Last week eBay hosted the 126th Girl Geek Dinner for over 175 attendees to discuss diversity, inclusion, and girl geeks in technology at its San Jose, CA headquarters.
The event inspired intimate conversation and discussion among both the audience and the panel, leaving guests feeling as though they were part of an extended family and a larger industry movement for diversity and inclusion.
eBay CEO Devin Wenig kicked-off the event explaining how diversity and inclusion is a business priority for eBay. “Words matter,” Wenig said, “but actions matter more.” He introduced Girl Geek founders, Angie Chang and Sukrutha Bhadouria, who shared how a single dinner in January 2008 was the catalyst for a movement.
Chang started Girl Geek Dinner in order to inspire women to be their best selves every day and to not be scared to put themselves forward – to never settle. Bhadouria shared that in the early days of Girl Geek Dinner, “the first two people that liked the Facebook posts were Angie’s mom and my mom – from India and Taiwan – we were already international!”
eBay’s Chief Diversity Officer, Damien Hooper-Campbell, set the tone by discussing what he called “Breaking Conventionalism,” and how diversity and inclusion – both of which power innovation – are critical to eBay and its continued business success.
"For the rest of the evening and throughout your involvement with Girl Geek, I encourage you to leave your representatives at the door and fast-forward to viewing each other as family. Tonight, let's push beyond the typical, surface-level conversation so we can leave with beyond surface level ideas and takeaways,” Damien said.
He told the story of how he broke convention with his career – leaving Wall Street at Goldman Sachs to tackle diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. He explained how his mother broke convention and raised him as a single-parent, working on Wall Street as a black woman in the 1980s to send him to a good school. He drew attention to his great-grandfather who moved to the north as part of the Great Migration in the 1920s and marched on Washington. And he spoke of his great aunt, who broke definitions of what it meant to be a woman in Guyana in the 1940s by being head of household and owning property.
“I wanted this to be personal tonight,” Damien said, “I wanted you to understand more about why I’ve dedicated my life to breaking convention.”
Damien’s story set the stage for a panel discussion featuring several eBay leaders including Kelly Vincent, VP of Consumer Selling Product Management and Engineering; Mrinalini Loew, Senior Director of Mobile & Accessibility; Maliena Guy, Product Manager, Search; and Connie Yang, Software Engineer, Data Infrastructure, U.S. Moderated by Laura Chambers, VP of Consumer to Consumer Selling, the panel explored themes of fulfillment, the importance of being a role model, cultivating a support system, and of course, breaking convention.
Kelly Vincent shared a story about a seller whose husband had left her, making her feel completely lost and scared given her lack of work experience. The seller decided to start selling jewelry on eBay and was eventually able to fully support herself and her children through her business. “I realized what a direct, immense impact we can have on people’s lives,” Kelly reflected.
Mrinalini Loew explained that she is able to fuel the passion that brings her into work every day and how she has a “tribe” of peers and mentors around her that help her whether they know it or not. “What I’m really proud of is that I don’t have a single tribe – I really rely on so many tribes… we have our little family tribe… I also have my tribes at work. I’ve had a peer tribe at every single company I’ve worked at… I also have a tribe of women who don’t even know that they’re my tribe of “inspirers.”
Maliena Guy shared that when she first started the CS program at UC Berkeley, there were 400 people in her class – a fraction of whom were women. By contrast, now her younger sister is at UC Berkeley in that same CS class, and there are now 1,200 people, nearly half of whom are women.
Connie Yang recounted the time her son told her that he was interested in robotics. Realizing there was no robotics program in place at his school, Connie fielded a flagship program with local parents in the community – teaching Python, Java and other programs to their kids.
eBay’s Girl Geek Dinner created an environment in which every individual – presenter, panelist or audience member – was inspired to not only share their own stories, but to share the stories of the convention breakers in their lives. This is part of eBay’s approach to breaking conventions in how we approach diversity and inclusion. Instead of rolling out a strategy with lectures and trainings, “we’re starting with a conversation,” Damien explained.
Continuing the organization’s mission, eBay’s Girl Geek Dinner aimed to establish a lasting circle of trust, encouraging a cycle of convention breakers, and inspiring attendees to take the lessons they learned and give back wherever possible.