When Lesbians Who Tech decided to host its first ever summit in 2017—just a handful of years after its founding in 2014—a few tech companies threw in a few dollars as sponsors and 800 people showed up.
Today, those summits draw thousands and cover the country.
“In that moment, I knew it was something beyond a happy hour every couple of months,” founder and San Francisco-based techie Leanne Pittsford told Brit & Co recently. “We were part of a movement to have more of an equitable technology industry and society. We had to play a role to make sure queer women had a voice.”
In 2014, Pittford got frustrated by a male-centric deluge of tech events she’d been attending. She decided to be the change she sought and put together a series of gatherings for lesbians in tech at a local bar, which grew to gatherings at several bars, which grew to many, which grew to LWT chapters, which then grew to many chapters. Lesbians Who Tech now boasts 40,000 members and more than 40 chapters worldwide, including one in South Florida.
Next month, Lesbians Who Tech is back with a first ever leadership summit event in New York that directly appeals to mid- and executive level leadership
From Wednesday, Sept. 12, and through that Friday, the non-binary, LGBT women and allies group will be bringing its chops and awareness to New York City. With its QUEER | INCLUSIVE | BADASS motto, LWT is planning the three-day event as a “smaller event” than past summits in the city, in an effort to “focus on a more curated experience for our mid-level and executive members,” according to the event site. As always, the summit will lend much of its content to tech and the trends shaping it.
As of press time, LWT was still finalizing its speakers and program. One speaker, however, is Arlan Hamilton (according to an LWT tweet). Hamilton founded Backstage Capital, a venture capital firm focusing on underrepresentation. In May 2018, a year and a half before its self-imposed deadline to do so, the firm had invested more than $4 million in 100 minority-led companies.
“I have said in the past that I do think it’s going to be this trendy thing to invest in the black and brown founder. Just as it has been for women. It’ll be this trendy thing that does go away,” Hamilton told the People of Color in Tech podcast. “...the way that we counter that is by one knowing it. Be aware. The second is by enabling and catalyzing angel investors and VC’s of color today. We can’t wait till it runs out because then it’ll be too late.”
LWT itself has a similar goal. For example, the organization emphasizes inclusion and diversity, and backs up its own stats.
“We won’t have the summit unless our speakers are 50 percent women, 25 percent women of color, and 10 percent gender non-conforming or trans,” Pittsford told Brit & Co. According to the event page, the upcoming summit comprises 80 percent non-binary and queer women, 20 percent women allies, 50 percent women of color.
To get an idea of what the summit will look and feel like, LWT encourages potential attendees to check out past summits.
The 2017 summit in New York, for example, garnered 2,000 attendees, its sessions’ tech topics including mobile, cybersecurity, big data, health tech, financial tech, software engineering, inclusion, design, space tech, and science. Its big shot contending speakers include HuffPost Editor in Chief Lydia Polgreen, National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendall, and New York Times tech reporter and staff writer extraordinaire (and Still Processing podcast co-host) Jenna Wortham.
At LWT’s March 2018 summit in San Francisco, celebrity attendees included Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, and Tegan and Sara.
Exalting the value of that March LWT summit and others like it, Sandberg talked about the oft claimed pipeline-issue of LGBT women’s representation in tech, by which some argue there simply aren’t enough recruits attempting to join tech ranks.
“... it’s cultural. And the good news is, when it’s cultural it means we can change it. Lesbians tech, girls tech, women of color tech, black girls code, computer science and engineering Lean In circles,” Sandberg told Recode. “The way to get more women into tech is to get more women into tech. Because for every young girl out there who sees this audience and hears from here, they now can’t see this as an only-male field.”
According to job placement website Indeed, at least some of that culture is actually seeing some of that change.
As of February 2018, diverse and inclusive postings on the site were:
- Up 18 percent compared to 2017
- Up 35 percent compared to 2016 and 2017
“While it is difficult to point to one particular event behind the spurt in employer demand, growing awareness could be responsible for the ascent in postings,” Indeed’s Daniel Culbertson wrote.
To that end, LWT’s September summit ends Friday afternoon with a career fair it calls the largest in-person and virtual career fair. According to LWT, the involved companies, ranging from Goldman Sachs to Facebook to Bank of America, intentionally recruit “badass, underrepresented and talented tech professionals with a variety of skills.”
“We especially seek women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and people who live with a disability,” the fair Eventbrite page reads. The fair is free.
It also includes a mentoring program you can access after registering and signing up with include, a platform claiming to “fight bias in hiring with intention by scaling access to direct referrals for underrepresented candidates.” According to LWT, many of its mentoring partners will also be actively recruiting at the fair through the group’s database on include. As of press time, those companies are:
T. Rowe Price
Ernst & Young
Bank of America
To find out more or register, check out LesbiansWhoTech.org/newyork2017.