PDXWIT at the United State of Women

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My name is Maureen McAvoy Jemison, and I’m the Vice President of the Board for Portland Women in Technology. I am incredibly proud of that title, and of the work PDXWIT has done as an organization. One thing I love about PDXWIT is that it gives the members of our community a platform to tell their stories. So I’d like to start with my story.

I found my way to tech through a position as a technical writer. I loved that job: I worked with a passionate and dedicated team of writers and curriculum developers, and I met the people who wrote code for the mainframe and the folks who worked on the point of sale system for hundreds of stores. I worked on code for the first time there and it felt so right. I also decided to have a child. My colleagues were incredibly supportive when they found out I was having twins, and the company meant well with its family-friendly message. But I had to endure pumping in the bathroom, breastfeeding in the car, and missing my two precious boys every day when I left for work. I never doubted that I wanted to keep working, and I eventually landed a job as a software developer at another company. It was important to me to both nourish my spirit with the hard work and intellectual challenge of my job, and to be an example for my sons of a woman with a complex and fulfilling life.

My heart goes out to young people who are struggling every day with the kinds of challenges I faced early in my career. Those who are trying to figure out when, and if, they have children. Young people struggling with their identity and sexuality and their role in their families and their workplaces. I hope that my work for PDXWIT helps some of them to see that we all work it out eventually. I love that our community is there to support people every day.

Megan Bigelow suggested that I attend the United State of Women Summit this year, to represent PDXWIT. I remembered how sure I felt that she should represent us, and how inspired she was after her trip to the first summit. So I decided to go for it. When I go on a trip, I always send my now college-aged twin sons a text message: “in case I die in a fiery crash, I love you very much.” This time I heard back from both of them and was grateful to see the roles switch and have them support me.

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When I sat down in the Shrine Auditorium in LA, near the USC campus, I was moved nearly to tears by being at an event with so many amazing women, not to mention the thrill of just sharing a room with Dolores Huerta, Jane Fonda, Yara Shahidi, Tarana Burke, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Michelle Obama. Apart from these well-known women, I met some less famous faces who are doing equally great things.

I said hello to the woman standing nearby and shared my excitement. Tammy Gordon, the first person I met at the conference, is a Site Director for an organization called Year Up. You can read about one of their recent graduates here. Tammy and I talked about the hard work of taking care of yourself while working for a nonprofit, and she shared with me some of the rewarding but sometimes sad challenges of working with young people who fall through the cracks.

In 2017, female founders received just 2.2% of the $85 billion invested by venture capitalists. Arlan Hamilton, an impressive dedicated and all around badass woman who grew up homeless, is the founder of Backstage Capital. At the “Investing in Women: We are the Ones We’ve been waiting for” session at the summit, Arlan announced a fund that aims to invest $36 million in black woman-led companies. She’s calling it the About Damn Time Fund. Arlan wants us to change the way we think about money.

Jennifer Mielke at Conservationista.com approached me because she admired my Nooworks dress (Check them out! Their dresses have pockets!). We quickly bonded over vintage shopping, the perils of fast fashion, and her cool business model that embraces a #secondhandfirst approach.

I met sisters Jean and Christine Templin, cofounders of Purple Patriot. These women are powerhouses of tech industry experience, and wanted to create a tool that gave women a shortcut to participating in politics. They were galvanized by the 2016 election, like so many of us, and wanted to give people a place to find information. They encouraged me to send them feedback on their app (available for iOS and Android), and I’m sure they’d love to hear from you too.

Sarah Super is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. She told me her story after I approached her at a panel about the #metoo movement. Sara took her experience of violent sexual assault and turned it into a calling. She shares her story with other women, supports her fellow survivors however she can, and is spearheading an effort to build a memorial to survivors of sexual violence in her community. Sarah told me that what she most wants to hear from other people is “I’m sorry this happened to you.”

Abigail Gray Swartz is a fine artist and illustrator. I noticed her work because it reminded me of our efforts to talk about the history of women in tech. You may recognize one of her more famous works, this New Yorker Cover. I was stopped in my tracks by this image of Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest National Park Ranger serving in the United States:

Abigail is working on a project called City of Hidden Figures, which is a nationwide women-led public arts program that honors the power and impact of women throughout history in their local communities.

I talked up some of the people I met at the conference in this blog post, but there are so many more! These folks were sitting next to me, walking past me, and standing at tables in the exhibition hall. So many amazing stories, and so many ways that we are working to make the world a better place.

By the end of my time at the conference, I felt renewed enthusiasm for the work we’ve been doing at PDXWIT. I was seriously considering running for political office. And I was more determined than ever to support the members of our community. Something I really enjoyed and appreciated about the panels and presentations at the United State of Women Summit was that each session ended with a call to action. I loved the way this framed the presentations, and that they had all thought about what was important to them and what they wanted to leave us with. So here’s my call to action: next time you introduce yourself, try introducing your best friend or colleague or mentee as well, or instead. Tell people about how impressive your boss is, or something great about the woman standing next to you. Let’s amplify and elevate each other.

I’m already looking forward to the next United State of Women.

Maureen McAvoy Jemison is the Vice President of the PDXWIT board, and works for CollegeNET managing a group of software developers and QA folks while occasionally writing code. She loves coffee, guacamole, reading on the couch and the @womensart1 Twitter feed. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.