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Tech Culture

Inclusion Done Right At OpenStack Summit Austin

Apr 24th, 2016 8:10am by
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Kicking off the OpenStack Summit in Austin, Texas this week will be three events sponsored by Women of OpenStack (WOO), all designed to let the women of the OpenStack community meet each other, network, and form connections to make them successful members of the community.

“They ask the question, ‘How can we help you in your career?’,” said Heidi Joy Tretheway, senior marketing manager for OpenStack Foundation.

The WOO meetings are all focused on skill building, Tretheway said.

On Sunday, the Command Presence Workshop, which has drawn acclaim from the Anita Borg Institute and Harvard Business Review, will simulate senior-level meetings and offer lessons on how to handle the interruptions, rapid-fire questioning and other situations that happen. After an introduction, participants will role-play and receive feedback.

The OpenStack Summit’s approach is a step forward in an industry that has been struggling with sexism both blatant and covert at many of its conferences.

Sunday evening is a pre-summit social, co-sponsored by IBM, Intel, and EMC, which will set the stage for women to meet and make connections before the Summit. Tretheway said that this event is attended by the board of directors, media and analysts. WOO is not a place for women, to the exclusion of men, and men are most welcome at the event.

Monday morning is a “speed mentoring” event where women in the developer community are given five-to-ten minutes to interview possible mentors with the aim of finding mentor-mentee connections. By having this event at the beginning of the conference, WOO is hoping that the mentors and mentees will have maximum face-time with each other throughout the week. These relationships are expected to last far beyond the conference, and the mentors are expected to spend about an hour a month with their mentees and help them make industry contacts.


Tretheway pointed out that diversity at OpenStack is not just about having more women in the community, but about being sensitive to the entire community. For example, the registration form is not limited to male and female but offers other options to be inclusive of transgender attendees.

The OpenStack Summit‘s approach is a step forward in an industry that has been struggling with sexism both blatant and covert at many of its conferences. In the past, women who have called out sexist behaviors have been shunned and even fired from their jobs.  But more recently, women have been more vocal and calling out these incidents as unacceptable. And companies are responding.


Women of OpenStack pre-summit meetup, Austin Texas, with Intel’s Ruchi Bhargava(left), TNS reporter T.C. Currie (center), and San Disk’s Nithya Ruff (right).

At the Grace Hooper Celebration of Women in Computing conference in 2014, a disastrous panel entitled the “Male Allies Plenary Panel” led by four men, who offered a lot of advice to women about what they needed to do to succeed in tech. The women attendees found the panel sexist and patronizing and voiced their dissatisfaction on social media. Google senior vice president, Alan Eustace, who chaired the panel, responded with grace.  He tweeted suggesting a do-over.  “You talk, I listen.”

“They saw the feedback, and acted on it, and came and listened,” Cate Huston, a software engineer who used to work for a major tech company, told ThinkProgress. “The room was full, lots of women spoke, and it was pretty incredible.”

Last October, Leah Weitz made the front page of Hacker News with her blog post listing a few of the sexist comments men had made to her at tech events. In an interview with Business Insider, she said that a raising awareness about the casual sexism women regularly encounter is part of making the tech industry a better place.

While it’s getting better, there is still a long, long way to go, as evidenced yet another gaffe by Microsoft just last month, this time eliciting an apology from Xbox. Apologies for these lapses are becoming less acceptable, especially with organizations like OpenStack and WOO taking steps to make women feel like they are part of the team.

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