Last week I attended the second annual of Women In Product and let me tell you, I hadn’t been this excited for a conference in many, many years. Why? Because after 20 years in the tech industry you get used to the bland food, the seemingly repetitive topics, the never ending flights to Orlando and Las Vegas. But this week was different.
I was excited – downright giddy, actually, because after two decades in tech there was finally a conference for me! Really me; a female product manager.
I sat with three of my colleagues, all of whom are in earlier stages of their careers (that is a nice way of saying they are much younger than me ;-)). Yet despite being women, I just didn’t feel their excitement level matched mine. Not that they weren’t excited – it just seemed different somehow.
After we arrived at the conference and immediately took our picture in front of an inspiring word cloud that illustrated women’s empowerment, we sat down for the keynote by April Underwood, VP of Product at Slack (hear more about that talk in a blog by my colleague Cynthia later this week!). As I waited, I wondered why I seemed more excited than my colleagues?
And then it hit me! When I first started my career as a developer, I attended one of the first JavaOne conferences in 1997 and I vividly remember feeling out of place. So much so, the lines for the women’s washrooms were non-existent. And I remember being asked if I was “one of the marketing women”. Seriously.
But now, exactly 20 years later, I am at a conference that is all women. Not just some women. All women. Now that is progress. Granted, I know if I were at a pure developer conference today, the attendees (and panels discussions) would be still be predominately male. Still, the fact that I was surrounded by 1500 women in tech just wowed me. Honestly, it gave me goosebumps.
Perhaps that’s why my younger colleagues weren’t quite as enthused as I was. For them, while they can certainly see the many areas of improvement required to improve the environment for women in tech (and as a result, enhance the tech industry as whole), they haven’t spent 20 years waiting for a conference that felt like it truly spoke to them. They are fortunate to be starting their careers with a semblance of a support system – and in retrospect, that is tremendous feat.
Yes, we have a long way to go. And yes, recently there have been setbacks. But let’s take a step back for a moment and focus on something purely positive – in 2016, the first Women in Product Conference was held with just 350 women. One year later, there were 1500. There is a change in the winds.
And our collective voices will make the wind stronger by forming supportive communities such as Women in Product. I look forward to seeing 3000 women (at least!) at next year’s conference!
Check out Rebecca’s blog ‘The Sexism Blindspot: What I learned at Women In Product 2017‘ for her reflections of the event, and keep an eye out for additional blogs from my colleagues Bahar and Cynthia throughout the week.