Panelists discussed some challenges associated with being a woman in tech.

Alice Song / Sun Staff Photographer

Panelists discussed some challenges associated with being a woman in tech.

April 22, 2018

Women in Tech Panelists Describe ‘Incredible Sisterhood’

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The department of computing and information science gathered a panel of experts and students last Wednesday to speak about women in technology-related careers who are breaking stereotypes and helping others reach their goals.

The panel, moderated by Prof. Éva Tardos, computer science, included Heather Cabot, a veteran journalist and co-author of Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech, Ana Pinczuk ’84, senior vice president and general manager of HPE Pointnext, Rediet Abebe grad, co-founder of Black in AI and Avani Bhargava ’20, co-president of Women in Computing at Cornell.

Cabot signed copies of her book, Geek Girl Rising, before the panel. She and co-author Samantha Walravens sought to compile success stories from women in the technology industry. They found an “incredible sisterhood” where regardless of location or profession, there was an “incredible responsibility that women seemed to have for one another in this industry to help and support each other and to really bring on the next generation.”

The book was the inspiration for the panel, which Marrie Neumer, assistant dean in alumni affairs and development for Cornell computing and information science, helped arrange to bring together perspectives on “what it was like before the tech boom and also thinking about the struggles women are having.”

Pinczuk, who entered the technology industry in the 1980’s, said she has seen the progress of women in the industry but more still needs to be done.

“We’re seeing some evidence of the numbers and the opportunities getting betterfor women,” she said, citing how the incoming freshman class was 51% women. “There is still a ways to go for us but I think as we look at the progression it’s getting a little better.”

In order to provide a more complete picture of the industry, two students also participated in the panel.

Abede grew up in Ethiopia, and said she didn’t confront the gender bias against women in science until coming to the U.S.

“When I came here and started noticing these things, first subtly and later not so subtly, I was really shocked,” she said. “I had no idea where it came from.”

As a graduate student, she now feels part of the sisterhood and “empowered.”

“Now I can support other women undergraduates who want to go to graduate school,” she said.

Bhargava began her own journey in computer science in middle school, which inspired her to  become involved in Women in Computing at Cornell and encourage other girls to pursue this field.

“I think that it’s important to build up this workforce that is very diverse and the second part of it is making sure that once they are in computer science they want to stay,” she said. “That comes through mentorship, building a community and other efforts WICC tries to do.”

During the panel discussion, the audience asked questions related to recruiting women in male-dominated spaces, the rise and fall of women in technology, allyship and workplace culture.

Afterwards, one such audience member, Jimmy Briggs grad, commented on how it can be difficult to be an ally.

“It’s harder to be an ally in the moment,” Briggs said. “A lot of the time, to us [discrimination] is invisible, which is not good.”

Palashi Vaghela grad said she thought the panel “is a good start” but that conversations around the burden of the sisterhood culture were missing.

“What are some of the things you have to adapt to and let go of, what are some of the masculine traits you have to buy into?” she asked.

“We’re still kind of at a grassroots level in terms of helping women and minorities get a seat at the table,” she said.

Neumer hopes gender inequality will no longer “be an issue in the future.”