebration in Minneapolis, MN as a scholarship recipient. For those unaware, the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) is a conference celebrating women in computing through speakers, panels, research presentations, learning sessions, and of course – dancing. The conference was awe-inspiring – to see so many women in a field where women are extremely underrepresented coming together with a common interest and drive. I left the conference with new knowledge and new vigor, and would like to share some of my experiences.

The kickoff keynote Wednesday was by none other than Sheryl Sandberg: COO of Facebook. Anyone unfamiliar with Sheryl Sandberg can do a quick search to find how successful of a business woman she is. Bringing in a powerhouse woman like Sandberg to speak to thousands of young aspiring women in technology definitely kicked the conference off with a bang.

Sandberg discussed women’s under representation in business in general  – one of the topics she is most noted for speaking on – but tied it to technology rather elegantly as the two topics often intertwine. For me, hearing Sandberg speak was a whole new level of amazing; I have been quoting her points on the inverse popularity of women as they rise in power for quite some time now.

What was saddening is how what Sandberg said to all of us on Wednesday morning rang true throughout the entire conference: women in computing truly aren’t recognized as being as capable as their male counterparts. Almost every other keynote and session thereafter had some story come out that reflected the truth she expressed that morning.

It was also rather unsettling to see how even a woman as powerful as Sandberg and who advocates so strongly that any woman can be successful still deals with the conception of women in business and technology. She spoke of a panel she had been on where a man stated “not all women are like Sheryl – she’s competent” and another on the panel stated how having women in the workplace may tempt him. It’s a pity that we still deal with these notions in business but also the technology field – and yet they ring too true. Stories of female developers who weren’t allowed by their bosses to touch any code lest they “break it”, then upon finally doing the code completing it well were told they “must be one of the good ones” – these conceptions are true across the board of females in technology. The fact that even someone as successful as Sandberg who should be the case in point for the absurdness of such statements still having to deal with them proves how misconstrued our views of women in technology and business truly are.

There are many reasons for the gender gap and gender conceptions in technology fields (some of which I will discuss in reflections from other GHC panels and keynotes), but one thing is clear: it must be eliminated. Every developer approaches their project from a different mindset – why would we ever want to suggest that just because that mindset is female it is not valid?

Female developers have done amazing things – just look at the GHC namesake. Without a marvelously smart and driven woman like Grace Hopper, modern computing would not have been possible. Why is her achievement of the compiler shoved under the rug, much like Sandberg’s success?

Being a woman is considered this fault that must be overcome for success – but it is not a fault at all. It means our success may come in different forms, and with a different background than many of our current counterparts (read: male). Variety is the spice of life, and allowing women’s successes to be celebrated and revered could breed wondrous possibilities and diversity.

And maybe, just maybe – if young girls see women who succeeded being regarded highly for their skill and achievements rather than called “lucky” for overcoming their gender barrier…well, maybe those young girls will know just how possible it is for them to be successful in the future as well.

See Sheryl Sandberg’s Keynote Here:

Sheryl Sandberg’s acclaimed book, Lean In, has started a foundation to support women and drive their ambition.
Learn more about Lean In circles, the Lean In foundation, or order the book here:

“I want to tell any young girl out there who’s a geek, I was a really serious geek in high school. It works out. Study harder.” -Sheryl Sandberg