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Absent: Women in Technology Innovation

About the series

Dr. Lucinda Sanders
CEO and Co-Founder, NCWIT;
Lucy Sanders is CEO and Co-founder of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) and also serves as Executive-in-Residence for the ATLAS Institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU).

Lucy has an extensive industry background, having worked in R&D and executive (VP) positions at AT&T Bell Labs, Lucent Bell Labs, and Avaya Labs for over 20 years, where she specialized in systems-level software and solutions (multi-media communication, and customer relationship management. In 1996, Lucy was awarded the Bell Labs Fellow Award, the highest technical accomplishment bestowed at the company, and she has six patents in the communications technology area.

Lucy serves on several high-tech startup and non-profit boards, and frequently advises young technology companies. Lucy has served on the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) Board of Trustees at the University of California at Berkeley, as well as on the Information Technology Research and Development Ecosystem Commission for the National Academies and the Innovation Advisory Board for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Lucy is a recipient -- along with NCWIT co-founders Robert Schnabel and Telle Whitney -- of the Computing Research Association's 2012 A. Nico Habermann Award. In 2004 she was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Department of Engineering at CU, and in 2011 she was recognized with the university's George Norlin Distinguished Service Award. She has been inducted into the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame and is a recipient of the 2013 U.S. News STEM Leadership Hall of Fame Award. Lucy received her BS and MS in computer science from Louisiana State University and the University of Colorado at Boulder, respectively.

Technology innovation is changing the world in a wide variety of ways – smart homes, smart cars, smart health, smart education, smart cities and so much more.  Computing is a field unique in its societal impact, as computational advances impact everything from scientific discovery to energy, war and security.  When a young discipline, computing benefited greatly from the creative contributions of women – indeed, many of the earliest programmers and “computers,” or computational thinkers, were female. Despite women’s early participation in computing, the expansion of women’s career choices into many fields that were not traditional for women, and women’s increasing participation in the private sector, today only 19% of all software developers are female. Of that 19%, very few are found in technology leadership roles that would enable them to make truly innovative contributions. For example, 88% of all information technology patents have male-only invention teams; 2% have female-only invention teams. These statistics and others imply that a largely homogeneous group created the technology the world uses today – U.S. white males (and increasingly Asian males).  While ample evidence exists to support the benefit of diverse thinking in computing innovation, numerous social and cultural influences impede women’s contributions to technical innovation teams. Hence, women are essentially “absent” from technology innovation - absent because of low participation, absent because the world doesn't experience their potential contributions, and absent because when women do make a technical contribution, they are often ignored, not recognized and not given credit for their ideas. Recognizing women as innovators requires explicit, conscious effort. Simply adding women to the pot and stirring is not going to make their ideas recognized or used. Technical design teams need to use democratic principles and techniques for making sure ideas are heard and discussed. Managers/supervisors need to perform as champions for their female innovators.  This paper explores the influences negatively impacting women and technology innovators, describes adoptable practices that can mitigate these impacts, and discusses the important work of NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology), an NSF funded effort to significantly increase women’s meaningful participation in computing.

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