6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Women, Technology, and Policy: Leadership in Private and Public Sectors

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Webcast Recap

On Thursday, October 29, the Wilson Center’s Global Women’s Leadership Initiative hosted a panel discussion on female leadership in the technology field featuring prominent leaders from both the private and public sectors. Speakers included: Susan Molinari, Vice President of Public Policy and Government Relations at Google; Marina Martin, Chief Technology Officer at the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs; Paula Stern, Chairwoman of the Stern Group and Senior Advisor for the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and Trish Tierney, Co-founder of the Women’s Alliance for Knowledge Exchange (WAKE). The discussion was moderated by Revi Sterling, Deputy Chief of Party at NetHope. Opening remarks were provided by Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO of the Wilson Center.

Molinari began her keynote speech by remarking on her time spent serving as Vice Chair of the Republican Conference, then the highest ranking woman in Congress. As one of only twelve women serving in Congress at the time, Molinari lauded the vast strides that women have made in reducing the gender imbalance in Congress, but also expressed her desire to go beyond the 20 percent female representation that exists in both Congress and the technology sector. In her role at Google, Molinari is working to expand the pipeline of women in technology by increasing women’s academic exposure to computer science – noting that 38 percent of girls are more likely to choose a career in computer science after taking an Advanced Placement high school course in the subject. In contrast to the largely male-dominated field, Molinari sees women as being a driving force in technology because of their desire to use innovative methods to solve practical, everyday problems. Molinari explained that women have long been present in the field of computer science and technology, noting that women were some of the earliest computer programmers and pioneers of the Internet.

Stern spoke on the underrepresentation of women in the private technology sector, stating how female technology graduates remain an underutilized resource to fill crucially important positions in areas such as cybersecurity. This underrepresentation is the result of both a “conscious and unconscious bias” that can be eliminated by perfecting ways to promote and retain women who graduate with computer science degrees.  

Tierney also commented, saying, “it’s not about fixing women, [it’s about] fixing the system.” Tierney continued by describing how India is surpassing the US in graduating women with tech degrees and how women in Africa use technology to solve common household problems. Innovation from young female engineering students  has resulted in technologies such as “Soccket,” a soccer ball that harnesses electricity as it is kicked, later serving as a light source in electricity deficient areas.  Tierney used this example to show how humanitarian technology is bridging the gap between careers in international development and careers in technology. She said women no longer have to choose between helping people and being on the cutting edge of one of the most rapidly advancing sectors.

Martin spoke about her experience as a member of the inaugural class of Presidential Innovation Fellows and her mentorship under the former Chief Technology Officer, Todd Park. Martin explained what she sees as a large “tech talent vacuum” in the government. She emphasized that by getting women interested in computer science at a young age, the US can foster a new generation of tech leaders to help exploit the large landmine of data the government has at its disposal. At the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Martin helped lead this effort by using educational data embedded in the GI Bill to develop a web application to assist veterans in choosing a school of higher education. To accelerate these efforts, Martin encouraged women to act as mentors to the next generation of aspiring female programmers who will lead the future of technological innovation. 

Event summary by Chelsea Catsam.

Photo via Argonne National Laboratory (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Speakers