Brunett woman with laptopBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Named after one of the pioneers women in computing, the Anita Borg Institute provides research and tools to advance women in the field of technology, and works to make women in the field more visible.

But despite the organization’s hard work, many feel the needle isn’t moving fast enough. In response to the slow pace of change, this year the organization launched its first Top Company for Technical Women award (along with its Women of Vision awards). The award isn’t just about honoring the companies that have achieved high levels of success in retaining and advancing women. It’s also about motivating companies to measure their progress, and to work harder to get (and keep) more women in their ranks.

Dr. Caroline Simard, Anita Borg’s Vice President of Research and Executive Programs, explained, “This is our first corporate award and what motivated us to initiate it is that you don’t achieve organizational change without measurement.” She continued, “A lot of companies talk about getting more diversity in technical roles, but they don’t know where they should start.”

“Before they decide where they want to get, they have to know where they’re at,” Dr. Simard explained.

Using Quantitative Metrics to Drive Change

The Anita Borg Top Company for Technical Women award provides benchmarks companies can aim for, and enables companies to measure their progress alongside their peers.

“Some great awards look at more qualitative components, but what we wanted to do was focus on the retention and advancement of technical women, through a really metrics-based analysis,” she explained.

“We see this as a tool to have those conversations at the highest levels – to have an impact on companies internally.”

IBM, this year’s award winner, scored the highest on the metrics chosen by Anita Borg to signify a company pushing the limits on how to achieve a diverse workforce. “We want to recognize those companies who are doing really well, and engaging in a discussion around diversity,” Dr. Simard said.

The Conversation Around the Business Case for Diversity

She explained that there truly is a business case for gender diversity and IBM is one company that proves it. Diversity naysayers often see a tradeoff between innovation and diversity, that that if a company focuses on getting a diverse mix of individuals on its workforce, it will somehow lose its edge, as if innovators only come in one color and shape.

Dr. Simard replied, “But IBM, while working to advance and retain women, is also the top producer of patents yearly. It is the business case.”

“The questions are we losing something [by engaging in diversity outreach]?’ or ‘are we still innovators?’ are just excuses. Here’s an example of an organization that is truly leveraging diversity and attracting top talent globally, and putting diverse voices in key leadership positions. It’s possible to do it,” she continued.

Honoring Women of Vision

The organization also announced its women of vision awards, honoring truly innovative women in technology.

The organization gave its Leadership Award to Chieko Asakawa, Ph.D., IBM Fellow, IBM Research in Tokyo for her pioneering work with accessibility in computing. Askawa, who is blind herself, created groundbreaking technology to enable the visually impaired to utilize the web.

Mary Lou Jepsen, Ph.D., CEO, Pixel Qi received the Innovation award for her work with the One Laptop Per Child project, for which she redesigned computer displays to make them less expensive. Her company, Pixel Qi, continues to reinvent how computers are built.

And finally, Karen Panetta, Ph.D., Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Tufts University was given the Social Impact award for founding Nerd Girls, an international program designed to draw more young women into the fields of Engineering and Computer Science.

These honorees, as well as IBM, will be honored at Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Awards, on May 19th in Santa Clara, California.