There's an urban legend in the tech community that goes like this: The School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University used to keep track of how many of their undergraduates were men named Dave versus how many were women. And it was considered an accomplishment when they got the ratio down to one Dave for every woman. We’re starting a new series about the tech industry's diversity challenges called “I am not a Dave”.
Leanne Pittsford had no idea how many lesbian women actually existed in the industry when she created Lesbians Who Tech last year. When the fledgling organization started hosting happy hour gatherings, the turnout was enthusiastic but modest. Still, Pittsford saw that the interest and need for a community was there. Membership quickly grew, leading to the first ever Lesbians Who Tech Summit.
The audio above features Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson in conversation with Leanne Pittsford in advance of the summit, which was held on February 27.
Held over two days in San Francisco, the summit's almost 800 attendees participated in networking events, attended keynote addresses by influential queer women in the tech industry, and participated in a hackathon to develop ideas for worthy nonprofits. Pittsford was especially impressed with the how quickly teams attending the hackathon were able to revolutionize the digital presence of participating organizations. Astraea, an international gay rights organization, was one of the groups that benefitted from the hackathon.
"Their team built them a geolocation map of all the work they do, and the resources across the group. Something they thought would take 6 months and $20,000 to pull of got pretty much done in a weekend."
The enthusiasm of the women at the summit led to an Indiegogo campaign to support five of the partnering organizations involved in Lesbians Who Tech. Inspired by a spur of the moment dollar-for-dollar pledge by Megan Smith of Google[x], they have already exceeded their $25,000 fundraising goal.
According to Pittsford, the challenge moving forward is how to serve this new community that is only getting bigger and more diverse.
"Now it’s assessing who is in the community. I think they are actually about 35% technical people, like programmers...Their needs are very different than people, for example, who are digital online strategists or bloggers or social media people. So I think the challenge and opportunity is: how do we create a summit next year that goes a little deeper? A lot of people said, 'We want break out sessions. We want a job fair.' Which is amazing, but it also means a higher ticket price, and a three day summit."
Pittsford is optimistic about the future, both for the organization, and for queer women in tech at large. As a result of the summit, there have been talks of creating mentoring programs and grants for lesbian women looking to get into the tech industry.
"We're trying to figure out what we can provide beyond the summit and actually create some of the change we want to see."