08 March 2016 Culture

Women of Elastic: A look back and our steps forward

By Kristina Frost

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For those of you who couldn’t join us at Elastic{ON}16, Thursday, February 18 was a pretty special day for the women of Elastic; we hosted our first ever Women’s MeetUp at the conference. This marks our first attempt to make a space for the women of our community to come together, share experiences, and talk about the kinds of things we care about, from the best and most ergonomic women’s backpacks (hey, that struggle is real), to career sponsorship, to further opportunities for meetups and hackathons.

At the end of the breakfast, we asked for your feedback, information I promised our attendees I’d publish out to the world as we think about what future diversity events look like and how this community is going to grow and thrive. Now here we are. Almost 50 different suggestions came in, including some feedback that was overwhelmingly positive and meant the world to all of us. I’m sure more is on the way through post-conference surveys, and some we got in real time via the Elastic{ON}16 app.

I’m writing this as I sit on a flight to Denver, reflecting on the notes we’ve received so far. Among these responses, the word “more” appeared regularly in the things you wrote. More conversation. More events. More opportunities to meet women and exchange ideas. Relationships and networking were a huge theme.

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"I would love to build relationships with other women in IT. I am at the start of my career and am interested in mentorship and advice,” wrote one attendee, a comment echoed by other women who want “more meetups / more career development” or who think we need to keep spending time together “sharing experiences and insights.” Two attendees suggested we work with other companies to partner and sponsor these kind of events in the future; another, in writing about the possibility of a Bay Area meetup, gave a shoutout to our very own Jordan Sissel as a great host for these kinds of events.

Training was a big theme, too. You asked us if we could get more hands-on in the future, if we could provide walk-throughs for newbies, things to get those of you who are approaching the Elastic Stack for the first time off the ground quickly. You want to see us participate in protecting and developing the interests of young girls, teaching them how to code. “Girls 4-10 are being turned off from tech,” one of you wrote, encouraging us to think about how we can encourage the women of the future to participate in technology, to “see how cool it is!"

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We are proud of several of the talks that were delivered by women at Elastic{ON}16; in particular, I highly recommend the Giant Oak talk. Social scientist Dr. Sherry Forbes shared the ways in which Giant Oak is using Elastic to stop human trafficking and to find the individuals who endanger the world’s rhino population by trading rhino horns on the black market. Of the talks that I attended at the conference, it was far and away the nearest and dearest to my heart as a woman who’s crossed continents to be with women who’ve been trafficked and who wants women everywhere to be able to flourish without fear. But other women speakers included Kate Nolan of Cisco Talos, Netflix's Devika Chawla, Haiying Guo from Goldman Sachs, as well as Elastic's own Tanya Bragin, Monica Sarbu, and Britta Weber, and the talks are all published on our website for anyone who wasn’t able to attend.

Others wanted to see women executives come and speak. One attendee wrote, “tell your story in respect of how you became who you are professionally,” and one asked for “how did you get here” session with women from all levels, all backgrounds, speaking as panelists and offering their insight. Another great suggestion we received was around crafting a track at the conference specific to women in tech, or even, perhaps, specific to diversity.

women-of-elastic-breakfast-elasticon-2.jpegAs an interesting aside, a question that came up several times prior to the conference, including once in the Elastic{ON}16 app, was whether or not men were welcome to come and join us, and this desire to include them was reflected in one of my favorite comment cards from the entire morning: "I'd like to see men incorporated to these women-focused events. Their view/engagement is important to change/evolve culture/attitudes." I’ll be thinking about how to make it more clear in the future that we want and value every person who wants to participate in our conversations about Women in Tech, and how we broaden this movement to engage in all kinds of diversity conversations from a variety of perspectives.

We look forward on collecting all of these great ideas and taking them into the next year, and we commit to keep making Elastic, and Elastic{ON} events, a place where diversity is showcased and where it thrives. Some of this is simple stuff, like making sure our staffing schedules reflect our own company diversity at our booths, that our speaker lineup showcases the even greater diversity that exists within our developer community, and that we double-down on making sure that our facilities are friendly and accessible to all attendees. But a lot of the ideas that you all had went beyond logistics, and were geared towards creating a community where people from all walks of life can support and encourage each other on the road to creating great products. Reading them gave me hope that we can build a software and technology industry that is more than just innovative -- that we can make it just, too.

As you can see the possibilities for where all of this could go are pretty endless. That’s one of the things that I think is so exciting about it. The enthusiasm women have for this topic and the way we are all coming into our own together, exploring, triumphing, building a better future together is incredible. It’s inspiring. And it was perhaps one of the highest honors of my career to start this dialogue with all of you.

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Several of you suggested that we find a way to keep the conversation going virtually, so that the exchange of ideas isn’t just limited to a time and a place. That’s a suggestion we’re happy to take on, and proud to implement right away. Others are in the works. “I live in the middle of nowhere,” one woman wrote, rightly pointing out that virtual spaces let us have happy hour everywhere.

To continue the conversation, stay involved, and help build our community, join us on our Women of Elastic LinkedIn group and stay tuned for more events and discussions in the near future.

And if you're more of a visual person, we recorded this short video from Elastic{ON} to help capture our thoughts and plans for the future of the Women of Elastic. Hope you enjoy!