An Ode to Cookie Monster & Gender Diversity: How I Broke All My Rules and Had the Best SXSW Day Ever


I’ve nearly always been a planner, relished sketching out the blow-by-blow for any given day, vacation or event, seeking the best way to optimize my enjoyment of the experience at hand. Then I had kids. And yes, I still do a lot of planning for things directly related to my job of course and select household projects, but my energy and thrill for strict insistence on planning for everything seems to have faded on multiple levels over the last several years.

Cut scene to my second-ever SXSW conference today. In my defense, I was given my formal registration late…as in…Thursday. I kept meaning to glance over the panels and different events before arriving at the Convention Center Saturday morning…but well, I chose to put out my fires at work and then play with my kids when I was home instead. So it felt almost alien to arrive for badge pickup and truly have no idea where I was heading after I tossed it round my neck. Those who have always been carefree souls will laugh at my discomfort as I tried to follow in their footsteps nonchalantly, pretending that this knot of anxiety and uncertainty had not suddenly welled up in my belly. And then I suddenly decided, “!*%& it, where will the day take me?” Cut to anyone who has known me for many years crying “Scandal!”

And I started strolling around the convention center, relishing all the people watching, accents and energy already in motion. I casually passed the PBSAnywhere Lounge hosting…Cookie Monster. So I went in and kissed Cookie Monster. (Call me a hussy.) I started toward a panel I was mildly interested in, feeling pangs of guilt about not jumping right in, but then realized I should save my brain for the panels that really leapt out at me and that I was really hungry. So I stopped and ate at this awesome BBQ stand that seemed to just materialize beside me, my anxiety lessening with the assistance of berry cobbler.

The remainder of the day passed in a similarly fluid manner. I attended a responsive design discussion, and though the hosts were entertaining, I was most engaged by the nice woman who let me take the open seat beside her before everything began. I chose to chat with her beforehand instead of Googling the panelists’ bios. I wandered downtown observing visitors and the various installations that had popped up for the event. I went with the flow.

I scanned the afternoon schedule and was intrigued by the Girl Power(ed) panel due to the onslaught of media coverage of late about the gender gaps in the high-tech sector. I followed my instincts and am so glad I did. The panel discussion was lively and featured three women openly sharing their passion for their respective tech fields and the particular challenges they have navigated. When Girl Power(ed) closed, I stood to leave but noticed the next session in the room was She’s a C-Word! Lessons from Tech’s C-Suite Women. How can you not attend a panel with ovaries enough to craft a title like that? So in the zone of the women in tech topic, I sat right back down. Moderated by Re/Code’s Kara Swisher and filled with female executives steeped in the rigors of life in Silicone Valley, the discussion that unfolded about mentorship, female leadership and the critical importance of diversity to a company’s ultimate bottom line was one of best panels I’ve ever seen. Ultimately, I think my interest in the gender diversity challenge of tech is rooted in reality of the witnessing the diversity gaps that exist in advertising and marketing as well. Many industries suffer from a “disease of homogeneity” for lack of more eloquence, and I am happy about the attention shining on our sisters in tech because I think these high-profile discussions will inform our own domain.

What I am most happy about though, is how for at least today, I threw my hands up in the air and let the SXSW wind take me where it may. It was liberating, and I think more true to what the spirit of SXSW was years ago. Much better than my previous festival attendance certainly, and I plan to do the same thing again…tomorrow.

A perfect SXSW day to each and all!

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