Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A View from the GHC 2011 Panels, Workshops, and Presentations (PWP) Co-Chair

Anticipation is building for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2011 Conference! The “What if?” conference theme sparked many, many fascinating proposals. I was fortunate to serve as industry co-chair with Elizabeth Jessup (University of Colorado at Boulder). The challenge for our committee was to whittle down the two hundred or so proposals that spanned a wide range of topics to a bit over forty. I’d like to share some insights into the process and seed some preparation for this year’s attendance.

Diversity in participants/perspective

One of the biggest challenges that the Anita Borg Institute faces each year in preparation for GHC is how to best serve the community of women in technology. We have amazing participation from women who serve in a variety of roles across the spectrum of technology. Industrial attendees come not only from computing and IT backgrounds, but also from financial, insurance, defense, and banking industries, at all rungs of the organizational ladder. Computing itself spans many academic disciplines, including biology, medicine, engineering, and education, and we have undergraduate, graduate, and faculty representation, including many distinguished academics. We have K-12 teachers who are dedicated to bringing computing into the classroom and fundamentally changing the way the world thinks about computation. We have international as well as national participation, and thus our community is quite diverse. That is the beauty of GHC – it is truly a celebration of women in computing. Whether you consider yourself technical or not, whether you are industry, government, defense, entrepreneur, academic or K-12, whatever your gender -- we put our differences and self-interests aside and unite into a community that spans across boundaries, languages, cultures, technologies, and disciplines.

Our tasks as PWP co-chairs and the review process

Liz and I had to first and foremost assemble a sub-committee of PWP reviewers, done in late 2010. We invited women from across industry, academia, and national labs to participate. We chose both senior and junior women, national and international, PhD students, and women of color. Several of our reviewers were working mothers (some very recently so), juggling motherhood, work, and a desire to contribute to the conference in a meaningful way; all have served mentors and advocates, and are very active in their fields and communities. Serving as a reviewer came with a commitment to review around twenty proposals each and provide useful feedback (with a bit lighter load for the new moms). Liz and I did our best to match assignments to skill and interest sets, and our committee worked diligently after the submission deadline in mid-March to hit the review deadline in mid-April. Liz and I took a first pass at the rankings to group proposals into one or two specific tracks and set a bar for acceptance. After feedback and review by the committee (both via email and teleconference calls), we had a program ready to be reviewed by the GHC Steering Committee, who made the final decision on conference content.

One of the first insights into this role was the challenge of assembling a diverse set of panelists and presenters on a short timeline. Second was making good assignments, and third was once the ratings were in, how to put topics that would appeal to a large enough number of attendees into relevant tracks, and together, form a cohesive and engaging program. This is where preparation for GHC 2011 comes into play. You might have had a proposal that was not accepted for a previous conference, but with a bit of tweaking and some diversity, networking, and collaboration, you could turn it into a successful GHC 2012 submission.

Getting the most from the actual conference

The program schedule has been published and one of the things we recommend doing in advance is to plan each day of attendance. Add the sessions you are interested in to your calendar with enough detail so you can make a decision quickly (add the list of panelists, the room, and the abstract; you might consider double or triple booking a time slot). Identify people you would like to meet, and familiarize yourself with the layout of the conference rooms so you can move from one session to another in a timely manner. Make time to sit with people you don’t know rather than staying within the comfort zone of your cohorts or colleagues. It’s just as important to listen as it is to share your voice. Offer your experience, insights, and sometimes, even a shoulder to lean on. Learn from the experiences of others and share these experiences upon your return so that the collective wisdom continues to grow as our communities grow. Take with you your newly expanded network to develop a proposal for GHC 2012.

If you think something is broken, help us fix it!

It was a difficult process to choose program content, because what is best from one perspective may not be best from another. There were many proposals that we agonized over, as we strived for balance across many viewpoints. Harder still was sending out letters of rejection, and responding to specific inquiries, hence our desire to add transparency to the process of identifying compelling conference content. GHC 2012 will bring new opportunities to participate on a variety of committees and in a wealth of roles. Identify a role you would be interested in exploring and talk to us, to the GHC staff, and to people you trust and respect. Roll your sleeves up and make a commitment to sharing your insights and concerns, growing our community, and improving the offerings for next year. We invite your feedback and participation. Help us make GHC even better next year!

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