Leapfrogging Opportunities For Women In Tech: The Grace Hopper Celebration

Jutta Lachenauer

The annual Grace Hopper conference is the place to be for women in technology. It’s an amazing platform for female technologists to exchange insights and network. Grace Hopper, also known as “Amazing Grace,” is considered to be the first modern programmer in the early 1950s. Her motto: “If it’s a good idea, just do it. It’s much easier to apologize afterward than to get approval before.”

To honor Hopper’s achievements, Anita Borg, who holds a Ph.D. in computer sciences, founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) in 1984, and the “Systers” online community in 1987. Created for women technologists in computing, the “Syster” community strives to increase the number of women in computer sciences and improve the work environment for women.

“The career choices for women are still anything but cliché-free. To encourage more women to enter the IT field, we need to have more female ambassadors and mentors who share their own experience of how they ventured out to work in IT and succeeded. It’s a way to help women envision their future in technology,” said Dilipkumar Khandelwal, president of SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud and managing director of SAP Labs India, a strong supporter of women in technology.

This year, three ambassadors from the SAP Application Innovation Services (AIS) department attended the annual GHC event in Texas: Bärbel Haenelt, Gabriele Weyerhaeuser, and Julia Siebeck. Julia and Bärbel were also selected by AnitaB.org to be a speaker at the event.

The importance of women in tech

The annual GHC aims to pique women’s interest in STEM subjects and encourage them to work for tech organizations. Encouraging women to pursue a career in IT is more important than ever, according to this year’s OECD report, “Empowering Women in the Digital Age.” New digital tools support and empower inclusive global economic growth. To seize this opportunity, it is essential that no one, and especially no woman, is held back in trying to achieve their aspirations. Based on the report, companies can take advantage of digital transformation as a leapfrog opportunity for women and a chance to build a more inclusive digital world overall.

The change includes breaking stereotypes in early education that represent hurdles for a more inclusive workforce in IT later on. When Julia was in grammar school, she had to defend her place as one of the best mathematics students in her class. Gabriele shared a similar experience: “My teacher once said that it cannot be possible that there are girls in sciences and mathematics classes at school. He even asked us why we girls didn’t attend language class.”

Today, 250 million fewer women than men are online globally. Women living in developing countries, including Sub-Saharan Africa and rural parts of Asia, face even greater career barriers due to limited technology access. This leads to a systematic under-representation of women in information and communication technology (ICT) jobs as well as top management and academic careers.

Women worldwide are 20 percent less likely to hold a senior leadership position in the mobile communication industry, and they comprise only 8 percent of the investing partners at the top 100 venture capital (VC) firms.  Events like GHC help women to clear these hurdles by networking with other women and gaining encouragement to pursue careers in IT.

Speed-dating with mentoring

Companies from all over the world offered activities at GHC to help women build successful IT careers, including a demo booth to pitch ideas, workshops, and keynotes on opportunities women face in the digital transformation era. For example, Disney offered a fun but profound presentation on how Minnie Mouse would appear today. “The presentation showed Minnie Mouse with nerdy glasses and laptop—a completely different appearance than what we were used to in our times,” said Bärbel.

The mentoring circle was one of the highlights for both students and recent graduates, offering a perfect way to gain insights about onsite companies and their working environments. Fifty tables were set up in a huge room, allowing students to pick different topics. “It was a little bit like speed-dating,” said Bärbel, with a twinkle in her eye.

Julia was surprised to learn that today’s graduates have a very clear picture in mind when looking for a job. “They choose their employer very carefully and ask specific questions on diversity and career,” she noted. “For sure, work-life balance goes without saying. Mentoring was about sharing valuable tips that help propel the IT career of young talents forward.”

For women seeking to enter or advance their career in, GHC is more than just an event to connect and get a one-time career advice; it’s a stepping stone to build a lasting network. It is also a talent pool. “Particularly remarkable is the “embracing atmosphere” at the event,” said Gabriele. “Attendees are open-minded and energizing. It’s a true platform for hungry talents and more senior professionals to connect and empower women to get greater access to more senior-level career opportunities.”

GHC is a leapfrog opportunity for women’s economic empowerment to accelerate progress in the digital transformation and the digital labor market.

For more on this topic, see “Women In Leadership: Don’t Ring The Bell Yet.”

About Jutta Lachenauer

Jutta Lachenauer is the editor-in-chief and head writer for #devWire, the SAP Board Area newsletter for the developer community. With an extensive background in corporate communications, executive communications, internal communications, and change management, Jutta is a trusted advisor to senior management executives.