by Sharon Florentine

Anxiety an undercurrent at Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology

Oct 05, 2018

There was a lot to celebrate at the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology – but it wasn’t easy to ignore how much we have to lose.

Last week, I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology – my fourth time at the event. Being surrounded by 20,000 other women who are all working to fulfill technology’s potential and shift the culture toward a more equitable, more inclusive future is always inspiring, and this year was no different, at least in that sense.

But underneath all the excitement, the camaraderie, the new friendships forged, the cutting-edge technologies and the innovative ideas unveiled, I felt an undercurrent of anxiety. Because outside the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, a few thousand miles to the northeast, Christine Blasey Ford was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee and detailing her assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, the hard-right conservative nominated to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

Blasey Ford was scheduled to testify Friday, Sept. 28, at 9:30 a.m. ET. Ironically, at about the halfway point of her testimony, I was lined up outside a hotel ballroom with hundreds of other women to hear Professor Anita Hill – yes, that Anita Hill – speak about the past, present and future of #MeToo and discuss similar social and cultural movements.

I was 14 when Professor Hill testified to the harassment she suffered under Clarence Thomas. Sitting there, listening to her speak, while the two women next to me obsessively checked their news feeds for updates on the Kavanaugh hearings, I felt hollow and hopeless. Twenty-seven years since Hill stood up and spoke out to protect women – and here we are again, I thought. We’re still screaming into the void, hoping against hope that someone will hear us that someone will take our pain and our struggle seriously enough to – at the very least, break precedent and avoid appointing misogynists to the court that interprets the legal system of our entire country. Such an eerie sense of déja vú.

Threats to individuals and industry advancement

Because lives are at stake. Lives and livelihoods. I looked around at all the other people in the audience with me, and I thought of what could happen if Roe v. Wade were overturned. If even more protections for LGBTQ+ people were rolled back. If immigration was even further restricted. All of the ways we will suffer – and the fact that a significant portion of the population in the U.S. is fine with that.

How many of the people in that ballroom with me would be denied visas? How many would be deported? How many will be forced to abandon careers because they can’t access birth control? How many will be pushed out of the workforce because they don’t have childcare? How many will be unable to recover from the trauma of sexual assault/harassment? How many trans people will be murdered simply for being trans? I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

And that’s the personal, individual cost. The loss of our ideas, our creativity, the potentially life-changing technological, and medical and engineering and scientific discoveries that could be lost, ignored, and overlooked is also staggering.

Hill’s message to the audience last Friday was one of hope and perseverance: Keep fighting. Keep speaking up. Don’t give up. Because as far as we’ve come since 1991, we still have so much more to go.