Many of you who have attended Grace Hopper Celebration in the past may have participated in a Birds of a Feather community gathering. Latinas in Computing (LiC) was born out of one of those sessions back in 2006. This Affinity Group is one of the few that spans numerous borders, uniting women across multiple countries, all inspired by a shared mission to celebrate and promote Latinas in computing-related fields. Their efforts focus around empowering their community to create a positive social impact, promoting opportunities for Latin American women in technology, and providing resources, such as mentorship, to lead new initiatives.
The community was originally founded by Gilda Garretón, Patty Lopez, Raquel Romano, Dilma Da Silva, Cecilia Aragón, and Claris Castillo, most of whom are still active Board members. Under the current leadership of Ruth Llanos-Vos, Luza Jaramillo, and Dr. Mirkeya Capellán as Co-chairs, the LiC Affinity Group has grown to more than 850 members and has accomplished some inspiring initiatives, most notably organizing their own GHC-style conference in Latin America called LATINITY.
LATINITY is a two-day conference where participants have the opportunity to listen to women leaders from the region and discuss gender issues in computing and technology. It is a place to meet Latin American women who share a passion for technology. This is a unique opportunity to have access to STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) students, researchers, professors, and professionals.
The group’s first LATINITY event was hosted in Chile in 2015. They later held the event in Peru (2017), Colombia (2018), and Costa Rica (2019). Last year’s event was officially declared an “Event of Public Interest” by the President of Costa Rica, becoming the biggest gathering of women in technology in Latin America with more than 530 attendees from 16 countries. Circumstances pending, their 2020 event is planned to take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In addition, the Speed Mentoring session at GHC was first initiated by Latinas in Computing. As the years passed, these sessions became one of the most attended sessions at GHC and are now an integral part of each Celebration.
Ruth shares,“I joined my first Women in Tech community while I was working at Apple in Cupertino. That group of great women introduced me to AnitaB.org and Grace Hopper Celebration, and I was thrilled to attend my first GHC in 2013. During that Celebration, I attended a speed mentoring event hosted by Latinas in Computing, which was in a way ‘love at first sight.’”
Joining this group has had a profound impact on Ruth, who has gone on to organize local events in her community and which eventually led her to launch the AnitaB.org South Florida Community Chapter. Luza is co-leading the efforts around LATINITY along with two other LiC Board members, Natalie Gil and Jocelyn Simmonds, while Mirkeya is serving as a GHC 20 co-chair for the Software Engineering track and is also a committee member for the Underrepresented Women in Computing track. Additionally, community leaders were early participants in Google’s #IamRemarkable workshop and, now as facilitators, have gone on to offer this learning experience to hundreds of technical women.
According to Luza, “Latinas in Computing is more than an affinity group to me: it’s become a family. Through the LiC network, I’ve met close friends with whom I’ve worked in different initiatives including my passion project LATINITY.”
Mirkeya reflects back on attending that early Birds of a Feather session in 2007.
“Something ignited in me and transformed me from someone that was shy and soft spoken into someone that was more confident and less afraid to speak her mind. I had found a place where I felt welcomed and supported by others that looked just like me.”
There are many inspiring stories within the community, which serve as inspiration for the younger generation of Latinas in Computing. Here are just a few examples:
- LiC Co-founder Cecilia Aragón is an award-winning author, airshow pilot, and the first Latina full professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers, for her work in collaborative data-intensive science. In 2019, she published the book Writers in the Secret Garden: Fanfiction, Youth, and New Forms of Mentoring. Her second book, the memoir FLYING FREE: My Victory over Fear to Become the First Latina Pilot on the US Aerobatic Team, will be released in September 2020, and she is currently writing a book on human-centered data science.
- LiC Board Member and LATINITY Co-founder Natalie Gil was recognized in 2019 as one of the 50 most influential Hispanics in IT by HITEC (Hispanic Information Technology Executive Council).
- LiC Co-chair and Board Member Dr. Mirkeya Capellán was awarded the 2018 Hostos Alumni Excellence Award for her STEM contributions to the community.
- LiC Co-founder Dr. Patty Lopez was awarded the 2015 SWE Advocating Women in Engineering Award and the 2010 HENAAC Award for Community Service, and served as the General Co-chair for Grace Hopper Celebration in 2013.
- LiC Co-founder Raquel Romano was recognized as CNET’s 20 Most Influential Latino/as in 2014. You can learn more about Raquel in her Wogrammer profile.
- LiC Co-founder Dilma Da Silva became a Distinguished Member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in 2011.
- LiC Co-founder Gilda Garretón was awarded the 2011 HENAAC Luminaries Award for her diversity work.
Looking ahead to 2020, this group aims to increase the participation of Latinas at the Virtual GHC “Celebrating Latinas in Technical Roles” reception, which has been hosted year after year with more than 200 Latinas attending last year’s event. To get started, the community is planning an all-members virtual gathering on April 17, 2020. If interested, please register here.