AI accountability and climate tech at the 2023 Lesbians Who Tech Summit

At the 10th Annual Lesbians Who Tech + Allies Summit in San Francisco, artificial intelligence, career development, and climate tech were hot topics.

AI accountability and climate tech at the 2023 Lesbians Who Tech Summit
Editor-in-Chief Leo Aquino interviewing Maya Whalen-Kipp, Ocean Renewable Energy & Workplace Fellow at the US Department of Energy, at the 2023 Lesbians Who Tech+ Allies Summit.

Last week, Queerency attended the 10th annual Lesbians Who Tech + Allies Summit in San Francisco alongside an estimated 15,000 lesbians and allies from all over the world who work in tech.

Keynote speeches featuring celesbians like Chani Nicholas and Sonya Passi, creators of the wildly popular CHANI astrology app, took place at the Castro Theatre, a 1920’s theater that has hosted Lesbians Who Tech since its inception in 2013. 

Two blocks of Castro Street, between Market and 19th Streets, were blocked off to the public and transformed into a lounge area with big screens, a DJ, picnic tables, cornhole, basketball hoops, and booths for corporate sponsors like Meta, Zillow, Wells Fargo, and Google.

Unlike most professional conferences, Lesbians Who Tech + Allies proudly offered daycare services for Summit attendees. The cost of childcare is often a barrier for parents who want to advance their careers by attending networking events. Making daycare available made a huge impact on attendees.

Four additional stages hosted speeches and skillshare opportunities that complemented the topics covered on the main stage. The Summit’s events focused heavily on artificial intelligence (AI), career development in tech, and a smaller focus on jobs in the climate tech sector.

AI needs more BIPOC, queer, and trans representation

Many of the Summit’s attendees said they were worried about AI before attending the conference. Will AI take tech jobs? Will it replace humans in making critical decisions? What role does AI play in perpetuating biases like homophobia, transphobia, and racism that are hidden in plain sight in the tech world?

Techies were pleasantly surprised and relieved to hear that there were many others in the industry who shared their fears — and that some had already begun implementing solutions and facilitating conversations within their cisheteronormative and/or majority-white workplaces.

The resounding solution to the general fear of AI? We need more BIPOC, queer, and trans folx writing those algorithms and defending the humanity of our communities against the harmful potential of AI. 

Job-seekers still want to pivot to careers in tech

Each day of the Summit was packed with opportunities to network with leading tech companies like Meta, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), Airtable, and more. 

There were daily speed networking and mentoring sessions held by Oscar Robles, Senior Marketing Manager at HubSpot; Queer Women of Color meetups in the park sponsored by Google; and a nightly “job crawl” where job seekers could speak directly to recruiters at leading tech companies.

There were also tech startup founders like Be Gibney at web development agency Daggerhart Lab, who came to network with top talent across the country, and all over the world.

Many job-seekers hoped to pivot from careers in sales, marketing, maternal healthcare, education, and entertainment, citing financial stability and LGBTQ-affirming workplace culture as the main reasons they find tech attractive. 

Queer and trans folx with long careers in tech affirmed those desires. “You get to be yourself!” said Sofia Mohammad-Vaccaro, Senior Product Design Manager at Upwork with 15 years of experience in the industry. 

Kayla Tullis, MS, technical trainer with over 7 years of experience, said, “You can work remote so you’re not putting yourself physically in a space with the straights.”

Climate tech jobs may offer career stability and growth

In an industry saddled with automation anxiety, careers in the climate tech sector may offer ongoing stability and growth. “Everything here at this conference is super exciting tech, but everything’s dependent on electricity,” said attendee Maya Whalen-Kipp, a fellow working on renewable energy policy at the US Department of Energy.

According to CNBC, tech giants Apple, Meta, and Google bought more clean energy in 2022 than any other companies. Whalen-Kipp predicts that both the tech industry and the US government will continue to invest in climate solutions for the foreseeable future. 

Again, BIPOC, queer, and trans representation in climate tech will be key to creating solutions that center our communities first. Whalen-Kipp said, “You don’t need to teach women and gender minorities and racial minorities about the importance of caring for our communities and caring for our people when making policy decisions. That is not true for a lot of oil execs.”

Finally, she added, “There is a huge amount of opportunity for young folx, BIPOC folx, queer folx to take leadership in these industries. Because these are brand new spaces, nobody has been a 30-year expert.”

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