Emerging Technologies and the Emergence of Women

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday last week at EmTech ’07 — the Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT — a conference produced by Technology Review. The conference included an extraordinary number of interesting women, including the CTO of Xerox, and I was pleased to be a presenter at the event.

This year the editors of the magazine decided to host a Women in Technology Workshop. Ilene Lang, the president of Catalyst, held a session to talk about workplace culture and included some findings from the study on technical women that NCWIT helped to support. These findings include technical women stayed with companies longer, and that if there were more women present in their organization; the women were less likely to report barriers. Catalyst will present the complete findings of this study at the upcoming Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, October 17-20.

One of the discussions from this session that I found compelling was about perceptions based on age. The young women in the room believed that their senior counterparts were rewarded for understanding a technical area deeply, while the senior women assumed that their younger colleagues were more likely to have developed breadth of knowledge. Each group believed that the other’s expertise would be a factor in women’s future success in IT.

I think many of the interesting scientific and computing problems lie at the boundaries between disciplines. Interdisciplinary interests that are both deep and broad will serve not only to enhance the development of IT, it may help to attract women, too.

Of course, the real change happens in a future where women are better represented in the agenda of the technology conference itself, and not in a separate workshop.

Telle Whitney is President and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.

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