Every year, a delegation of women from OpenText™ are hand selected by our executive team to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in the U.S. The delegation comprises accomplished women from different departments and countries who are born leaders with a passion for learning and make extraordinary contributions to OpenText every day.
The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, and we select our top-talent female employees from across the organization to attend. This September, our delegation joined the 20,000+ attendees from all over the world for a week of inspiring keynotes, hands-on workshops, and networking opportunities in Houston, Texas.
I sat down with some of this year’s attendees – Suneetha Lakkaraju (Senior Manager, Engineering), Karen Nemani (Director, Risk, Compliance and Projects), Tanya Payne (Team Lead, UX Research and Usability), Alona Alapide (Director, Customer Support) and Samantha Warnes (Program Manager, Professional Services Enablement – WW Services Programs) to get their insights from the conference.
What did it mean to you to be selected as part of the 2018 GHC Delegation?
Alona: It is definitely an honor to be selected to represent my country, and the Customer Support organization. Joining the nine other delegates exposed me not just to different cultures but different leadership styles as well.
Karen: Being selected as part of the Grace Hopper delegation was incredibly thrilling for me. My experience of technology events is that I’m often the only woman at the table, so the concept of there being 20,000+ women all working in tech was a bit inconceivable for me. Add to that, getting to meet and know other women at OpenText with similar interests in shifting the conversation around diversity and inclusion made the experience incredibly worthwhile.
Of all the things you learned at the GHC, what had the most impact on you?
Tanya: I learned so much, it’s really hard to pick! I think that merely being around other women that are supportive of each other had a much larger impact than I could imagine. The other thing I learned is to think of your career as a brand and also to think of yourself as the CEO of that career.
Suneetha: It gave me a great perspective about how women should handle various challenges in life and still not compromise on their career goals.
Tell us about the sessions you attended. What was your favorite, and why?
Samantha: My favorite sessions had to be the keynotes! The atmosphere in the room of over 20,000 people and listening to dynamic presenters talk about their stories was very inspiring.
Karen: I sampled a little bit of everything from the career to the cultural, along with a number of cybersecurity sessions. It was great to reconnect with my security roots, and it’s exciting to see how the number of women working in the sector today is increasing. The number of women in cybersecurity is often lower than the rest of the tech sector, sitting at around 11% (compared to nearly 89% men), so seeing over 600 women in the cyber sessions gave me hope. My favorite was the session with Anita Hill. There were so many takeaways from that session but things that really stood out were: we don’t have to reflect tradition in our workplaces; we have our values and the reality of our experiences to guide us in changing tradition or making new traditions; and we can join together in the work needed to make a more inclusive society and workplace.
Suneetha: I attended a mix of technical and professional development sessions and workshops, starting with the opening keynote by Padmasree Warrior, which was one of the best keynotes I have heard. I also enjoyed a panel discussion about “Navigating Transition from Technical to Management.” Coming from a Software Developer background, this was one discussion that I personally related to and the panel gave some useful suggestions in terms of creating a good balance between managing teams and staying technical.
Samantha, you were invited to join the special Senior Women’s Program at GHC. What was the event like?
Samantha: It was really great to be included in the Senior Program. There is research that shows that many women in IT drop out of the industry at the mid-management level and there are still too few women leaders in the industry. The focus of the session was how to continue to build leadership skills, grow your personal brand and plan your career path to the top to “make shift happen!” I am looking forward to sharing the knowledge gained to support inclusion and future leaders at OpenText.
Another panel also discussed investing in start-ups and how important it is for women to continue to get involved and support new businesses. Today’s start-up will be tomorrow’s big businesses so ensuring diversity from the start is vitally important.
What lessons or takeaways did you learn at GHC that you can bring back to OpenText?
Tanya: Personally, I am going to host women in tech lunches in my office. I joined AnitaB.org and signed up to attend one of the local meetings. I also want to volunteer or speak at next year’s GHC!
Karen: GHC left me feeling connected in an industry that has often left women feeling disengaged. Being able to share with like-minded women, reflect on what we learned and how it applies to us and the OpenText workforce was really empowering. We all felt strongly about bringing what we learned back to our colleagues—male and female alike. We are all here—we can all shift the culture together—and we need to if we want to remain strategic and grow. To that end I feel very strongly about creating a network of sponsors across OpenText—we all do. The potential benefits to everyone and the business is immense.
How has this experience changed or shaped your perspective of OpenText, and/or of working in the tech industry?
Suneetha: This conference was very inspiring for me. It was great to see and hear the top female leaders in the tech industry and how they overcame struggles and challenges to stand where they are now. As an Engineering leader, I would like to contribute what I can to OpenText and the tech industry and encourage more women in this field.
Karen: This is likely not the answer you’d expect to hear but attending GHC did change my mind. I had been debating leaving tech altogether, but GHC reminded me to be myself—my authentic self—and that self is a female cyber techie with years of experience that has a fair bit of value to contribute to the industry.
Tanya: I’ve always been proud to work for OpenText, but I left Grace Hopper feeling particularly honored. The other delegates were smart, strong, fun and supportive. I also came to appreciate how many great men I work with at OpenText. When I heard stories and experiences from women at the conference, I couldn’t help but consider all the supportive male colleagues in R&D at OpenText that have not only treated me fairly but have offered me mentorship and support over the years.
More from the delegation
Read about Grace Hopper delegate Mei Dent’s career path from Senior Developer to VP, R&D at OpenText. In this interview, Mei shares her thoughts on the importance of mentorship and diversity in the technology industry and gives advice for young women entering the technology field today.