Policy & Advocacy

Public Policy Takes the Stage for the First Time at GHC

The 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) was not only the largest yet, it also featured the first public policy-focused sessions ever at the Celebration. While the AnitaB.org team looks to grow its presence in the public policy and advocacy arena, the enthusiasm and zeal for action with which the sessions were met were a reaffirming sign that there is a large role for technical women to play in the public policy process.

For part of the week, GHC welcomed professional staff from the House Science Committee who represented both sides of the aisle. The staffers participated in a panel before an eager audience and shared some of their bipartisan work that serves women scientists (including technologists). The staffers also spoke about the importance of highlighting scientists’ expertise in the public policy process, and shared insight into what makes for effective science advocacy.

The staffers and guests from allied organizations were also in attendance at a Minority Serving Institution Stakeholder Recognition Breakfast, during which Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President and CEO of AnitaB.org, and Elva Jones, Chair of the Department of Computer Science at Winston-Salem University, offered remarks. The breakfast was one of a handful of convenings that AnitaB.org held that related to engaging minority-serving institutions, and moreover, that focused on supporting the historically underserved communities and students that those institutions serve.

GHC 19 also featured the inaugural Advocates for Women in Tech Luncheon, which brought together conference attendees who were interested in celebrating and learning about the role technical women have to play in advocacy. The luncheon featured two dynamic speakers who have long been champions in the women’s advocacy space—Kim Churches, CEO of the American Association for University Women, and Karen Horting, Executive Director and CEO of the Society of Women Engineers. Over the course of the lunch, attendees heard from the esteemed speakers about the dire need for advocacy on behalf of women and their families, and how women technologists have a unique role they can play in this area.

The Policy & Engagement team also coordinated a featured session titled “Considerations of Emerging Technology for Policy & Citizenry.” The session featured a panel of technical executives: Marie Wieck, General Manager of Blockchain at IBM and chair of AnitaB.org Board of Trustees; Erin MacLeod, Sr. Dir. of Product & Privacy at Ancestry; and Tal Niv, Vice President of Law & Policy at GitHub.

During the panel, which was moderated by Kumar Garg of Schmidt Futures, the executives discussed their paths within the tech industry and how they specifically found themselves within the intersections of technology and public policy. The panelists also highlighted cutting-edge technologies, such as open source, genetic data privacy, and supply chain security, and shared how they go about educating policymakers at various levels of government so that they may make informed decisions.

Additionally, a series of smaller stakeholder meetings took place alongside the larger festivities, bringing together stakeholders from allied organizations and action groups to discuss how to create meaningful change in service of our mission of intersectional gender and pay equity in tech by 2025.

Finally, the Policy & Engagement team put on the session “Being a Tech Woman Advocate,” which served as an introductory course on how public policy works to inform technical women and their allies how they can advocate effectively for the issues that they care about.  (You can view a modified version of the presentation here.) The session featured an overview on the public policy process, explained the AnitaB.org policy agenda, and provided concrete advice for getting engaged.

The public policy sessions and meetings at this year’s GHC were only the first in many conversations that AnitaB.org hopes to convene around the role of technical women and advocacy. The positive reception both from allied organizations in the public policy space and potential grassroots advocates affirms and informs the next steps that the Policy & Engagement team will take to grow its work. For individuals who are wishing to engage more with AnitaB.org policy work, sign up for the monthly PoliTECHing newsletter to keep in touch and receive recommendations for staying involved.