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Our Stories: Women in Tech Spotlighted at Internet2 2015 Technology Exchange Part 1

Oct 21, 2015, by Ana Hunsinger
Tags: 2015 Technology Exchange, Frontpage News, Gender Diversity Award, Gender Diversity Initiative

Definition of Sonder: The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

Inder Monga, Division Deputy for Technology, Chief Technology Officer at the US Department of Energy’s Sciences Network (ESnet) served as a panelist at a session at the Internet2 2015 Technology Exchange. This session gathered those interested in the topic of gender diversity and featured a panel on unconscious bias to learn how to work together to increase diversity in our field.

Internet2 community and staff members discuss the need for diversity in the technology industry, and how it can help to enable discovery and innovation in higher education.

Inder (pictured below, second from the left) offered an extraordinary closing to the session by leaving attendees to think about the concept of "sonder." It was a poignant moment and allowed me not only to reflect on the journey I’ve taken as a woman in the field of IT but that so many other women and men alike have had.

Today, I want to share a bit more on this and what is happening at Internet2. I hope to be doing this more often and to encourage our community to also share their own experiences. So let's start the conversation in part one of this blog.

Many years ago, I was a young student and afforded an incredible opportunity to study in the United States. I studied at the University of Kansas and graduated with a degree in Computer Science.

Of the many formative experiences I had during that time, and the huge growth I experienced, and continue to experience, in my personal and professional life, I will never forget that many times, I was the only female student in many of my computer science classes. I had one female professor (she may also have been one of only a small handful of female professors), with whom I started a dialogue about women in technology and computer science. I recall her stating how unusual it was that I was the only female in the class from a Latin American country (in my case, Mexico) and her encouraging me to “stick” to technology as there were not a lot of us back then. At that time, I did not consider myself unusual in any way and remember thinking that I could not remain the “only one” but I am afraid that I was for many years. Ironically, I had also started talking with this professor about whether there may be the possibility of having more female teachers in my career. There were more women for sure in the faculty but I never had the chance again to have a class with any one of them.  Perhaps that was a weird coincidence but it’s what happened to me. Nonetheless, I will always be thankful to this first teacher, who not only allowed me to learn how to use BITNET and learn Pascal (my first coding experience – told you it was a long time ago) but I am thankful that this exchange allowed me to realize that it could also be a long, lonely road if I stuck it with technology (and now realizing, that as a Latin American woman, I did the right thing in sticking with “it.”)

I am an optimist at heart. But today, many, many years later, a part of me is disheartened that this is still a discussion we must have—that the field of IT could be more diverse and inclusive of women and minorities. It is difficult to reflect back, and know that between now and the late 1980s, we continue to struggle to have more women represented in the STEM and technical fields. All you have to do is Google “women in IT and computer science 2015 trends” and see what I am talking about. Today, women hold only 26% of U.S. technology jobs. Among the tech companies within the Fortune 100, only four have female CEOs. More than half (56%) of women in technology leave their employers at the mid-level point in their careers (10-20 years). Of the women who leave, 24% take a non-technical job in a different company. And the record with minorities is even more disheartening: just 3% of the U.S. computing workforce is African-American women, 4% is Asian women, and 1% are Latinas.

(And I am in that 1%)!

These statistics are staggering and challenging. But that optimism at heart has wondered what we can do to take part in setting in motion some concerted efforts (baby steps rather) to address these sets of issues.

A few years ago, colleagues and friends attending Internet2 events, particularly our technical events, noticed a troubling trend on how many fewer women we were seeing at events. As a community that has always been a bit more technical, we became painfully aware that we were only seeing the same faces, and that demographic wasn’t necessarily representing women and minorities in the field. We held a meeting at the Internet2 Annual Conference in 2013, and I recall it vividly.

A great colleague and mentor, Laurie Burns McRobbie led a session at the 2013 Internet2 Annual Meeting on Diversity in the Internet2 Community and Networking Profession. It covered how the numbers of women and minorities in IT and computer sciences continued to decline, and how reversing this trend was critical. The session was a success - I remember it was standing room only. We had certainly struck a nerve.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog, which will be posted in the next couple of days. In it, I will share more on some efforts undertaken by the Internet2 community to address the lack of diversity in the technology industry. Stay optimistic!