I had the pleasure of attending the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration last week—which ironically took place in Orlando, FL—hosted by Anita B Org. The largest gathering of women technologists hosted 25,000 people with diverse backgrounds from all over the world. The goal? Closing the gender, diversity, and wage gap by 2025! Their relentless approach includes many aspects, combining different career fields with various levels of experience. They had a great "We Will" theme which each speaker made their own.
I was awarded a complimentary registration, sponsored by Bill.com by way of Anita B. Org. On Tuesday night, I had a lovely dinner with the Bill.com staff where I gained valuable insight while networking. It was exactly what a newbie like myself needed to ease my nerves. I learned so much about the industry itself and how to navigate through it, especially as a double-minority. I'm eternally grateful for the life-changing opportunity they provided me with. Their patience, encouragement, and willingness to answer my many questions will always stick with me.
Often times diversity events can be underwhelming. While they usually have the best intentions, it can be hard to properly represent individual groups and not necessarily due to a lack of effort. The conversation about diversity can quickly become uncomfortable. I didn't realize until Grace Hopper Celebration that I didn't feel seen. Being new to this industry, I knew of successful female technologists, but none that looked like me. Little did I know, I'd end up in various spaces filled with women that represent me. The best part of it all? Their willingness to share endless information and dive right into the challenges we face as African-Americans and women.
Although my first day was off to a painfully early start, due to a registration glitch the night before, my experience was still amazing. After my 5 am wake up, instead of going back to sleep after badge pick-up, I took blog photos.
My hotel room view was the Orange County Convention Center. I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Orlando which was super convenient—they hosted many of the smaller conference events and are located directly across the street from the OCCC. They also treat you like royalty and have a great on-site restaurant with a lounge feel.
Brenda Darden Wilkerson, the CEO of Anitab.org, gave a powerful speech with the theme "We Will take our power and channel it to a commitment." One of the keynote speakers, Anna Roca Castro, founder of Genius Plaza, vowed that "We Will ignite the genius of every child." She keeps her mission first, second, and last. The second keynote speaker, Aicha Evans, founder of Zooks, vowed that "We Will think big and be transformative." She stressed the importance of understanding different viewpoints and that even not so nice people have brilliant ideas. Her commitment to progression allowed for a refreshing perspective, one where self wasn't part of the equation. Miss Evans explained that life isn't linear and that breaks and surprises don't mean failure. She encouraged the audience to tackle jobs and challenges that most run from, explaining that it allows for large impact and growth.
For my second day, I started the morning with a lovely speech by Morgan DeBaun, founder of Blavity. The media mogul stressed the importance of finding a startup that you're content with being broke for while building. She stressed the importance of "golden handcuffs," a concept based on scaling back to maintain financial discipline. Advising us to find a problem, answer said problem, and make it innovative, she surprisingly revealed that she's an introvert. Miss DeBaun said there's nothing wrong with allowing yourself downtime and encouraged her audience to assess what you gravitate towards during free time. Demanding that us women stop waiting for permission, this speech resonated with me most, largely due to my passion for writing. I was lucky enough to meet her after her presentation!
Next up was the Career Fair. While I was overwhelmed being a first-timer, it was amazing to see the vast selection of companies that dominate tech. With an abundance of progressive cultures, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion, recruiters were open books, sharing many gems on how to land your dream tech role. Attendees had the option to upload their resume into an existing database before the conference started, and from there we received constant emails about open positions. However, this wasn't your typical career fair. As you can imagine, the booths for each company had insane designs, some even showcasing mind-blowing robots.
I ended the evening at an Amazon sponsored reception for black women in tech. I was overwhelmed in the best way possible as I looked around and saw the ballroom filled with women who looked like me. They broke every stereotypical mold and came from all walks of life—some having technical skills and some working for technology based companies; some married and some single; some mothers and some not—embracing their Black Girl Magic. I met so many fly, education and career-driven women, both old and new to the field.
My last day was relaxing. I attended three sessions: "Info Session on AnitaB.org memberships," "Writing Your Way Into Tech," and "AI To Augment Fashion Authority." After working on my portfolio in my room for a while and a much needed nap, I got ready to attend the final event. Grace Hopper's Evening Celebration was filled with food, fun, and many photo opps. With two adorable kid DJ's, we danced the night away to close out the amazing weekend.
In my experience, this conference is worth every penny and an annual necessity for women in technology. The progressive environment was the recharge I needed. I gained many different perspectives on how to tackle my goals. I also learned about new technical roles I never knew of before. The cohesive environment is one where other's genuinely want to see you succeed, regardless of your chosen career path. I connected with some amazing women and I'm excited to see how progress on this journey together!
I highly suggest updating your resume and LinkedIn profile before attending, viewing the available job listings so you can have a game plan for the Career Fair, and not being afraid to socialize regardless of who the person is!
Sooo I'm a bit of an over-packer but I'd rather have and not need than vice-verse. I was lucky that the event was local so I didn't have to worry about overweight baggage fees.
*Makeup Must-Haves: Fenty Lip Paint; Anastassia Powder Countour Kit, Dip Brow, and Brow Gel; Ben Nye Banana Powder; Becca Poreless Primer; Juvia's Place Warrior Eyeshadow Palette; and IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Under-eye.
*Jewelry Must-Haves: I usually don't accessorize too much but I have an obsession with Bourbon & Bow Ties bangles and anything with crystals.
*Handbag Highlights: I love a giant bag and my Henri Bendel tote is perfect for carrying everything. And I do mean everything—including my iPad, planner, notebooks, and girly stuff. Sometimes a big bag is an eye sore with outfits, so I brought along a smaller Kate Spade one too. A clutch is a necessity, especially for evening events, so I packed this Louis Vuitton pouch.
The Night Before - Networking Dinner
I wore this floral two-tone coral and nude shift dress by Max Studio with nude tie-up heel sandals by Steve Madden.
Day 1 - Keynote Speakers
My 5 AM wake up meant casual—I refused to unnecessarily put on make-up that early. I sported a cozy navy Hollister sweater, white American Apparel racerback tank, and Paige high-waist denim.
Day 2 - Speakers, Career Fair, Evening Reception
I wore a simple Calvin Klein gold accented jumper with Steve Madden gold accented sandals to watch the scheduled speakers and attend the Career Fair.
For the Evening Reception I changed into a black long sleeve dress with gold embellishments by Romeo and Juliet Couture. This flowy dress was paired with black Steve Madden honeycomb heels.
Day 3 - Seminars and Evening Celebration
I wore a black ribbed Topshop bodycon dress that was midi length and these fun multi-textured Dolce Vita heels with snake print, black leather, and tan suede .
For a more detailed look at my experience, visit my GHC19 Instagram highlights! ✨