Digital Dykes Take Over San Francisco
By San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood will be crawling with hipster queer women and their gadgets for the first ever Lesbians Who Tech Summit tomorrow.
“It’s going to be an incredible thing to see and to be a part of,” says Leanne Pittsford, founder of the Lesbians Who Tech Summit, who anticipates 600 techie queer girls and their friends will take over the Castro on Friday.
The one day summit, February 28, hosted at the historic Castro Theater (429 Castro Street, 415-621-6350415-621-6350, , CastroTheatre.com) will bring together hundreds of geeky queer girls. Throughout the day the girls listen to women who have blazed the path before them as well as talk about technological innovations, diversity in the tech industry at home and globally, and stories of tech success. A tech pitch session, where girls will bring their ideas and projects before a panel of experts, will happen before the girls will break for an inspiring lunch session.
Women will gather at one of six breakout sessions covering branding, coding, investing, media, politics and more before returning to the theater for some comic relief and final words of inspiration from today’s top lesbian tech leaders.
Queer girls will hack away the weekend solving select nonprofit digital problems at a social good hackathon March 1 – 2.
Leanne is excited about some of the topics the keynote speakers, such as Megan Smith, vice president of Google[X] and former CEO of PlanetOut, the first publicly traded gay company before its demise, will talk about how technology has been a game changer for the LGBT movement. And Ann Mei Chang, FMR. Sr. advisor for women and technology of the office of the Secretary of State, will “paint the picture of women in tech from the international perspective,” she says.
“It’s a great excuse to come to San Francisco,” says Leanne, who organized the summit to take over the Castro in a supportive way. “I think that it’s going to be really unique and special.”
The summit is the brainchild of Leanne, a 32-year-old bicoastal lesbian who is the CEO and founder of Start Somewhere Communications. The nearly four year old company provides support for design, database/CRM, tech and communications for companies and nonprofits, with her business partner and girlfriend Leah Neaderthal.
The former senior director of Equality California entered the digital world during the No on Prop 8 campaign. When the campaign ended she found herself going deeper into the digital world entering the tech and startup industries. It was then that she discovered that there were very few women in the room and fewer queer women, but it didn’t match up with her hunch that there were many women – queer and straight – in the tech world.
“There needed to be a space for queer women,” says Leanne, who points out that many of the women tech conversations tended to be “heteronormative.” She wanted to “make sure that the gay woman experience was a part of the larger equality conversation in some of the tech things that were happening for women.”
So, she launched a series of monthly Lesbians Who Tech happy hours at various bars around San Francisco in December 2012. The first gathering attracted 30 women. That number increased exponentially to 100. Today, the monthly gatherings attract up to 200 queer girl techies and their friends, not only in San Francisco, but also in 12 other cities across the U.S. and three cities internationally and there are more than 3,000 members on the list, says Leanne.
Happy hours are great and all for networking and making new friends, but being a political lezzie Leanne desired a deeper, more meaningful connection that would help queer women get a leg up in the tech industry as well as make them visible.
She also wanted to create something that would be more sustainable and long lasting and have more value for queer women in the tech industry, so the summit was born.
“I wasn’t a totally sure how many lesbian women there were in tech,” says Leanne, who felt that there was a need, but wasn’t quite sure when she ventured out to organize the summit. “I just thought there were enough, but I had no idea going toward a more professional summit.”
“There hasn’t been enough opportunity to come together in a more meaningful way in terms of value for people,” adds Leanne, about the first time bringing techie queer women together in one place.
“This is really cool. This is the first time that they could … be a part of the community in this way and [to] see the people who are out there.” “It’s been really amazing,” adds Leanne, who has been contacted by queer girl techies from all over the world.
Leanne is excited about bring techie girls of all levels in the tech industry from all over the U.S. and internationally together with industry trailblazers, who will be sharing their stories throughout the day at the summit.
A small contingent of international lesbians in tech will be speaking and in attendance at the summit. Leanne attracted international attendance by providing complementary entry into the first year summit, she says.
The summit organizers received more than 100 scholarship applications, she adds.
Overall, she anticipates 600 techie lesbians and their friends will attend the summit to learn from more than 35 industry leaders representing companies like Google, Facebook, Indigogo, Pixar, Golden Seeds and more will be speaking and presenting on panels at the summit.
“There are just so many amazing stories we could do three days easily from a concept perspective,” says Leanne. “Some of them don’t even mention the fact that they are gay, it’s more about the incredible work that they are doing,” says Leanne, noting a shift in social consciousness about sexual orientation in the workplace. “The important thing is to have the examples, the role models and the stories.”
Kathy Levinson, managing director of Golden Seeds, agrees pointing out that at times gay people can often feel “invisible” and “alone” in the in the workplace.
“The great thing about a conference like this is that you can see and meet other people and connect with other people, not only in your field, but beyond,” says Kathy, pointing out that it provides an opportunity to connect people intergenerationally to learn from each other.
Summits like this give experienced technology leaders “who have been there and done that and been through it” the opportunity to share their challenges and successes with a new generation of leaders. She hopes the younger generation will take “some of life’s lessons,” from the older generation’s stories so that “when these younger lesbians have an opportunity to make mistakes they can make different ones.”
Kathy, a former E*Trade and Charles Schwab executive, will speak about the importance of being out in the workplace.
Golden Seeds is a venture capital firm focused on investing in and advising women entrepreneurs businesses.
“I do think that it’s harder for lesbians to know whether if you are feeling discrimination if you are lesbian or because you are a woman or some combination thereof,” says Kathy, pointing out that conferences like the Lesbians Who Tech Summit help women by providing a platform for them to talk with each other in order to get a point of reference in their careers.
“If you are in an organization or a company that you aren’t being paid fairly or you are not getting paid enough, you might not have any frame of reference in which to judge that,” says Kathy. “But by having an opportunity to meet and talk to other lesbians in the field, you do have some context in which to put your own experience.”
“Given the importance of technology in all of our lives it’s great for lesbians who are involved, interested or engaged in it to be able to connect to other lesbians,” adds Kathy.
More so she’s impressed about the breadth of the summit exploring broader concepts of how technology affects other industries and leads into other careers and social causes.
“What is really unique about this conference, it isn’t just about technology. It’s bringing lesbians together whose professional career, at least at this time, is centered in that area, but there’s an opportunity to learn about lesbian involvement in philanthropy, in politics, [and] in government,” says Kathy. “And to really understand, not only who else is doing what they are doing in the technology arena, but also how they can be influential in the broader spectrum of their lives.”
Leanne is proud of the diversity of the discussions and the talent this first year.
“I’m really impressed with the level of technical talent that will be in the room,” says Leanne.
Leanne’s also particularly pleased by the tech industry’s response to the summit. She’s garnered tech giants such as Google, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Oracle, Electronic Arts, Mozilla, and Change.org to name a few of the big name companies that are sponsoring the summit.
“A lot of tech companies need to improve their diversity and it’s a great way for them to be connected to [a] community that they haven’t been able to get access to all in one place in one day,” says Leanne. “We are providing a huge value for them,” says Leanne.
“I’m really excited about that win-win opportunity.”
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