Georgelle Millacy Russell
Finance and Operations Specialist, Columbia University School of Professional Studies
This past September, WIT@CU Professional Development Committee member Georgelle Russell was invited to attend the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) conference in Houston, Texas. Produced by AnitaB.org and presented in partnership with ACM (Association for Computing Machinery), GHC is the world's largest gathering of women technologists.
We thought we’d take the opportunity to catch up with Georgelle and get some of her reflections on attending GHC, and what about it stood out for her.
What did it mean for you to be able to attend the conference?
From a young age, I've always wanted to work with technology, especially video games and other applications that involved puzzle solving and optimization. For me, the conference provided fertile ground, the opportunity to further develop into the person I've always wanted to be but wasn't always given the opportunity to attempt. At some point in my education, micro-barriers and micro-exclusions – like being overlooked when a technical problem arose or ignored when I’d say I knew how to fix it, often with a male being sought out instead – became the norm. At GHC, I not only didn’t feel overlooked, but that it was assumed I’m ready and capable.
Your thoughts about the conference's theme: “We Are Here?”
I loved the theme! The theme "We Are Here" resonates with that encouraging feeling of assumed belonging and community. Anywhere attendees were, we all knew we were there together. A presentation I attended, “AI, Ain't I A Woman” by Joy Buolamwini, reflected this most. She found that facial recognition was abysmal at picking up the faces of black women, and she proved that it wasn't due to the software itself but that the systems weren't being adequately trained with inclusive data sets. She brought her voice to the table and enhanced and advanced this technology so that when future generations arrive, they, too, can be recognized.
Did you have any “aha!” moments while at the conference?
Definitely! A highlight of my weekend was posting a photo to the digital social wall through the conference’s mobile app. Soon after, I was approached by an undergrad classmate who saw it and noticed she was in the same room. She came over instantly, found me, and then added me to a women of color chat group so that we could all communicate with each other throughout the weekend. I knew no one when I arrived, but I learned that by contributing to the conversation, connections are made, both with new friends and old.
How would you advise young women, or women already in the workforce, interested in an IT career path to get in touch with their potential?
To all women I’d say, first and foremost, don't be afraid to show up and contribute in any way, big or small. I posted a few photos for the social wall each time I felt inspired, and just one photo propelled me towards communities and connections I may not have found otherwise. Ask questions, provide your own contribution and remember that your experience can help others, too. Remember that networking – while it can be intimidating – is never one-sided. Your potential is a mighty asset and that potential grows each time you contribute to the conversation. We are here. Show up. Speak up. The world is listening.