Women in Tech: Notes from the Grace Hopper Celebration
This past fall, I attended the world's largest gathering of women technologists. I came back with a renewed appreciation for the work we do and our company's commitment to building a diverse and inclusive environment.
The annual Grace Hopper Celebration conference is named for Grace Hopper, a United States Navy rear admiral who was a pioneer in computer programming. Some 25,000 women from across the globe attend the conference, which is dedicated to supporting and inspiring women to further their careers, break boundaries and transform the world of technology.
As I reflect on the experience of being surrounded by so many strong and talented women in tech, here are three things that stood out:
- “Great minds do not think alike.” This was my favorite quote from the entire conference – it's profound in its simplicity. Diversity is a good thing, especially in the workplace. You need to have diversity of backgrounds, thought processes and personalities. You need diversity to be more effective and efficient, and to come up with more innovative ideas. From Northwestern Mutual's diversity and inclusion standpoint, we're actively trying to build up the workforce to support that mindset by focusing on women – in particular, women from different backgrounds (in tech and otherwise). We don't always get it 100% right, but attending and recruiting at conferences like this is one of the ways we're trying to achieve that goal. We conducted 47 interviews at Grace Hopper this year, extending on-the-spot offers to nine women.
- Women in tech are dedicated to making a difference. It was great to connect with so many other talented women at this event. We had NASA scientists coming to our booth asking about Northwestern Mutual and talking about the skills they could bring to our company. This is huge! Everyone at Grace Hopper was incredibly focused and dedicated to making a difference, and they're looking at companies like Northwestern Mutual and asking: " Could this be the place that helps me make a difference? How can I have an impact in this company or industry?" I think that's so powerful.
- Women in tech are drawn to the culture and work-life balance found in the Midwest. Because we all could so strongly (and positively) speak to the great work-life balance we have at Northwestern Mutual, it was extremely attractive to people. A homegrown, meat-and-potatoes kind of thing. We work to live, not live to work – but when we are working, we have a strong passion for changing people's lives.
From a purely personal standpoint, I also walked away from the conference with a greater appreciation for my female colleagues who attended the conference with me. I got to learn about what they do, what their families are like, how they get home on time to make dinner with their kids, how they afford daycare, and how they deployed their latest feature update to their technology. So, while our goal at the conference was to look for phenomenal talent, the experience of being there with peers helped us all recognize and appreciate the talent already among us. It gave us the chance to create strong relationships with each other, and I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity.