Lesbians Who Tech Chicago and Linkedin hosted a "Diversity in Tech, More Than Just Buzz Words" event at Linkedin's Chicago offices July 23.
Lesbians Who Tech is, according to its website, "a community of queer women in or around tech ( and the people who love them ) who's mission is to be more visible to each other, be more visible to others, get more women and lesbians in technology and connect Lesbians Who Tech to LGBTQ and women's organizations who are doing incredible work for the community"
Leanne Pittsford ( founder of Lesbians Who Tech ) served as the event's moderator. Panelists included Tanara Golston ( enterprise account executive in Financial Services at LinkedIn and incoming city director of Lesbians Who Tech Chicago ) and Brooke Skinner Ricketts ( head of brand strategy at Twitter and co-founder of She100 ).
Following words of welcome by Kathy Goss ( diversity recruiting lead at Linkedin ) and an introduction by Jessica Ainlay ( outgoing city director of Lesbians Who Tech Chicago ), Pittsford told the approximately 75 people in attendance that she started Lesbians Who Tech because LGBT and tech events lacked diversity and she wanted to create a space that provided value to queer women. Lesbians Who Tech was a way to combine Pittsford's two identities and also create a space for other queer women in tech.
To illustrate her point about the need for queer women in tech to connect with each other, Pittsford asked the audience if they'd ever heard of Megan Smith and many in the audience hadn't heard of her. Smith, an out lesbian, was appointed by President Obama to be the Chief Technology Officer of the United States. Pittsford said that every member of the LGBTQ community, especially queer women in tech, should know who Smith is.
Pittsford noted that Lesbians Who Tech has branches in 25 cities, counts 10,000 people as members, has held over 200 events over the past two years including a number of summits and is gearing up for its second annual LGBTQ Tech Fellowship event at the White House. Skinner Ricketts said the thing she likes best about the Chicago tech scene is that overall Chicago is filled with nice people who want to get together and help each other succeed and that extends to those who work in the tech industry.
As far as mentorship opportunities, Skinner Ricketts explained that the worst experiences she's had are working with leaders who don't share her experiences. She noted that there aren't that many queer women in tech who hold leadership positions and that's a problem for up and coming queer women in tech since they don't have many people to look up to in the industry.
Golston explained that she sees mentorships as partnerships because both mentor and mentee bring things to the table. She said that as an African-American lesbian, diversity played into a lot of those successful mentorships. Golston noted that finding commonalities with the person is also the key to successful mentorships.
As far as being out at work, Skinner Ricketts said she personally hasn't witnessed that hindering a person within the workplace.
Golston, who came from the finance world, said if she could do it over again she would've come out at work at the beginning of her career. She also noted that no one should let who they are hinder their standing in the workplace or chances at advancement.
In terms of integrating the personal and professional with regards to LGBTQ visibility, Skinner Ricketts spoke about co-founding LGBTQ Business Resource Groups at two previous places of employmentDigitas and FCB Global. She explained that she's always been active and vocal in the community and how important that is to her as a queer person and as a woman.
Golston noted that from the moment she arrived at Linkedin she felt included and embraced by everyone.
A Q&A session followed the panel discussion.
"It's been a great experience being Chicago's city director," said Ainlay. "We've only been at this here in Chicago for about a year so seeing the community grow, including the core group of women who are making things happen in this city, has been fantastic to watch. I'm leaving when things are getting really hot in terms of growth and connections. I'm looking forward to getting involved with the New York City chapter of Lesbians Who Tech when I relocate to the east coast."
"I'm really thrilled to come on board and continue the work that Jessica has, in a very short time, started here," said Golston. "I plan on leveraging what we've started in terms of Linkedin partnering with Lesbians Who Tech and capitalize on the technology hub that's starting here in Chicago. I'm excited to keep the ball rolling and continuing some of the ideas that Jessica has in place so her legacy can live on here."
See LesbiansWhoTech.org and www.youtube.com/watch for more information .