>Anita Borg, an internationally recognized expert in computer operating
>systems, left Digital Equipment Corporation's Network Systems Laboratory
>in Palo Alto in 1997 to establish the Institute for Women and Technology
>(IWT). The IWT is a natural follow-on to the now 2500 member Systers List,
>founded by Anita in 1987 to provide an international Internet forum for
>women in technology. The goal of the IWT is to ensure that women are major
>players in the technology revolution and that they share in the wealth.
>Find out about Systers and IWT at: www.systers.org and www.iwt.org.
Anita Borg started her talk by saying that the goals of her organization are to make sure that women are represented at all steps in the product design cycle, to run workshops that explore what women really want from technology, and to help young women get introduced to technology in ways that show them the value of all that abstract knowledge to their communities.
She felt that the big problem with not having women at the table is that without them every idea put forward is shredded competitively. Then, if the author can't handle it, or the corporate profits are not immediate and obvious, the baby is thrown out with the bath water. Women have skills that accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, making more holistic solutions possible.
There are also many practical aspects where women can help. For example, she pointed out that someone had recently made a round robotic vacuum cleaner. Borg wanted to know how that was supposed to get the stuff in the corners of the room? When you think about the fact that half of the people in the marketplace are women, considering what they want things to do, and how they want them done, is a practical way of building the market for your product.
She discussed how today's American family is more spread out than ever before. One of the ideas for dealing with that came from one of her workshops. How about a "media wall", to connect your living room with that of your mother? That way conversation could happen naturally when you were both in the room, and it would not be constrained by the artificial requirements of setting up telephone conversations.
Borg pointed out that if such a product was designed in the normal corporate way, it would cost $25,000 and end up in the Corporate Boardroom. This is the way things have been going for the past few decades, and has resulted in an increasing concentration of wealth, to the detriment of our society as a whole. The products of the future need to be designed with an eye towards the effects they will have on the shape of the society of the future.
Her study of engineering began when she was hired as an assistant to do numerical analysis of blood flow in the human brain. Without that understanding that these tools could be used to benefit the lives of normal people, she would not have gotten the education that made her an attractive property to DEC. That is why one of the goals of her organization is to help shape the first experiences young women have with technology.