DC Women in Tech Spoke up and We Heard Them

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DC Women in Tech Spoke up and We Heard Them

January 30, 2017

From its inception, the mission of the Women in Tech Summit (WITS) has been to support the women working in technology, no matter what point they are at in their careers or what position, technical or business related, they hold by providing programming and events that inspire, educate and connect. WITS also serves as a fundraiser for the non-profit, TechGirlz, whose mission is to inspire girls to explore the possibilities of technology.

Programming in the three tracks at the Women in Tech Summit — Innovate Yourself (Career Development), Trends in Technology and Hands-on Workshops — is based on our following core beliefs:

  • the importance of demonstrating the diversity of careers available in technology (both on the technical and business side);
  • the importance of positive messaging;
  • the necessity of sessions and speakers that provide attendees with actionable takeaways
  • forward-looking education and motivation to assist them with continued momentum in their careers

In light of our beliefs, it has always been a WITS tradition to be inclusive with our conference and our events. We recognize that while our programming focuses on women in the technology industry, we also realize there are others who may classify themselves differently, be it by gender identification, by non-technical industries and a host of other factors. Like our fellow women in tech, these individuals feel they, too, can greatly benefit from WITS events — hence our inclusionary position.

Given the above, WITS chooses speakers and sessions based on our collection of key tenets, as well as a speaker’s given expertise in a sought-after subject matter, the uniqueness of their view on a topic, and their method of presentation.

Ultimately, our goal is to always provide programming that ensures our attendees:

  • leave the event knowing that they learned something new;
  • discover a new way of looking at a topic;
  • feel energized to continue moving forward in their own tech careers.

We also aspire to encourage other women and girls to pursue a career in the field of technology.

With regard to the upcoming WITS conference in Washington D.C (WITSDC), our organization selected a male as the event’s closing keynote speaker. Our decision for choosing this male speaker had been determined not only by our core beliefs but also because he is a strong advocate for women in tech and possesses a unique view and an extensive knowledge about “non-obvious trends,” an insightful subject we believe is vital to share with the WITSDC community.

Initially when this closing male keynote speaker decision was made, we had received very positive feedback from multiple sources, including many of our prior attendees who have read his book(s) and follow his writings. We felt his session was based in actionable knowledge of specific skills we believe are important for our audience to learn.

Shortly after publishing the WITSDC conference agenda, however, we began to hear from the DC women in tech community. First on Twitter, then later via email. A vast majority of the women in the community were upset or disappointed we had chosen a man to speak at the conference, and even more so, that we had chosen him to be the closing keynote speaker.  

As soon as we became aware of the grieved reactions, we began to reach out to some of the members of the community and requested to speak with them over a phone call. We wanted to  personally hear their important concerns outside the inbox and beyond the limitations of 140 characters. We sought to gain a clear understanding of their disaffected positions on the matter and looked forward to discussing ways the community and WITSDC could come together and better understand each other.

The women who agreed to speak with us were gracious and articulate in expressing the community’s concerns and disappointments. They were also open to listening to what we had to say about the Women in Tech Summit, our mission and the process and philosophy we use to choose speakers and sessions. We greatly appreciate their time and their willingness to speak and share with us so candidly.

Based on our discussions, we now realize we had not been as aware as we should have been about the climate of the DC tech community and its very real concerns about the lack of women speakers at events held in the area. Our aim was and still is to always to provide quality, useful programming and never to upset the local communities. We deeply regret creating the erroneous perception that there were not a sufficient number of qualified, amazing women in the D.C. area to help us conclude the conference as a closing keynote.  

With the invaluable assistance and guidance of our local organizing committee, we have made the decision to make some responsive changes in our programming for the Washington D.C. event. We are now in the process of modifying the WITSDC schedule and locating additional speakers to fit into those slots. More information will be released about these adjustments in the coming days.

Moreover, we have not eliminated the session to be led by the male speaker that came into question because we still feel very strongly he has valuable information to impart with our conference attendees and that audience members will significantly gain important information and critical skills from his session. We have, however, moved his session to another time slot and will be choosing a woman for the closing keynote.

We sincerely appreciate the women of the DC tech community and are thankful to those who spoke up to share their views. As event organizers, we do our best to pay attention to every detail, but despite the best of intentions, we know that sometimes we may not 100% hit the mark.  

We look forward to seeing all the women of the DC tech community on March 24th at the Washington Post for a fantastic speaker and session lineup! Given the questions this issue has raised and our awareness of the possible reluctance on the part of some of the community to purchase their tickets until they received more information, we are extending the discounted Early Bird ticket period to February 15, 2017. This will help to ensure that no one who was waiting and watching misses out on the opportunity to take advantage of the discounted registration prices.

Thank you for your willingness to bring the issue to our attention, for speaking with us, for hearing us out and for giving us an opportunity to find a positive and responsive resolution.

See you in a few weeks!

The Women in Tech Summit team