Awards encourages women to break tech glass ceiling

May 20, 2011 12:59:33 AM PDT
Despite its culture of innovation, the glass ceiling is still firmly in place in the Silicon Valley, especially when it comes to technology. Only 20 percent of entry level engineers are women and on Thursday night, a group of women met to try to change that.

"I'm a computer scientist," said Telle Whitney from the Anita Borg Institute.

"I'm going to a group that writes controllers for UAVS," said Shanna-Shaye Forbes, an electrical engineer.

The room was filled with some of the top technological minds in the country. They're electrical engineers, mathematicians, and scientists. Yet, only five percent of Silicon Valley's chief technology officers are women.

"There are still not enough technical women!" said Whitney.

Palo Alto-based Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology wants to change that. Its annual Women In Vision Awards is a start. Three women have won the honor of being visionaries in the technological field, including Mary Lou Jepsen, Ph.D., CEO of San Bruno based Pixel Qi. She helped build the cheapest, lowest powered and greenest lap top in the world. Jepsen admits getting here wasn't easy.

"There is gender discrimination in the developing world and the barriers are extreme," said Mary Lou Jepsen from Pixel Qi.

"For my whole career I've been the only woman in the room and the only one that even knows what an electrical engineer does," said Prof. Karen Panetta, Ph.D., from Tufts University.

Company execs say one reason so few women are in senior level positions is because of a lack of work-life balance and so they opt to stay in mid-level management.

"That's something really is up to a company to kind of crack the code on how to make that work for these senior women and not have them opt out into a management track," said Brian Pawlowski, the Net App CTO.

As a result, few women apply for these high level jobs. Many say what's needed are major cultural shifts within companies.

IBM took home the award for the top company for technical women.


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