Anita borg institute


Technology, Women and Equity at the 2014 Grace Hopper Conference

Guest post from YY Lee, my business partner and COO of FirstRain

I am proud of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (@ghc) community this week for raising important issues and grappling with uncomfortable, difficult-to-solve questions.

I appreciate FirstRain’s own Penny Herscher (@pennyherscher) for putting herself out there to moderate the Male Allies Panel, despite the concerns going-in about how to constructively include that perspective.  The fiery reaction to that session raised
the level of engagement around deep-seated systemic equity issues in
our industry in a way that would not have been achieved otherwise.  And
in Penny’s usual way — she engaged those issues head-on, in direct personal and online exchanges with the men & women, leadership & grassroots members of the community.

Satya Nadella’s wrong-headed comment the next morning  (as he has acknowledged),
underscored the complacency and problems around gender-equity issues,
even among the thoughtful and well-intentioned.  This forced the
realization that this is not an simply an issue of perception,
interpretation or over-reaction. But will require a real introspection
and major change — even from colleagues and leaders who are confident
they are already totally on-board and acting as allies for equity.
This was the near-perfect opportunity, timing and forum to
examine the truth.  It is remarkable that even given the charged
emotions around this,  the discussion started relatively politely, and
besides excessive piling on, it remained safe — this in stark contrast
to the ugly violent targeting has been simultaneously unfolding around GamerGate.  Which only further highlights the reality of the technology industry’s toxic differences in how men and women are treated.

It is too bad that before Nadella’s KarmaGate comment, he stated one of my favorite quotes of the whole conference — summing up why I’ve loved doing this work, nearly every day for over two decades: 
“[We work with] the most malleable of our resources, software… That’s the rich canvas that we get to shape… paint…”  -Satya Nadella
He nailed it.  He put his finger on that the one thing
that probably links all the men and women in that event.  This is a
deep-thinker who understands the heart of matters, which is what made
his later comment so doubly surprising and disheartening.
I am encouraged to see the after-effects like Alan Eustace trying to do things differently.
 And honest conversations with ABI executives about their awareness and
struggle with the impossible balance of growing their reach and impact
while containing the inevitable, unintended side effect of corporate
To all of you “good guys who do care” — Satya, Alan,
Mike Schroepfer, Blake Irving, Tayloe Stansbury — less patronizing talk
is nice, listening is refreshing, but which of you and your companies
is going to commit to results?

==> Here my question to all the “good guys” out there as well as my fellow female leaders:  Who is going to set and deliver specific targets
for ratios of women and minorities that reflect the real population —
in technical leadership by a specific date… 2016? 2017? Who is going to
hack their orgs & companies to solve this problem,
rather than running feel-good, look-good “programs”?

The Grace Hopper Celebration is an inspiring, important
and high-quality gathering in an industry that is littered with mediocre
PR-flogging events.  
  • The technical and career presentations are given by
    presenters who truly care about their audience and strive to offer a
    valuable, nutritious exchanges — not just advance some commercial
  • The leaders remind us of how our work is linked to important broader social dynamics outside of our privileged community. The ABI exec responsible for this conference, introduced the eye-opening Male Allies Panel with a personal reminder about about how social change is about connecting across communities:

“The Asian community owes a lot to the black community. They opened a lot of doors for us [in the fight for equality].” -Barb Gee

  • From early mornings until late into the night, it was a
    surround-sound ocean of substantive discussions between old friends,
    colleagues and strangers about leading-edge technical work, honest and
    vulnerable personal experiences, deep examinations of culture,
    inclusiveness, safety, aspirations and disappointments.
  • There is a natural balance of empowering women create change
    in themselves and their environments. While calling out that real change
    is impossible without the corporations, managers and executives, and
    yes the men who make up 80% of our co-workers, to fully own making that
    change with us.

I’m not going to end this post with some rah-rah “just go get
’em girls!” trope. Because the women technologists are already out there
— delivering effort, innovation and results at 120% while receiving
70%… 80%… (to be wildly optimistic) of the recognition and reward.

I will share just one final favorite conference quote, which is how this gathering makes me feel every time I attend:

“… at #GHC14… Just not enough space to desc. Wow. Much women. So much brain” -@michelesliger

It is our industry and companies that need to be fixed, not the women in it.
I have to believe it is becoming increasingly obvious to our leaders,
managers and co-workers that under-valuing this incredibly intellectual
resource is idiotic, bad business, and just plain wrong.

– YY Lee (@thisisyy), COO of FirstRain

Equality, Leadership

Three things you can do to hire women and change your company forever

Posted in the Huffington Post

Our world is changing very fast, and the role of women is changing
fast with it — and, mostly, for the positive. We have more women in
power, more women in the workforce, more women in control of their lives
but there still aren’t representative numbers of women at the top of

And yet, we now know that diverse teams make better decisions. We know women make 85 percent of consumer
buying decisions, and so, if you sell anything to them, you probably
want women in your decision structure. As a CEO, if you’re making
strategy decisions, and hiring decisions, you want a diverse set of
opinions around you to advise you. It’s time to pro-actively bring women into your workforce.

why would any company build an all-male leadership team now, or an all
male board, or a board that is mostly male with one token female? The
most often-cited reason is that there are no qualified candidates —
what baloney! When Twitter filed for its IPO with no women on the board
(despite the dominance of women on social media) the reason given was:
“The issue isn’t the intention, the issue is just the paucity of

It’s just not the truth (as the NYT kindly pointed out
to Twitter at the time). There are women available to hire, but you
have to be determined to build a diverse leadership team to make it
happen because the easier path (less work) is to hire people just like
you: men. You have to be willing to do the extra work, find the diverse
candidates, and open up your job spec to change your company for the
future — and for the better. It’s just good business.

Here are three roles where you can change the numbers:

Board of Directors: Mostly male still. Women hold only 16.9 percent of board seats,
10 percent of boards have no women on them and those numbers are barely
changing. If, as many boards do, you set your search criteria
narrowly… for example, must have been a CEO (that cuts most women
out), must have prior board experience (that cuts most women out), must
be retired (the women in the workforce are newer and so less likely to
be retired) then, presto! all you see are male candidates.

solution here is to open your search up to operating executives who are
not CEOs. They are in related industries in powerful operating positions
like CIO, GM or CFO and probably have no prior board experience. But
everyone starts somewhere, and there are excellent training programs you
can go to to learn how to be a public company director.

Software Engineers: Mostly male still. And with hiring practices like the “Bromance Chamber
at DropBox not surprisingly! Twenty percent of CS majors are girls, and
the best technology companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel et
al) both compete to hire them and invest in programs like the Anita Borg Institute
to learn how to both recruit them, and retain them. But the best
companies also reach outside the rigid spec of pure computer science.

the solution is to be open to a wider set of candidates, without
compromising quality. Open up to girls (and boys) with math majors, or
double majors in math and computer science — those who wouldn’t make it
through the narrow filter of typical CS hiring processes, but who are
likely smarter, harder working, and need just a small amount of training
to be fully effective for your company. Facebook even runs a summer
intern program for students without technical degrees, knowing they can
train them and wanting the very best brains for their engineering teams.

Sales People:
Mostly (white) male still. A lingering bastion of the smart,
golf-playing male in a crisp white shirt. When challenged on the limited
number of female candidates being presented, most recruiters will whine
and complain about the limited pool.

The solution: Deliberately
ask your recruiter to do the extra work to find the diverse candidates.
At my company our sales recruiter did, and we found excellent female
candidates immediately. It’s been my experience that women sell just as
well as men, so why not get a mixed team in place so you see the selling
challenges from more than one perspective?

In all these cases,
you are not trying to hire women. I’d never compromise the quality of
the hire for race or gender. Many women would (quite rightly) be
offended if they thought they were only being hired because of their
gender. What you are doing is insisting on a diverse candidate pool and a
level playing field for those candidates. And, in my experience, that
leads to stronger candidates, to gender balanced teams and, as a result,
to better decisions.

At my own company, FirstRain,
where I am CEO, our board is 50 percent women. My senior leadership
team is half men, half women. That’s no accident. If you are determined
to see diverse candidates you will — and have absolutely no compromise
on quality — quite the reverse!


Women Computer Scientists – Yes They Exist!

Published earlier today in the Huffington Post

Women are doing some amazing work in Computer Science and
Engineering, how come we don’t know about them? We all know about
the stereotypical hot start-up out of Silicon Valley led by some
twenty-something white guy but we don’t hear much about women
entrepreneurs, computer scientists, researchers and business leaders in
tech. How come?

Is it like the research study recently reported in the New York Times
where a scientifically oriented resume with a women’s name at the top
was consistently rated lower by professors than the exact same resume
with a man’s name? Do women have to be substantially better than men to
get recognized?

Maybe today, but the 7th Annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC), going on this week, is all about changing that.

Downtown Baltimore is teeming with technical women today. Three
thousand, six hundred of them! More than 1,500 are students, passionate
about developing new technology, and not afraid to say so just because
they are girls.

And here at the conference they are surrounded by other technical
women who don’t fit the tech frat boy stereotype that Silicon Valley is
so known for, but who instead just set about changing the world of
technology from a diverse point of view.

Consider Lilli Cheng who is GM of the Future Social Experiences
(FUSE) Labs in Microsoft Research. She leads a team who invent, develop
and deliver new social, real-time, and media-rich experiences for home
and work, and she speaking on Creativity, Learning and Social Software.

Or Lori Beer who is the EVP for Enterprise Business Services at
WellPoint and manages over 30,000 people developing new health care
products for you and me, and is speaking today on Transforming Health
care Through Data.

Or Ann Mei Chang who is a Senior Advisor on technology at the State
Department and has the Silicon Valley engineering who’s who on her
resume, including being a Senior Engineering Director at Google. She’s
speaking on Leveraging Mobile and Internet Technology to Improve Women’s
Lives in the Developing World.

Or Nora Denzel, who was both funny and wise in her keynote today, and
has led large, cutting edge software and business teams at IBM, HP and
Intuit, and can go nose to nose with anyone on technology.

Imagine 3,600 confident girly geeks together, mingling with each
other as students and mentors, inventors and developers, investors and
founders. Women working together to change the ratio of women in
technology by recruiting new young women into the field and helping them
stay in the field, despite the odds. Less than 25 percent of the STEM workforce in the U.S. are women, more than 50 percent of women who start in engineering drop out
of technology in the first 10 years of their careers, the numbers of
women graduating in computer science has been dropping over the last 10
years, and yet by 2020 the U.S. will graduate less than 30 percent of the engineers we need to be competitive.

It just makes sense to get more girls into technology. It’s an
incredibly exciting field and women make great computer scientists.
Thousands of them are at GHC in Baltimore today. Join us and change the

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is a program
of the Anita Board Institute, which is funded by the world’s best
technology companies to help industry, academia, and government recruit,
retain, and develop women leaders in high-tech fields, resulting in
higher levels of technological innovation. You can learn more at www.anitaborg.org


My life is not a sausage factory

Yes high tech is still dominated by men – but it doesn’t have to be.

In Kara Swisher’s hilarious keynote speech at the Women of Vision dinner last week she said “my life is a sausage factory” referring to the predominance of men in the high tech industry. Kara reigns supreme in the world of tech journalism so she’s talking with men, and writing about men, most of the time. She’s a kick – outspoken, whip smart and fearless – had me in stitches.

She’s right though. There is an unhealthy focus on young men right now with the talk of “brogramming” and the frat house culture — probably about to be celebrated in Bravo’s new reality TV show Silicon Valley. I’m willing to bet anyone a dollar that the new show will stereotype women as a) young, pretty and in media, b) arm candy for partying with or c) if smart, then ugly.

But real technology companies do not have to be like that.

My life is distinctly not a sausage factory because FirstRain has women throughout it’s leadership – and what may be unique is that the CEO (me) and the COO (YY) are both women and mathematicians. Now this was not by design – it is simply a result of being open to women as tech leaders, and hiring the best person for the job.

Frankly when building a company having the best person for the job is the only thing that matters. The best person means the intellect, the experience, the creativity, the skills and the cultural fit to build a great solution. We don’t have enough women coming into the pipe today (hence the need for non-profits like the Anita Borg Institute who threw the dinner Kara spoke at) but even with the 20% women CS graduates we do have you can find great female software architects and engineers if you are open to them.

YY and I have worked together on and off for 20 years. We’re both mathematicians, both have programmed, both worked in marketing for a while. YY’s a deep nerd, mother of 3 with her wife Kate, and the best person I could have hired to run the technical teams at FirstRain. Our VP technology is male (Marty), one of our two lead architects is male (one of our founders), the other is female – again we were gender blind when hiring but sought world class talent. Our managing director in India is a female engineer (Aparna), promoted from the engineering ranks because she was the best person to lead what has developed into a truly world-class software engineering and analytics team.

So we have ended up with a management team that is about half female, the women are on both the technical and business sides of the house and I am very (unreasonably?) proud of that. And I’d like us to find more female engineers among the applicants for our open San Mateo and Gurgaon software engineering jobs. Give me a mixed grill any day.

Career Advice

Techniques for Advantage-Makers

I had the great pleasure of traveling to Bangalore before Christmas to attend the first full India Grace Hopper Conference. I’m on the board of the Anita Board Institute so I had two hats on for the conference i) as the resident board member to meet, greet and press the flesh and ii) to be on a panel hosted by our India MD, Aparna Gupta.

The first was fun to meet so many new people who are running India-based operations. The second was, as these things usually are, very interesting.

The term “advantage makers” comes from a book by my friend Steven Feinberg called The Advantage-Makers: How Exceptional Leaders Win by Creating Opportunities Others Don’t and the panel put together experienced execs from the US and India to talk about some of the techniques that work.

Some good stories in here – from IBM experience, from old Oracle days, from ThoughtWorks and what we’ve learned — and my experience building companies. I spoke on the need to pull back and look at problem more completely – pulling back above the traffic to see how to get through it.

Career Advice

Engineering is the way to bring jobs back to America

We are facing an ongoing threat to America’s global economic leadership and increasing the number of engineers in our workforce is one powerful way we can change our destiny as a country.

In Silicon Valley we have one engineering job open for every two engineers that are employed – this means it is hard to find enough qualified workers and so companies move jobs offshore to India and China where they graduate many more engineers than we do. Today we simply do not have enough people trained in the “STEM” areas to staff the technology build up that is happening (STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

When Steve Jobs met with President Obama earlier this year he made this case strongly. From Walter Isaacson’s new biography… “Jobs went on to urge that a way be found to train more American engineers. Apple had 700,000 factory workers employed in China, he said, and that was because it needed 30,000 engineers on-site to support those workers. ‘You can’t find that many in America to hire,’ he said. These factory engineers did not have to be PhDs or geniuses; they simply needed to have basic engineering skills for manufacturing. Tech schools, community colleges, or trade schools could train them. ‘If you could educate those engineers,’ he said, ‘we could move more manufacturing plants here.’ “

But today not only do we not graduate enough engineers, women are a huge untapped resource. Less than 10% of our computer engineering graduates are women, and less than 20% of our total engineering bachelors are women – a criminal loss of potential contribution from half our workforce.

Technology is an area that is a wonderful example of American leadership. Leadership, innovation and the place where we can say “Made in the USA” with pride. Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook – all are growing, innovative global technology leaders. All are changing the world today in dramatic ways. All are essentially American and all need more engineers. Google and Microsoft both invest heavily in change agents like the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology precisely to change the ratio of men to women in engineering and so produce more qualified engineers to grow their businesses.

Just as in the Second World War we had a national shortage of skilled workers for manufacturing, today we have a critical shortage of technology workers. Women and education are the two keys to the solution.

Seventy years ago the Rosie the Riveter campaign moved 6 million women into the workforce. These women were trained and they showed that they could do the work – building the planes, ships and munitions necessary to win a devastating war.

Senator Gillibrand of New York talks about a revival of the Rosie the Riveter campaign to galvanize women to become more empowered and she speaks about the need for women to get Off The Sidelines and get more involved in politics. She’s right, and it’s bigger than that. The low percentages of women who graduate with technology degrees in the US shows the untapped resource. Getting women involved and into technology creates more jobs for both men and women in manufacturing and the ecosystem around the technology jobs.

We are in the middle of a 100 year technology revolution, analogous to the industrial revolution that dramatically changed the Western way of life through the 18th and 19th centuries. This technology revolution is taking us through a series of engineering inventions – the computer, the microprocessor, software applications, the internet, mobile devices and there is more to come we can only imagine.

It’s time for Rosie the Engineer and Robert the Engineer. I’m a Silicon Valley high-tech CEO and I see the need first hand. We need our political leadership to invest in STEM education, and especially for our girls to bring them into the technology. It’s time to put programs in place to motivate our students to get technical degrees so they can get jobs when they graduate. We need engineers, the technology jobs pay more, and they create more jobs in America for everyone.


Obama meets White Silicon Valley

It’s great that President Obama came to silicon valley to meet with the leading tech CEOs. But the lack of diversity in the leadership of the Valley is made even more stark when the President is half African-American.

Look a this “iconic” picture as Fortune dubs it. All white men except the President, Carol Bartz (the only one in color) and a blond woman with her back to the camera who does not even warrant a name. If we needed one more reminder of the need to recruit more women into technology and help them stay there (as the Anita Borg Institute does) this photo is it.