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Reflections on Telle Whitney Dow Lecture

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Laura Wendlandt is a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science & Engineering at University of Michigan. 

I found myself drawn to Telle Whitney — a woman who, at the beginning, “wasn’t quite sure if she belonged” in computer science. As she navigated the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field, she did more than simply thrive in computer science; she found ways to make her field a more welcoming place for other women. Among numerous other accomplishments, she co-founded the Grace Hopper Celebration, the largest gathering of women technologists in the world, co-founded the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), and served as president and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. In carving out a place where she belonged, Telle threw the doors wide open for many other women to find a community in computer science — including me.

 

As Telle reflected on her experiences advocating for women in technology, her primary message was simple: “We know how to create cultures where all people thrive.” She envisioned a hopeful future for computer science, a future where each group in society has a voice in creating the technology that will continue to shape our world. She argued that this future was achievable. As discouraging diversity reports continue to roll out of Silicon Valley, her optimism was refreshing.

In addition to painting a picture of this future, Telle outlined detailed ways that we can begin making changes in the field of computer science. She made the case that the gender gap in technology must be approached from a variety of perspectives. We must change K-12 education, as well as university programs and corporate practices. On all three of these fronts, organizations and individuals are currently exploring strategies to engage more women, many of which have been successful. As we continue to seek more diversity as a field, we must evaluate these initiatives and continue the most effective ones. Resources are often limited in this area, so measuring the performance of different strategies allows us to maximize the impact we are having.

Telle’s hope for increasing diversity in computer science was contagious, and I walked away from her lecture refreshed and proud to be a female technologist.

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