I’ve been attending several events dedicated to “women at work” in an
effort to see what professional women are doing, are concerned with, and
what I can steal to make the Women in Automotive Technology (WAT) group
The events I’ve recently attended include Lesbians Who Tech
(LWT) summit and Women Grow (WG) meet up, both in San Francisco.
These groups are spectacularly well organized and I will be stealing
LTW and WG have a few commonalities:
1. Recognition that women are/have been discriminated against/alienated
by the reigning industry majority ie. white men
2. Lack of equal opportunity and treatment is a serious problem not
3. Women can and should work together to overcome historical and
LTW is focused on the broader problems of visible lesbian role models
and leaders in the technology industry. The summit was a multi-day
affair with a reception, day long conference, break out sessions,
luncheons, meet ups, cocktail parties, hack-a-thon, bike rides, and
really an incredible event. LTW summit drew women from around the
country and around the world. The energy was palatable, the attitude
extremely can-do, and some activities down right goofy. The choices of
events and speakers were broad ranging from recruiting by Intel, Google,
Salesforce, and LinkedIN to how to join a public company board to making
sense of equity compensation.
Of the speakers I heard, the common
themes can be boiled down to:
• It is important to be visible
• Call out discrimination and offensive behavior when you see it
• Men in power are making lame excuses for not having more women in
their workforce and as leaders
• It is not hard to hire and promote a diverse workforce – you just do it
The conference had many aspects that I simply have never experienced in
my years of automotive tech conferencing going. There was a real
celebration of the participants. There were lots of photographs,
videos, pulsating music, and tons of jokes. While I absolutely could do
without hula-hoop sessions, I get the reason for the celebration. Women
traveling from all over the world to participate in 3 days of events
must have a reason to come and participate. Plus, it is really fucking
cool to have 1,200 lesbians and the people who love them together in one
I was shocked at how affordable the event was especially in terms of the
quality of food, beverages, speakers, locations, and content. Leanne
Pittsford should raise her prices. If she knew the complete crap
(content, food, coffee) that some very expensive ($2,000) UK-based
conference organizers pass off, she would know that she is offering a
tremendous bang for your buck. If I ever decide to organize a large
scale Women in Auto Tech conference, I will look to Leanne and not that
company in the UK.
LWT gets tremendous lift from a dedicated community of queer women and
the people who support them. The conference is part party, party
empowerment, part education. I would attend any of these events just to
recharge my batteries and get a booster shot of hope.
I do not believe, however, that it is easily replicated for women in
automotive, nor do I think it WAT should try and replicate LWT. While
we all share the common trait of a vagina, there is not much else to
bring us together in terms of creating a readily identifiable community.
Lesbians have a community based on sexual orientation, gender, and
gender identification. I have been organizing LBGTQIAA groups for well
over a decade and in my experience the LGBT community can be very
strong. Queer communities have more at stake than simply business.
There were a lot of women at LWT who had nothing to do with tech outside
of the fact they owned a smartphone and surfed the Internet. But they
were 100% committed to supporting their tech sisters with contacts,
networking, laughter, and cocktails. The tent was big enough to support
all the lesbians – tech or not – and the content was interesting and
diverse. For WAT, there is no community outside of business and I’m not
certain we need one to cheerlead us on and support our efforts. But I’m
open to being completely wrong on this point.
WG is more narrowly focused on enabling female cannabis entrepreneurs
and legalizing marijuana federally. It is a fantastic group of women
who come to cannabis as nurses, as teachers, as marketers, as culinary
artists, as scientist, and as businesswomen. The goal seems more
focused on education and networking with the broader recognition that if
you are in the business of cannabis, you are in the business of
political advocacy. The fact is, nurses, mothers, and female chefs make
better advocates for drug reform than the majority of men because these
women are not scary and are not perceived as organized crime. They are
geriatric nurses caring for our aging parents with plant-based
I will not lie. I loved the fact that many of the women were there for
cold, hard cash and for the love of getting high. I really liked the
subversive feel to putting an apple pie face on pot. Yes, women are
nurses, teachers, and cooks. But they are also shrewd businesswomen and
some want to escape reality with something more interesting than
Chardonnay. But I digress.
The WG event I attended was a meet-up, not a full blown, three day
summit. Like LWT, it was incredibly well organized and attended. The
energy was up-beat, positive, inclusive, and opportunistic. There was
less rah-rah and more pragmatic “here is what you need to do” kinda
talks. The assembled network of people seemed to me to be a powerhouse
of information shrouded in a fog of vapor. There were many vendors set
up showing off their wares, taking orders, and exchanging tips. I found
everyone to be friendly, informative, and completely passionate about
their work. I did not go to the afterhours party at the vaping friendly
bar because I did have to drive home to Menlo Park. But I can imagine
it was as friendly and inclusive as the happy hours I attended at LWT.
What blew me away by WG, was how focused they are in their mission and
the hands-on practical nature of the material presented. It was less
about women and more about forwarding the industry with women clearly at
the center. This is what WAT is stealing from WG – clarity of mission
and vision. And a speakers bureau. WG has a forum for putting women
out there as subject matter experts in their chosen areas of cannabis
entrepreneurship. This feels right to me.
I’m not feeling terribly motivated to change the world, writ large. I
do not have the energy to create a national platform. Don’t get me
wrong, WG absolutely has a national platform they are working. But at
the same time, they are giving women the information and tools they need
to be successful in their field.
I’ve wrestled with the whole, what is WAT really about. It started as a
dare by Robert Acker (goddess rest his soul.)
He bet me I couldn’t find 6 women in the Silicon
Valley like me. The point was (is) that the Silicon Valley is a desert
for professional women in automotive technology. I took his bet and met
Linda Campbell. We agreed to happy hour and the group quickly grew to
include women like us – of a particular age simply enjoying each other’s
company and a chance to dish on our industry. I am not guilty of having
big ambitions here, but completely guilty of shits and giggles.
WAT is now almost 60 women from many OEMs, tier 1s, start ups and
holding a myriad of positions ranging from CEO, engineering, marketing,
and operations. Many women are founders, honest to goddess trail
blazers, and many of the younger women want information and advice. And
we aim to support each other in furthering automotive technologies. Not
only because we are the predominate buyers of vehicles and users of
technology, but because we make it happen. We are the subject matter
experts in how it gets done.
I do not feel I can tackle the bigger women’s issues in the work place
issues head-on. I feel I can go sideways by showcasing women subject
matter experts in automotive and engaging in member training. Since I
do not have a solution for pay inequality or childcare or ending
outright misogyny, I’m not sure what I can do. These are real, everyday
problems that need to be addressed. I have handled them in my own
limited ways. I think I’m getting better about asking for more money
and promotions, hopefully leaving less money on the table. The only
advice I can give working mothers on childcare is marry or partner well.
There is a lot of work for a family and just divide it up. There is
just work and it is not gender specific, outside of using your uterus.
There is no “man’s work” or “woman’s work”, so divide it up. If you are
fighting over who does the laundry, take it all to a dry cleaner or hire
a housekeeper. When you get discriminated at work for having a vagina,
which you will, you can choose to fight, which sucks and you will
suffer. Or if you don’t care enough about the company you work for,
leave. I know this is not entirely helpful or insightful advice, which
is why I’m not gearing up WAT to tackle these issues.
I do want to support women and believe strongly that we have to be
visible and vocal. We have to call the bullshit when we see it, say it
out loud, and explain why it is a problem. Most people, when educated,
will become more sensitive to the environments they are creating and
will do what is right and be inclusive and or at least equally
Same goes with hiring practices. As a hiring manager, it is you duty to
insist on interviewing diverse candidates regardless of your sex, color,
or orientation. All right, I’m stepping off this soapbox for now.
If you are interested, you can see how Women in Auto Tech has already
borrowed from Women Grow on tightening up our mission and vision. At
some point, WAT will have it’s own dedicated website. In the meantime,
we have created a more visible group on LinkedIN. We will be adding a
speaker’s bureau and hosting internal educational events. I need to
pontificate on the value of creating chapters across the country, like
LWT and WG have done. I’m just uncertain of the level of work involved.
Jazim Hupp and Leanne are fully employed by their organizations. I organize
WAT at airports and airplanes and on weekends. I simply love my full
time job at Aeris and have no intention to leave anytime soon. We are
looking at organizing a dedicated reception at the Los Angeles Auto
Show. The amazing folks who run that event are more than willing,
eager, and able to help us.
For now, I plan to continue in my small ways to increase the visibility
of women in automotive technology and provide forums for all the women
in WAT to achieve whatever the hell it is they want to achieve. And I
plan to continue to enjoy myself immensely.
Peace out and GRRRRRRL Power!