Commentary & Perspective

Anita’s Impact on Tech

Michelle Leahy, the Analytics Program Manager at the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), recently spoke during Career Day at her old high school, Presentation. “I actually ended up choosing Industrial Engineering as a major after hearing from an alumna who came to speak in one of my science classes,” Michelle explained. “When they reached out for alumni to present at Career Day, I was excited to participate.”

Michelle spoke about her experiences working in the corporate sector and working for ABI. When her presentation was over, her former computer teacher, Adrienne Renner, brought her over to a framed photograph. The photo showed a group of Presentation students standing with Anita Borg. The photo was even signed by Anita thanking Adrienne and the students for their contributions to the Institute for Women and Technology.

A signed photo of Anita Borg with students from Presentation High School“I was blown away – I had no idea that Anita had ties to my school! My experiences at Presentation High were such a big influence in sending me on the path that led me to ABI, it felt a little like fate.”

“A Passionate Advocate for Change”

The Institute for Women and Technology was founded by Anita in 1997 with the goal of recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in technology. She envisioned a future where women were no longer the minority in the tech field but rather held an equal role in building the world’s technology. “Anita was a passionate advocate for change, and had such a strong belief that we could get to an equitable workplace,” Michelle stated. “The work she did laid the foundation for us to be a driver of the major industry change happening now.”

Driving change in the tech industry and creating diversity initiatives is more important now than ever. The number of female undergraduate computer science students has significantly decreased, dropping from 37% in 1984 to just 18% in 2014. Women also leave the tech industry at twice the rate of men due to a lack of support and inclusion, an obstacle Michelle unfortunately faced in her own early career.

“I occasionally had to deal with leaders who were blatantly dismissive of my ideas and perspectives, choosing to listen to my male colleagues who many times did not have as much experience,” Michelle said. “In looking for my next challenge, I found a role at ABI that combined my love of data with my passion for equality. I knew the industry needed to change at a faster pace, and I was excited to be part of making that happen.”

Keeping Anita’s Vision Alive

Although more and more tech companies are acknowledging the lack of diversity in the industry, the issue is still far from being resolved. “To change the trends in technology, we need more than CEOs speaking out,” Michelle said. “We need organizations to hold their leaders accountable at all levels for building inclusive and diverse teams.”

ABI continues to fight for Anita’s vision by both bringing awareness to this problem as well as creating different solutions. Our Organizational Transformation team, of which Michelle is a member, provides tools, frameworks, and guidance for companies who want to increase their diversity. Michelle also works on our Top Companies for Women Technologists program which recognizes companies building inclusive workplaces.

Of course, we can’t do this alone. That’s why ABI offers online communities such as Systers and ABI.Local as well as events like the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) for women technologists to connect with each other, support one another, and make a difference together.

“I feel that the foundation of this change is women supporting women, especially women who’s goals and identities may not be the same as your own,” Michelle said. “We must stand together and bring society forward.”