SXSWi Amazon Panel: Women at the Forefront of Tech
What a gift to live in Austin where education, culture and environment are valued. Thanks to the General Assembly listing of “things to do” during SXSWi, my classmate Cherie and I attended a panel of four women sponsored by Amazon and Women Who Code about the work they are doing in the future of technology in data science, music and rights advocation! As new students in the GA UX Design immersive course— this panel was quite THE INSPIRATION!
The four panelists were Tessa Childers-Day, who is a Data Scientist at Amazon; Madame (Kiran) Gandhi, electronic music artist and former drummer of M.I.A.; Holly Gibson, Executive Director of Women Who Code in Austin; and, Trupti Devdas Nayak, a Software Engineer on the Amazon Music team. Many of takeaway conversations were great. I was very appreciative of Amazon and Women Who Code to host the panel.
Tessa and Trupti discussed how women in today’s culture and in the tech industry have been socialized to be “likable”. Our culture and workplaces need a paradigm shift — become environments where women are valued by skill sets and not by likability. A starting tactic is to remove “Please” and “Thank you” on work emails. So simple, yet insightful.
Workplace discrimination was discussed and seems Amazon is a supportive workplace with little discrimination. Nice. An incentive to check out their job listings, for sure. Holly spoke of discrimination that she has encountered and how she just moved on and found another workplace that was more supportive. Madame Gandhi stated that even being forced to listen to sexist music in the workplace can be hurtful, and always say something if there are comments, or even background music that is offensive. She emphasized that we as women cannot have blinders on and not pretend who we are. For example, we can ask for the company to install tampon machines in the bathroom — these are simple, yet powerful requests validating women in the workplace. “Let’s embrace our womanhood and recognize what standards are in the way.”
A highlight was when Cherie and I bumped into Madame Gandi in the bathroom at San Jac. I have seen M.I.A. and listened to her music, but had no idea how academic, intelligent and supportive she is as a person. Bathroom encounters tend to humanize people. She spoke to us for almost ten minutes next to the bathroom sink because she had noticed our nodding our heads in agreement on one of her points (even though we were sitting on the last row — she is so observant and sensitive to her audience). She confirmed that if a workplace culture is not supportive of women and it’s beating you down, just be brave, pack up and quit, and move on. Go to a place where you thrive.
The reality is one woman cannot make the entire change for a culture. It takes all of us to come together and be the change.