If you've attended GHC before, think back about the excitement and inspiration that you came away with from your first conference experience. Remember all the people you met? All the great ideas you thought of? The joy of finding that there were others like you with whom you could share your challenges and insights? Rediscover that first experience by sharing it with someone! If you've never attended, bringing a friend to GHC with you will allow you to find an ally with whom you can jointly seek funding or do fundraising, brainstorm what you want to accomplish, provide support for each other, and most importantly, help you build a community and network of collaborators and mentors that will sustain you long after the conference is over. Here are some ideas on how to do this.
1. Bring a protege. Let her see the wealth of women who are literally changing the face of computing. Let her hear the courageous and heartfelt stories from keynote speakers who are pioneers in their fields and have blazed a path forward. I took my 12-year-old daughter to GHC for three straight years, as noted in one of my earlier blog posts. We worked with her teachers so that she could make up missed assignments. She is now a sophomore in high school, and while she has decided that computing is not for her, she is keeping her STEM options wide open and is enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program at her high school. She's developed her own identity and goals and I'm proud of the young woman she has become.
2. Consider submitting a proposal next year with a colleague, based on ideas that percolate during the conference. I worked with a co-worker new to my company to submit a joint proposal, naming her as the first author. We found a topic that we could share externally, iterated over the content, and submitted for the main technical session. While we got a reject for the main program, we were given an opportunity to present as a poster. This enabled us to seek financial support from our company to attend the conference and gain invaluable experience presenting our ideas to other attendees. My co-worker volunteered to work as a Hopper (gaining a registration discount) and served as a session mentor, where she was able to meet several of the presenters and grow her professional network.
3. Work within your organization to advocate for participation. If you are a student, work with your department and student organizations to identify sponsors and gather travel funds. Apply to volunteer as a Hopper at the conference, and get your registration fee waived. There are a variety of additional roles you can volunteer for at the conference, including note taking, blogging, tweeting, community work, and as a Hopper. If you are a professional, develop and present a plan within your organization for attendance and enlist previous attendees and management.
4. Invite a male manager, faculty, or colleague from your organization to attend. This may seem contrary to the notion that GHC is only for women. While a goal of GHC is to create an inclusive environment where women can share their concerns without fear, there is also recognition that we need to enlist male influencers, advocates, and allies in our organizations. It can provide a unique opportunity for your colleague to "walk a mile in another's shoes," so to speak. I've done this with a male manager from work, and it was effective. Being the minority both by gender and by race was a brand new experience for him. He told me that he tried to fade into the background, but women at the conference kept engaging him in conversation and pulling him into participating. The most common question he got was "Why are you here?" He was highly impressed with the intelligent, engaging, and motivated women he met, many of which were students. He came back to our site invigorated, and championed greater future GHC participation to our site management. He said it was the best conference he had ever attended, and actively worked to hire several of the students he met that were seeking employment.
5. Become an agent of change. Consider a role on the GHC organizing committee. I first became a volunteer as the Birds of a Feather committee co-chair in 2009, next as the Technical Poster Session and SRC committee co-chair and Intel Industrial Advisory board representative in 2010, and this past year as the Panels, Workshops, and Presentation Committee co-chair. The roles have grown my technical leadership and my professional network, but more importantly, they've grown my passion and dedication to develop content and best practices that address many of the fundamental challenges that women face in technology. These goals are in alignment with the Anita Borg Institute's mission: recruitment, retention, and advancement of technical women. It is a balancing act -- working a full-time job, being a full-time parent of three children under the age of 16, and advocating as much as possible to bring the best ideas forward to each conference program. In an ideal world, I love to work with every author to ensure that they got the opportunity to polish their ideas, and to share their passion and contributions at the conference. While there is content that did not make the official GHC 2011 program, there are nevertheless many ways to deliver this content informally. Social networking tools offer the ability to schedule meetups -- to find a time and place at or near the conference to meet and create your own community.
My GHC experience has been invaluable to my personal growth, helping me define who I am and what I believe in, and bring meaning and satisfaction to my life. Inclusiveness, resourcefulness, persistence, and resilience have become part of my personal brand. I encourage you to take a close look at the conference program and share the experience with a friend by attending. Like I did, you might find that each and every year, you keep coming back for more, and not just for what you can gain, but for what you can contribute. Register now!