This is how you run a women-in-tech panel that's about more than gender - Technical.ly DC

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Feb. 1, 2017 11:43 am

This is how you run a women-in-tech panel that’s about more than gender

Take a page from this masterful Meetup.

DCVR Meetup's Women in VR panel.

(Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

All too often, when you attend an “X underrepresented minority in X field of tech” event, the discussion focuses exclusively on the challenges faced by that group. And while this isn’t a bad discussion to have, per say, it is limiting. Yes, being a woman in tech comes with challenges. It also comes with all of the joy and curiosity and innovation of being anyone else in tech.

But many event organizers and moderators seem to struggle with making these conversations about more than gender (or race, as the case may be). Many, but not all.

On Monday night at the ByteCubed offices in Crystal City, DCVR Meetup hosted a “Women in VR” themed panel discussion. It was a blatant attempt, organizers said, to get more women interested in attending the group’s events — events that they categorize as generally being about 90 percent male.

Moderated by Jessica Bell (Washington Post dev and DC Tech Meetup/DCFemTech organizer), the panel featured a lineup of four women working in very different areas of virtual reality. There was the business side, the content production side, the data and storytelling side and even the VR in science and medicine side.

Very carefully, Bell asked questions befitting this diverse and accomplished group.

  • What are you most excited about for the future of this technology?
  • What kind of tech do you use to do your job, from both a hardware and software perspective?
  • How did you get into this?
  • What are the social challenges that VR faces?

And finally, lastly, what are the challenges that you as a woman face in this industry?

And, in front of a very mixed crowd, the panel weighed in — talking about how, while the industry is (obviously) very exciting to all of them, it has a long way to go in many respects. “We’re on the cusp … but it’s really just the beginning,” Shayna Skolnik, of Navteca, said. Dr. Sunbin Song, of the NIH, categorized VR’s current advancement as the “bleeding edge” — lots of potential but a little bit painful to get off the ground.

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DCVR organizers say Monday night's crowd was much more diverse than normal. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

DCVR organizers say Monday night’s crowd was much more diverse than normal. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

As for the social repercussions of immersive technology, the panel agreed that cyberbullying and trolling could be more intense in this format. Still, they all expressed optimism and hope for the positive potential of the technology.

Finally, when it came to the experience of being a woman in VR, there was still more hope for the future. Yes, women are underrepresented in the VR industry, just like the rest of tech, the panel agreed. And yet, given that it is such a new industry, there’s time to really change this — if we get to work.

It was a masterfully directed conversation, and one that was fully intentional, Bell told Technical.ly after the event. Quite simply, “they’re tech leaders who also happen to be women,” Bell said.

Boom. That’s how it’s done.

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Tajha Chappellet-Lanier

Tajha Chappellet-Lanier was the lead reporter for Technical.ly DC. The California native previously worked for NPR and the editorial board at USA Today. She can talk travel plans all day, and has strong opinions on the best doughnut in D.C.

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