A number of recent studies confirm the increased effectiveness of diverse teams in the workplace. Despite such evidence, representation of women in the tech sector has barely increased. To explore reasons why, find inspiration, and celebrate those who aim to increase the participation of women in tech, 150 women and allies gathered in Santa Clara on November 30 at the Women in Tech symposium, hosted by the University of California’s Women in Technology Initiative (WITI@UC).
Keynotes from Poornima Vijayashanker, founder of the advocacy organization Femgineer, and Berkeley Haas professor Laura Kray, an expert on the roots of gender bias, were followed by panels of women in industry and experts on gender equity relating their own paths to success as well as challenges women face in the sector.
Founders of successful startups, representatives from venture capital firms, and executives from tech companies spoke to the symposium’s theme of innovation and entrepreneurship. CNote founder Catherine Berman, now developing her third social enterprise company, cited the statistic that women receive only 2 percent of venture capital, and pointed to a study in the Harvard Business Review on how differently women and men are treated when raising investment funds.
“Women are constantly asked to de-risk their idea,” said Berman, “while men are asked about the market.” She advised the aspiring entrepreneurs in the room, “Flip the question on its head. If you’re asked, ‘Tell me why you won’t fail,’ defend your company and then move on to its high-growth potential. Just that one tip has changed results.”
Many presenters emphasized the importance of networking and mentoring. Technology executive Sophia Velastegui described developing a personal board of directors, saying, “I think of myself as a company. When I face self-doubt and rejection, I’m not going to declare bankruptcy – I just pivot.”
Bringing women together to support one another was a driving force behind the symposium. Introducing the Athena Awards, WITI executive director Jo Yuen said the Women in Tech Initiative was founded to act “as a bridge between academia and the world our students will graduate into.”
Accepting the Athena Award for Academic Leadership, Stanford computer science professor Fei Fei Li first looked back to acknowledge “so many amazing women who have blazed a trail,” citing computing pioneers such as Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, before forecasting technology’s future.
“We know AI will change the world, but who will change AI? If we want these technologies to serve all of us,” said Li, “we want all of us to be developing this technology, to be leaders driving the direction of its future.”
ACADEMIC LEADERSHIP AWARD: Fei-Fei Li
|The Academic Leadership Award goes to Fei-Fei Li, associate professor of computer science at Stanford University and chief scientist at Google, Inc.
Born in Beijing, Professor Li received her doctorate in electrical engineering from Caltech in 2005 and in 2009 joined the faculty at Stanford, where she now directs the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. She is also chief scientist of AI and machine learning at Google Cloud. Her passion to educate and promote women in technical fields led several years ago to the launch of a summer seminar at Stanford designed for high schoolers. By day, young women learn the principles of IT, and in the evening, they are introduced to women in technical professions to learn about various STEM career paths.
EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP AWARD: Laura Haas
|The Executive Leadership Award goes to Laura Haas, dean of the College of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Known for foundational research on information integration technology, Professor Haas earned her Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Texas at Austin and an A.B. in applied mathematics and computer science from Harvard. She became dean of the UMass College of Information and Computer Sciences in August, after 36 years at IBM. Haas most recently served as director of IBM’s Accelerated Discovery Lab. She is an IBM Fellow, an ACM Fellow, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. “Laura Haas is a visionary leader in the field of computer science who has built major engines of basic and applied research for one of the most renowned firms in the world,” said UMass Amherst Provost Katherine Newman, announcing the appointment in February.
EARLY CAREER AWARD: Jessica Ladd
|The Early Career Award goes to Jessica Ladd, founder and CEO of Callisto, a software platform for survivors of sexual assault.
An infectious disease epidemiologist by training, Jessica Ladd received her Masters in Public Health at Johns Hopkins and her B.A. in Public Policy/Human Sexuality at Pomona College. In August 2016, she founded Callisto, a software platform for survivors of sexual assault, now being deployed at universities nationwide. With many campus sexual assaults perpetrated by serial offenders, Callisto’s innovative “information escrow” technology aims to cut the numbers of repeat offenders by 59 percent. Recruiting and employing talented women at fair pay, Ladd is building a women-run company that’s a counterpoint to Silicon Valley’s “tech-bro” culture. For her work, Ladd has been featured in the New York Times and as a TED Fellow.
NEXT GENERATION ENGAGEMENT AWARD: Claire Shorall
|The Next Generation Engagement Award goes to Claire Shorall, computer science educator and advocate, and principal of Neo.
Claire Shorall earned a B.A. in biological sciences and religious studies at Rice University in 2010. As manager of computer science in the Oakland Unified School District, she created and implemented the district-wide vision for computer science education – leading to an increase in enrollment in CS courses from 200 students in 2014-15 to 4,000 in 2017-18. She supported more than 30 educators to offer high-quality AP Computer Science Principles through Code.org, and partnered with public, private, and nonprofit agencies to expand work-based learning and extracurricular opportunities. She has been recognized nationally as one of 10 recipients of Teach for America’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
The Women in Tech symposium was made possible through the generous support of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, the UC Berkeley College of Engineering, Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity, School of Information, along with Facebook, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and the International Society of Service Innovation Professionals. Additional UC Berkeley co-sponsors include the CITRIS Foundry, Fung Institute of Engineering Leadership, Berkeley Center for New Media, Haas Women in Leadership, Startup@BerkeleyLaw, SkyDeck, UC Berkeley Extension, and the Bakar Fellows Program.
Pictured at top, L-R: 2017 Athena Award winners Claire Shorell, Jessica Ladd, and Fei Fei Li (Laura Haas not pictured). Photo Credit: Adriel Olmos/CITRIS and the Banatao Institute
View the Women in Tech printed program (PDF).
Learn about the Women in Tech Speakers and Panelists (PDF).
View the Women in Tech Photo Gallery on Facebook.
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