As my first time attending SXSW on behalf of The T1 Agency, I wanted to make sure I got the most out of the overwhelmingly large ‘conference’. My experience started with the welcome session at the Interactive Track. It was not the moving opening welcome that Mark Harrison, CEO of The T1 Agency delivers at every sponsorshipX event, but it was informative, covering everything from how to use the app to some of the key themes of 2018, including: Creativity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Technology for Social Good. Following that presentation, I chose to attend sessions that would deliver against these themes and I was not disappointed.
The following were some of my favourite moments at SXSW, as they resonated with both professionally and personally as a mother of two.
Wade Davis, a former NFL player, focused on the important role men can play in the conversation around gender equality. Wade made it clear that the session was written for a male audience. Unfortunately, the male attendance was not high but every person in the room were nodding their heads. As a former professional athlete who came out after leaving the NFL, Wade examined the root cause of homophobia, which he argues is sexism. He shared actions that men should take to become more accountable, including changing the everyday language in conversations around women in leadership and the workplace. He ended with a fantastic point: “if we can create the internet, we can create a new world that is equal”. While discussing some of our favourite sessions, I felt it was important to share with Mark Harrison that I feel lucky to work at a place where I feel like I have an equal voice in the leadership team, as I know that is not the case everywhere.
Another memorable session was with Bozoma Saint John from Uber – or “Bad Ass Boz” (her Instagram handle). She has incredible confidence and proclaimed that while she came into Uber at a critical time but she is not afraid of a lot…even stating that wearing a full sequin jumpsuit was just another Tuesday. She is driven by her spirit. I was inspired. I admired how she keeps up with the latest tech trends while staying in touch with humanity, even becoming an Uber pool driver. She stressed the importance of diverse thinking and always listening, learning, and always keeping an open mind. Great ideas can truly come from anywhere. She did not shy away from the fact that there were big mistakes made at Uber, rather stated that it is part of their story. They need to tell it, evolve and be better. She said to communicate enough so that people will give you a chance. Honest and open communication is crucial, not only to win new customers, but to also win back old customers too. A powerful lesson for brands going through a tough time.
Melinda Gates’ keynote presentation was also incredibly inspiring, including the when she invited other notable female leaders up to the stage to be part of the conversation. They covered topics such as the atrocious parental leave in the U.S. and the biased qualification and hiring processes that have become standard. One of the tactics Melinda Gates recommended for hiring was to remove names and schools from resumes during early reviews. She also argued that if you want a diverse pool of candidates, you should demand it from recruiters because there is no such thing as a “lack of options”. More diverse boards and organizations will lead to better ideas, smarter decisions, and stronger business results. As a board member of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport (CAAWS), this is something that we continually focus on, so it was great to hear it on the main stage.
Another inspiring session focused on diversity in sport and included Christa Stout (Portland Trail Blazers) and Hanif Fazel (Center for Equity and Inclusion). The Portland Trail Blazers worked with the Center for Equity and Inclusion to rewrite their strategic plan to make diversity part of their mandate and culture. As they explained, “a commitment to diversity and inclusion creates a unique intersection between good business and integrity. We need to be willing to re-think who we are, who we can be, and what is possible…” It was refreshing to hear other sport organizations in the room asking how they could become more diverse and inclusive.
The last session I attended was the panel discussion on Empowering Girls with Tech, which included Yasmine Mustafa from Roar for Good and Liz Brown from Webjunto. The people featured on the panel are driving extraordinary change in the world of tech and they are not all engineers. One of the panelists was a 16-year-old boy who interviewed his female classmates to understand why they were dropping out of STEM classes before their male counterparts. He demonstrated that he cares and it is fantastic to see that he is interested in being part of the change.
All in all, my first time at SXSW was great. I was happy to see the conversation evolving in a big way around diversity and inclusion. It will be better for all of us. Lead to more varied thinking, better ideas, faster change and it makes business sense. Take a look at your own organization – how do they measure up? What will you do to drive change?