"I had trouble leaving the dressing room as folks started to gather at the Super: Women in Tech event. A show of this scale, featuring women in technology had never been done before. The nerves of whether or not people will attend your party begins to set in." - Zoe Piliafas, Co-founder of Vox Siren and Executive Producer of Super: Women in Tech
BackFence PDX and Vox Siren sat down last spring and came up with the concept of the show. They decided to jump in and jump in a BIG way. Why not select, Revolution Hall, one of the largest and most luxurious venues in Portland to host your first show together? This meant that all we needed to do was gather 800 people for a night of listening, learning, laughing and wonder. No problem.
"Before going on stage, the thought of 700+ pairs of ears and eyes focused on you is super intimidating, but the audience was so warm and supportive, that within a few minutes it felt like I was telling a story in my living room. I didn't expect to feel comfortable with the pauses and the silent moments in my talk, but I did." - Melinda Campbell, Puppet Inc.
Everything about this show was a woman-led-solution. We know that while, Equity and Diversity trainings have value, there are so many other ways to explore and validate the experiences of women. Super: Women in Tech is not a Ted Talk, it's not a conference. Super: Women in Tech brings back one of the oldest art forms, oral tradition. There is no accompanying powerpoint, there is just a spotlight, a microphone and a woman on stage sharing with us a part of her story, a part of her journey. It's undeniable. It's raw. It captivates.
The first believer in our event was Laura Stepp, formerly the Director of People with Puppet Inc. now Jama. She took a risk and became our first sponsor. Laura's magic, has been built on her strong reputation, she then introduced Vox Siren to other women leaders to gather support. The women in the tech industry made this event possible. Hats off to your leadership.
Elemental's Community and Diversity Program Manager, Nancy Garcia was hired recently because Elemental recognized that it needed to take Diversity and inclusion initiatives to the next level. Nancy learned about the event and within weeks got the support of her Elemental Team.
"Elemental created this role to formalize our commitment to D&I in the workplace and to take the steps needed to further momentum." says Nancy. "We believe in the power of diversity and recognize that world-class innovation stems from inclusion, equality and transparency... We strongly believe that if we practice diversity, we attract diversity and my role is to ensure that D&I is ingrained in our daily business operations at all levels."
This show was different. It got us all quiet for a moment in time. A moment to listen. There was no expected response. One woman after another, got up, tested her courage, and captivated us. We all left with a new perspective, a new conversation.
We have been asked, are you going to do this again, please do this again! We have some ideas brewing of future possibilities. We would love to hear yours! If you have thoughts, suggestions, want to get involved or folks you want to see on stage, please contact Zoe Piliafas at firstname.lastname@example.org
First, Tia Coachman is a badass diva! She is on the Vox Siren board and upon learning about the Super: Women in Tech Live Storytelling Event - she said I bet folks at Wieden and Kennedy would be interested in partnering on this. Then, she did what all excellent leaders do, she got good people in a room, provided direction, encouraged discussion and then magic happened. Together we designed a coloring book, unlike anything out there! A coloring book that has the mastery of graphic design that comes from the talented W+K folks and is paired with the witty writing style of B. Frayn Masters. Next, she found us Saira Weigel, Executive Producer of Animation and Digital Asset Production, to be one of our storytellers. Tia is an ignitor and without her this would not be possible.
Vox Siren is constantly thinking about how to create inclusivity, uplift all women's stories and learn from our mistakes. It was extraordinary to work with a marketing agency that understood the power of these values.
This inspired us to ask Tera Hatfield, Design Lead, at The Lodge at Wieden+Kennedy, more about what and who they valued in the technology field.
The Lodge -- it was established to shake up the way creativity works with technology. This team of curious-minded experts in machine learning, interaction design, real-time graphics, architecture, sensor technology and other emergent parts of technology are focused on using tech to solve human problems, bridging the gap between a brand’s purpose and their customer’s reality, and creating experiences for brands that are less expected and more magical, joyful, and provocative.
Who are some women in tech that you respect in the PDX area and at Wieden+Kennedy?
Oh dear, there are too many to name—many of whom excel in relative anonymity—but make no mistake, Portland is stacked with talented women in design and technology, and I will damn well try to name them all and fail miserably. The women in technology I know and love tend to be versatile—slaying not only in conceptual design, thinking, and making but also in development and engineering of products and experiences that are inclusive and that murder expectations.
The lady bosses you likely already know and lurve—Heather Champ, Tiffany Beers, Kelley Roy, Jessie White, Tina Glengary Cordes, and Colleen DeCourcy. Each of these women do something very different under the auspices of "technology," and are helping to shape the future of this broad and creative field.
Other ladies that float my technological boat: Traci Sym, Stephanie Dunx, Traci Sym, Erica Warren, and Stephanie Duncker. At W+K, I get to work with young and crazy talented women who will some day in the not too distant future rule the creative tech world: Manxue Way, Jes Marquez, Claire Wilson and Lindsey Murphy.
Lastly, I'm also part of a small, nimble crew of women that organize Ladies Night—a quarterly happy hour for digitally-minded, female-identifying folk, committed to conversation, collaboration & community. Even just a few years ago, it wasn't easy to find other ladies in this field. This quarterly event ensures when you're a lady in tech and design, you're never alone. Etch these names into your memory and say hello to them at the next event: Jordan A. Smith, Emily Plummer (of donut.js), Aimee Reed, Gina Giampaolo, Ginger Craft, Mary Blalock, and Sarah Cespedes.
Do you have a woman you admire, look up to in science, engineering, technology or mathematics?
I grew up in a blue collar family. I didn't really see or hear about women in technology, science or engineering in general. I still remember a fifth grade visit from a long-haired, well intentioned male engineer from Microsoft who made the epic journey across the Puget Sound too woo us with tales of lunchtime cookie buffets and relaxed dress codes (no shoes required?!) that all made us ooh and aah. Anything went at this crazy new workplace! Except if you were a girl, apparently they had none. When I asked if a girl engineer could visit—he blandly stated there weren't any women in his department.
I'm an odd ball tomboy born in the early 80s—obsessed with the films of Spielberg, Gibson novels, Punky Brewster, Spiderman comics, Oregon Trail on the Apple II, and the heartbreaking promise of the Nintendo Power Glove. I grew up watching plucky hacker kids solving mysteries with computers on Whiz Kids, Bill Nye and Mr. Wizard doing untold number of amazing experiments in their backyards. This was a present and future I could nerd out on, but there weren't that many women characters that I connected with.
Childhood heroes included astronaut Sally Ride and Gillian Anderson's Agent Dana Scully of the X-Files but it wasn't until I was older and stumbled across an article here or there that I discovered throngs of women that have made a dent in the world. My top three favorite?
Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Goble Johnson, and Susan Kare. Look them up! They've done and made wondrous things.
What is the most diverse teams you have worked on? What did diversity bring to the end product?
The most diverse teams I've worked on are often self initiated side projects with other women.
In more recent professional settings, W+K's the Lodge has been a breath of fresh air. We have folks from incredibly diverse professional and cultural backgrounds and we have 4-5 female creatives working as designers and/or engineers. That said we still have a long way to go. The Lodge is involved in development programs like Code2040 and Ladies Night among others and are actively looking to even the gender split as we grow.
When you have a non-homogeneous team stacked with diverse individuals—the solutions are always 100% smarter, more innovative, nuanced and inclusive. Google it, there are too many Harvard Business Review articles to prove it.
What excites you about the future of the tech industry in PDX?
Portland's tech industry is clearly beginning to flourish with businesses like Google, Smith Optics, UnderArmour, and AirBnB (among others) moving to Portland. More importantly, this city has a solid foundation in innovation, higher education, smart infrastructure, and material sciences thanks to forward thinkings citizens, designers, policy-makers and home grown companies like Nike.
Pointed applications for VR and AR as well as advances in smart infrastructure, material science and nanotechnology that meaningfully connect our digital and physical lives are what get me stoked.
More importantly though I think Portland has a real opportunity to be the first city to begin to truly democratize technology—to learn from the mistakes of other cities, to truly provide access to the tools that are defining the future to the most unlikely citizens, to engage people of color in meaningful ways, and perhaps most importantly... to remain open and inclusive in its problem-solving instead of turning inward towards isolationist projects and opportunities for 1 percenters. We have real problems to solve, big and small, and we're going to need all the heart and brain-power this city can muster.
Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Approximately a year and a half ago the Portland Development Commission worked with a group of technology companies in our area to sign what is called the Tech Diversity Pledge. They called out FIVE Actions that they envisioned would move companies towards Racial and Gender Diversity.
Women in Portland and across the country have been working relentlessly to shift culture in technology companies in order to create a working space where we all can thrive. We have known that diverse women in leadership positions means better designed and produced products.
Design + Culture Lab has been contracted to evaluate our city's progress towards these goals via the PDC. The report is called the Techtown Diversity Pledge Annual Report. It is anticipated it will be released to the public this Spring. We are anxious to learn from this report and ready to dive deeper into the work.
Vox Siren approached Jared from the PDC about our Super: Women in Tech Live Storytelling event last Fall. Jared and team were excited to become sponsors of our event.
We sat down with Jared and asked him about the powerhouse women in our area and why diversity is better for business.
Who are some women in tech that you respect in the PDX area?
In male-dominated tech I admire all women in the industry, and I’m particularly impressed with women who have overcome barriers and continue to do so while also serving vital roles. I have the good fortune to work with many women in tech who have positively impacted my work. Some of the stand-outs are Monica Enand and Ilana Davis at Zapproved, Laura Stepp of Jama, Elizabeth Robillard of Lytics, Abby Miles and Sarah Nanbu at OpenSesame, Krista Van Veen at ThinkShout, Sarah Olbekson at inDinero and Theresa Hilinski at Technology Association of Oregon.
We created a Super: STEM women coloring book that have modern and historical women in the field? Do you have a woman you admire, look up to in science, engineering, technology or mathematics?
Three historical figures come to mind: Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, and Sally Ride. My mom is a high school math teacher and raised three kids as a single mother so I have a ton of admiration for her.
What is the most diverse team you have worked on? What did diversity bring to the end product?
I have two answers to this.First, I grew up in North Carolina and went to a diverse high school where I played sports. Our school district diversity was more than skin deep; it ranged from the inner city to rural areas where some of my classmates worked on the farm before they came to class. My sophomore year, our basketball team was half white guys and half black guys. We were supposed to be good, but we were 1-4 and about to play the best team in the city. Our African-American coach benched our four best players before the game, and we ended up winning on a shot at the buzzer. I still remember everyone jumping on the kid who made the shot and the locker room after. We kept the same starting lineup the rest of the year and only lost two more times. I give a lot of credit to our coach for making it clear that the only thing that mattered was our performance around the shared goal. I have no doubt the commonality among us and our shared pursuit of a goal was a major contributor to our success.
Second is the work environment at PDC, which has the most female-male diversity I’ve experienced professionally. The culture is welcoming, people share opinions, and we focus on getting the work done right. Our mission is to create economic growth and opportunity, which is the foundation of my work on the diversity pledge. The pledge and the actions we are taking are a direct result of the diverse set of people involved.
What excites you about the future of the tech industry in PDX?
For the past 30 years Portland has solved problems with progressive solutions, which often means we do things differently than other places. I’m excited about continuing that tradition in tech, which has become such a part of our lives. We have real opportunities to use tech to address civic issues more effectively and make money by doing so. Companies like Moovel are the tip of the smart cities’ iceberg.
Additionally, the strongest tech products and services utilize network effects, so the broader the appeal the better the outcome. I contend that companies with diverse teams are able to better understand and appeal to more potential customers, and will have a competitive advantage. Given our increasingly diverse population, the importance of connecting with that diverse consumer base is growing. Many in Portland tech already understand this business case for diversity. When coupled with our willingness to do things differently, I’m really excited about Portland Tech leading the nation on diversifying the workforce.
Are there any women entrepreneurs that we should be looking out for?
Two of the most impressive entrepreneurs I have worked with in Portland are Paige Hendrix Buckner and Lynn Le. Both are Startup Weekend and Startup PDX Challenge alums, relentless workers, passionate and compassionate. Paige and Lynn seek out feedback and actively listen to advice from others but do not act on everything they hear. They know how to build product and sell it, and how to build a team.
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Maria is a technical evangelist, technical consultant, technical liaison, and singer/songwriter.
Maria should probably take a vacation. She probably won't. She’s persistent. There's work to do. It is and was always thus for her. As a wee grasshopper of four years old Maria was mesmerized by her Grandfather’s GIANT chess set. She HAD to learn to play, she begged, she pleaded. He said to her little pursed lips, “It’s hard. Something only big people do.” Like a drunk stranger saying “I love you” over and over to you at the end of the night, she hammered him. Finally, after a monsoon of begging he caved in. Family legend has it that she was a natural from the get-go and even taught her brother how to play. Also legend…when Maria gets her hooks into something she’s interested in — it can twist, turn and tangle for forever to try and elude her giant brain’s grasp but Maria. Does. Not. Care. How. Long. It. Takes. “I won’t give up until I figure out what the hell I’m doing.” Ergo as an adult in the mid-90s Maria applied for an application technical support position...
HEAR THE REST OF HER STORY AT SUPER: WOMEN IN TECH LIVE STORYTELLING EVENT
*EXCERPT TAKEN FROM THE SUPER: STEM WOMEN COLORING BOOK
GET YOUR TICKET AND COLORING BOOK TODAY: https://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/1385959?utm_source=os
Brook Shelley lives in Portland, OR with her cat, Snorri. After realizing IT paid her rent more than reading literature all day, she began to fix laptops at the University of Texas. After years in the support, development, and server worlds, she now focuses on building a better software release and response tooling at Turbine Labs.
In addition to her work, her writing has appeared in The Toast, Lean Out, Transfigure, and the Oregon Journal of the Humanities. She regularly speaks at conferences on queer & trans issues, and is on the board of directors for both Basic Rights Oregon, and the Enthusiasm Collective.
Don't miss her story - it is incredible! Get your tickets today to the Super: Tech Women Storytelling Event!
Failed comedian, award-winning dramatic interpretation performance speaker, and community-taught software engineer. She is also one of the founding members of Twilio’s diversity and inclusion initiative, runs a group called “Diversity Advocates,” and is the San Francisco City Director for Lesbians Who Tech.
Whilst attending San Francisco State University, Dom prized her friends, social life, and dogs over school. Truthfully, though, a lot her time was sucked up by an hour-and-a-half drive back and forth from her parents’ house to school and a few rando jobs, with classes sandwiched in between. (The irony is not lost that her parents were pushed out of the city, where they’d lived for decades, by gentrification in 2000, causing the whole family this giant commute to be educated and earn a living.) She’d attend classes and just kind of hang out, not really participating. Seven years later she had accumulated a myriad of different tracks — ten credits shy of three different majors. Eventually a dean pulled her in and was like, “You need to graduate. You need to leave.” Her special college degree is basically a communication analysis of the performativity of lesbians in mainstream media from 2001 to 2007. Initially, she was resistant to being in tech. She saw programming as more of a logical shortcut, not a passion. One of those random jobs was working at Best Buy, where she fixed computers. Then she fixed computers at an enterprise scale and figured, “I could automate this,” and did it. Dom inherited the legacy of Linux machines from some dude at work who quit, and she saw that a lot of tasks were just repeating senselessly so she began scripting some of those processes. From there her education was community-taught from reading books, to watching free online tutorials, to tapping a ton of people’s shoulders and time. She is forever grateful for the free time people have given to help her understand and grasp concepts. Her passion for being a tech person materialized once she moved to Twilio and started developing things. It is important to her to give lots of credit to the people in the community who have supported her. “It wasn’t until I joined Lesbians Who Tech that I realized that I could have a positive lesbian role model in my life. I was like, ‘Holy shit. They exist.’” She feels lucky that, as she puts it, “I found some random loophole or some random person to give me a shot. I owe almost everything in my tech career to two people. They did this thing where they assessed what I knew and what I didn’t know and how long it would take me to get up to speed. That’s something I’ve never forgotten and something that I want to give as an opportunity to everyone else.” You can catch Dom riding around San Francisco on her motorcycle and stopping to pet all the dogs.
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