Laurie Burns McRobbie

Welcome Remarks from the “Techie Women Have More” Conference

Thank you, Sue.  I’m so pleased to be with all of you tonight, to help open our conference and to introduce our distinguished keynote speaker.

We’re here tonight to celebrate a lot of things – the start of the first annual “Techie Women Have More” conference, our Aspirations Ambassadors, our outstanding faculty and staff mentor award winners (congratulations to Ralf, Thomas, and Norma!). 

And we are especially here to celebrate nearly one full academic year’s worth of CEWiT as an official and integral part of this campus. 

As Maureen [Biggers] noted, I am going to say a few words about our history, however short that may be – it is, after all, Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on women’s accomplishments at home and across the globe, and to look forward to how we keep building on those accomplishments. It has special meaning for me as well – I was a history major in college, concentrating in women’s history, and then went into IT for my career.  As technologists, we are always looking forward, but the past gives us ground to stand on, and the accomplishments of those who came before us are often what give us our inspirations.

Women have been part of IU since 1867 – we were one of the first public universities in the country to admit women students.  The first woman faculty member was hired in 1873.  Women have been engaged in scientific and technical disciplines (and of course well beyond) from those early days as well. 

As just one example of the contributions that our tech-oriented women are making, earlier this week IU paid special recognition to five women faculty members who have filed and are continuing to file patent applications with the U.S. Patent Office for their inventions in pharmacology, chemistry, optometry, otolaryngology, and pulmonology.  Many of their applications have been approved not only by the U.S. but by other countries as well, and each of these researchers have additional applications that are pending approval.  They are continuing the vital role that women play in the world of invention, which goes back to 1809, when the first U.S. patent was issued to a woman.

Here in the 21st century, CEWiT is continuing to build on the legacy of women technologists at IU, and we are off to an awesome start!  We officially launched CEWiT last October, but starting even earlier than that, women students, faculty and staff across scores of disciplines and departments have been participating in events and learning experiences that have connected us and inspired us to do more.

The student alliance, Women Empowering Success in Technology, or WESIT, has been like a virtuous contagious virus on campus, sponsoring job talks, awareness campaigns about the vast tech-related academic and extracurricular opportunities available to students, organizing non-credit programming classes to earn e-badges and professional development programs for PhD women, holding social events, and much more.

The staff alliance, IU-WIT, was formed before CEWiT planning began, but we joined forces early on.  IU-WIT has been organizing monthly leadership talks for staff, as well as networking events and mentoring activities.  IU-WIT spans all 8 campuses of Indiana University, and has been a consistent link across the state as it helps IU’s professional IT women increase their technical and leadership skills. 

The Faculty Alliance, which came into existence with CEWiT, created a program called CEWiT Salons over a year ago.  The Salons occur 3-4 times each semester and feature tech-related research by women faculty at IUB, followed by social networking time.  They have already proved to be terrific opportunities for making interdisciplinary connections and collaborations, and we’ve seen several get started because of this program.  

Another Faculty Alliance program, “CEWiT Circles” was launched this year as a model way to informally connect faculty across disciplines and ranks to share issues, ideas, and experiences in their academic careers.  The Circles involve nearly 100 women faculty from many different departments, and already have sparked deep discussions and informed future directions for the Alliance and for CEWiT more generally.  

The creation of CEWiT was a real milestone for Indiana University and particularly here at IU-Bloomington, in our collective efforts to address a stubbornly persistent problem – the gender gap in computing, information technology, and other tech-related fields. 

I got my own start in computing in the early 1980s, and back then, women were underrepresented in most of the professions, not just in science and technical disciplines.  We set about trying to change the tech world, none of us realizing that we’d still be at it, this far into the 21st century. 

We have some advantages this time around, however.  Many approaches have been tried, some successful and some not (but we learn from both); lots of data have been collected and studies published; and we’ve progressed in our thinking about why it’s so important that we keep working towards parity rather than succumbing to Larry Sommers-like conclusions that the current situation is somehow biologically ordained.

The truth is that we CAN close the gender gap with what are often simple things, and it’s imperative that we do.  There are three big reasons:  equity, employment, and excellence

The equity argument is pretty basic – jobs in the tech sector pay well, and the salary gap between men and women is smaller than in most other sectors.  Women should have access to careers in technology just as men do. 

The employment argument is based on forecasts that nearly one-and-a-half million IT-based jobs will be available over the next decade, and up to two-thirds of these may go unfilled because we aren’t producing enough qualified applicants.  Women represent a huge, relatively untapped pool of talent. 

But the excellence argument may be the most important – it’s about the health of the tech sector itself.  Research shows that groups with greater diversity solve complex problems better and faster than do homogenous groups, and that companies with the highest representation of women in their management teams have a significantly higher return on investment than do those with few or no women.  We need a diverse workforce creating the very best solutions for our globally-connected, interdependent, 21st century world.

This is where CEWiT has stepped in, with an intersecting set of communities exponentially creating positive change for everyone, by encouraging, supporting, linking, and celebrating women in technology.  Tonight, thanks to the efforts of all of you, techie women really do have more!

It is now my great pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker for tonight, Melissa Gregg.

Melissa Gregg is Principal Engineer in User Experience Research at Intel Labs and co-Director of the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing. Like my husband, she’s from Australia, and even has the University of Queensland, where she did postdoctoral work, in common with him. Melissa has a PhD in Gender Studies from the University of Sydney and specializes as a socio-cultural theorist and ethnographer. Prior to joining Intel, she was Senior Lecturer in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney.

Melissa studies new models of labor and enterprise both within and outside formal workplaces. Her current research looks at technology’s role in the domestication of management principles and the development of professional subjectivity.  Among the many topics on which she writes is something she calls “mindful labor”, a concept that speaks to our ongoing needs for human connection in this “productivity” and “productivity app-heavy” world.  She has published on the topics of work’s intimacy and affect theory, and you can find more information on her publications and work in progress at HomeCookedTheory.com.  

Please join me in welcoming Melissa Gregg!