Women in Tech: Time to Focus on Solutions

03/27/2011 04:38 pm ET Updated May 27, 2011

I have written extensively on this blog and in other venues about the barriers that women in technology face: unwelcoming cultures, bias and stereotyping, work-family conflict, lack of access to influential social networks, and absence of role models, mentors, and sponsors.

The awareness of the barriers facing women in the tech industry has grown, thanks to not only to the Anita Borg Institute but also the research and outreach of partner organizations like NCWIT, Catalyst, the Clayman Institute, and Astia, and the vocal work of women's communities like Women 2.0, She's Geeky, and DevChix, to name a few. Some individuals with significant influence have also taken up the issue, bringing awareness to the problem (Kara Swisher's piece on All things Digital, articles by scholar Vivek Wadwha, and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg's TED talk come to mind, as does, ironically, Michael Arringon's piece in TechCrunch).

Thanks to this collection of voices and hands-on work, it certainly feels like I get fewer and fewer blank stares when people at dinner parties ask me what I do for a living ("what do you mean women are underrepresented and experiencing barriers to advancement in tech? Hasn't this issue been resolved when women got the vote?", or: "Anita Borg, is that a reference to Star Trek?"). The next phase of this work, in my opinion, is to keep relentlessly pushing for things to change -- at the individual, group, organizational, and societal levels. One important piece of encouraging change in companies is measurement -- as they say, "measure what you treasure." Many companies want to recruit, retain, and advance more technical women, but do not know 1) how they are doing in terms of representation and where they need most to intervene, and 2) how they compare to the broader field or their competitors.

One of our newest initiatives, the Anita Borg Top Company for Technical Women Award, engages companies in confidentially submitting the representation of technical women at all levels, along with retention and promotion rates. We provide a custom benchmarking report to participating companies, and identify each year a Top Company for Technical Women Award winner among the applicants. We base the scoring on representation, retention, and advancement, as well as year over year change.

We recently announced the winner for this year: IBM. Among all applicants, IBM got the highest score on these metrics. What struck me about IBM is how strong their pipeline of technical women is at all levels, including the top level of individual contributor positions (IBM Fellows). As important as recognizing them a winner, however, is engaging all high-tech companies in understanding how you get there. On May 19, the Anita Borg Institute is convening a workshop where IBM, along with several companies working to increase the representation of women in technical roles, will share and discuss concrete solutions to recruit, retain, and advance technical women.

It is my hope that at some point in my lifetime, I won't be discussing barriers to women in tech with anyone at cocktail parties. Because there will be so many women CEOs, CTOs, and Fellows at tech companies in Silicon Valley and around the world that it will be clear we have collectively made change a reality. And I'll find another tough social problem to harangue everyone with at parties.